Ravens. Steelers. PLAYOFFS. Need I say more? Best rivalry in football, bar none. We’re talking MAN football. Slobberknockers year in and year out. And this time it’s with the season on the line, which we haven’t seen since 2010. The interesting thing about these two teams is that they’re no longer slouches offensively who depend on the ground game. Both teams can air it out if need be. And both teams have clobbered each other this season. The Ravens demolished Pittsburgh 26-6 in September and the Steelers derailed Baltimore 43-23 seven weeks later. Which means the score is even through 8 quarters here.
What’s obvious is a lot has changed since then. The Ravens struggled down the stretch and the Steelers haven’t, winning their final 4 games to win the AFC North. Having said that, LeVeon Bell is a monster loss for the Steelers and makes Pittsburgh much more one-dimensional. With him, it’s pick your poison against their offense and it’s nearly impossible to overcome a deficit in the 4th quarter. Without him, the defensive gameplan becomes much clearer. On the other side, Joe Flacco has a reputation as the best road playoff QB in the history of the game. He’s never gone one and done in 5 career postseason trips. So anytime he suits up in January, the Ravens have a chance. So this game could go a lot of different ways. Here are my keys to a Ravens victory:
1. Shut Down Brown
Without question, this is the biggest key to this game. Wear him like a glove. Double-team him. Whatever it takes, don’t let him get loose. If we lose by double digits, it’ll be because Antonio Brown had himself a field day against our mediocre secondary. He went for 7 grabs/90 yards/0 TD’s when we beat them and 11/144/1 TD when they smoked us. And it’s not like Big Ben doesn’t have other options. Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are capable in their own rights. But their offense is out of this world when Brown gets the ball in space. Jam him off the line, stay in his pocket, and have a man over top to help on the deep ball. Let Ben try to beat us with those other guys. They’ll still put points on the board, but we have the guys offensively to outscore them. Just need Lardarius Webb and company to shut down Brown.
2. Smother Big Ben
Crush him. There’s no front 7 in football better than ours, and we’re getting Ngata back too. All the weapons we need to get to him and make him feel the heat. In my opinion the biggest play of the September win was Courtney Upshaw’s “roughing the passer” penalty call on the opening drive of the game. It sent a message to Ben that it was going to be a long night for him, and he struggled to set his feet and deliver the football from then on. That’s the kind of attitude we’re going to have tomorrow night and our success in executing it will be a major factor. We gotta force him into making mistakes by blitzing relentlessly. Roethlisberger has 25 TD’s and 3 INT’s in his 11 wins this year, and 7 TD’s and 6 INT’s in his losses. When we win this game, it’ll be because our pass-rushers forced turnovers.
3. Air It Out Deep
Let’s chuck the rock man. I know we’ve run the ball exceptionally well this year, and that’s what Kubiak’s offense is predicated on, but let’s take some shots and hit a couple homers. Torrey Smith has been a force since October, and Steve has picked the pace back up after hitting a mid-season slump. Guys like Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown are finding their niche in this offense. Let’s open it up and sling it. We’ll still have our success on the ground and take those easy yards with Forsett. But these conservative throws have been exactly what’s killed our offensive rhythm down the stretch. Our receivers have great speed. Let them utilize it and most importantly, let your franchise QB air it out with that cannon that brought a ring to Baltimore 2 years ago.
4. Keep Your Cool
DISCIPLINE. Play with controlled intensity. There’s going to be a few scraps tomorrow night. That’s a given. But be the antagonizer, not the antgonized. Play mind games with them. Have the upper mental edge. In so many of these Ravens/Steelers games, one team loses their temper and takes all the 15-yarders. That team was the Ravens in the November loss. We can’t do that again. The margin for error is too small on the road. Guys like Steve Smith have an ability to get under people’s skin and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goads a Steeler into a hanky or two. Play hard and play focused, but most importantly stay disciplined.
Ravens worked hard to get to the postseason, and it’s finally here. Time for Joe Flacco to do what he does best, which is just WIN. Don’t care if its ugly, just get the job done. And who knows? This game could very well come down to special teams. Gotta love Justin Tucker and Jacoby Jones in that regard. Let’s fire it up. ALL ABOARD THE ROAD PLAYOFF TRAIN!!!