I will be the first one to say that any win is a good win, but will the Ravens stop making things look so close all the time? Being in control is great, but the Steelers were in control of the Bills for the vast majority of their 19-16 overtime gift, but the Bills still had an opportunity to win because the Steelers allowed them to stay in the game. The Ravens seem to have a knack for big plays and explosive offensive output, followed by a half-dozen punts and a lack of energy offensively. Maybe things are just as they always have been. The offense does just what it had to and Ray Lewis & Co. keeps it close. But maybe not. The weapons are there and the talent exists to put up points. There are very few quarterbacks with the weapons that Joe Flacco has access to (the Falcons? Maybe?), and 17 points against a lackluster Tampa D just doesn’t sit right with me. This offense has the potential to be among the NFL’s elites. This game is being billed as a smashmouth game between two dominant teams. The Ravens haven’t been, we know that. It seems like every Ravens-Steelers game has the AFC North on the line, but this isn’t the same clash of the titans as its been in years past.
Let’s not let Pittsburgh off the hook, either. They have allowed teams to keep it close, and their offense has sputtered at times. They have had their share of close calls, to Miami (23-22), Cincinnati (26-21), and Buffalo (19-16). They have been steamrolled by the Patriots and smothered by the Saints. Their recent statement win over Oakland has been a bit exposed after the Raiders were pantsed by that same Miami team, only fresh off a quarterback controversy. Through it all however, Roethlisberger is quietly putting together one of his best seasons, with just 4 interceptions to 12 touchdowns in his seven games since his suspension, showing none of the rust Ravens fans might have hoped for.
However, the sacks are still there. Roethlisberger has always held onto the ball too long, and when a Bills team that has just 21 sacks all year gets 5 of those against Big Ben, you know there will be opportunities for Baltimore to get to him. Whether they do so is another story.
After this weekend, the Ravens can actually start sizing up their playoff competition. With the AFC elite finally starting to emerge and with the Patriots and Jets (hey, 9 wins is 9 wins) going head to head next week, this coming weekend will go miles towards determining the playoff picture. Following the Steelers matchup, the Ravens travel to Houston to take on the enigmatic but dangerous Texans, and after that have one game- home against the Saints- that should concern them the rest of the way. The Steelers have an even easier road, with a home date against the Jets the largest obstacle in the last quarter of the schedule. A Ravens win almost assures them the AFC North. A loss begins talk of traveling yet again to the likes of Indianapolis for the Wild Card round, and we have seen how those games end.
This will be Steelers hate week, with Ravens fans crowing about their week 4 win and Steelers fans responding that Ben will shred the Ravens secondary in a way Charlie Batch never could or would. And through all the hyperbole about hard-nosed old fashioned tough football, there are two relatively sophisticated offenses at work here. Both teams utilize the tight end as a receiving threat, have multiple wide receivers capable of making big plays downfield, have shifty running backs who don’t need to run out of the I, and at least in the Ravens’ case, can go a bit pass-happy at times. Sure, the defenses are both solid, with the Steelers perhaps more consistent, but I don’t consider this a matchup of ‘60’s era mashers running up against 9 man fronts and throwing 12 times a game.
If it works for ratings, then great, but put the Ravens in another team’s uniform and you wouldn’t recognize the play. Ravens-Steelers is a 21st century matchup, and these aren’t your early 2000’s Ravens, either offensively or defensively.