What a way to start the regular season.
So much for easing into things, so much for saving the big matchups for the final few weeks of the year.
Right off the bat, we’ve got Ravens-Steelers, a game which could determine the playoff outlook in the AFC North, despite the fact that we’re only in Week 1.
It doesn’t feel like the NFL’s greatest rivalry is upon us just yet - at least, it doesn’t to me - but come Sunday morning, I’m sure everyone will be plenty amped up for this battle between two Super Bowl contenders.
Here’s how the Ravens and Steelers match up statistically going into Sunday’s game (numbers represent 2010 regular season totals):
Ravens: 322.9 yards per game (22nd)
Steelers: 345.3 yards per game (14th)
Ravens: 114.4 ypg (14th)
Steelers: 120.3 ypg (11th)
Ravens: 208.4 ypg (20th)
Steelers: 225.1 ypg (14th)
Ravens: 318.9 ypg (10th)
Steelers: 276.8 ypg (2nd)
Ravens: 93.9 ypg (5th)
Steelers: 62.8 ypg (1st)
Ravens: 224.9 ypg (21st)
Steelers: 214.1 ypg (12th)
Ravens: +7 (9th)
Steelers: +17 (2nd)
Over the last couple years, we’ve all seen that one of the most successful ways to beat the Steelers’ ultra-stingy defense is to spread them out and throw the ball all over the place. Pittsburgh’s run defense is the toughest in the league, but if you’re able to force one-on-one matchups down the field and attack their secondary, you’ve got a shot to come out on top.
Going with that strategy could give teams an even a greater chance for success early this season, as Pittsburgh’s starting cornerbacks are banged up. Ike Taylor has been battling a broken thumb the last month and Bryant McFadden missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury.
The issue with spreading the Steelers out wide and going with a pass-heavy attack is that you’ve got to be able to protect the quarterback, something the Ravens could have trouble doing on Sunday.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is brand new, center Matt Birk is coming back from knee surgery and right tackle Michael Oher was a left tackle two weeks ago. Put that group against Pittsburgh’s fearsome pass rushing duo of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and it could make for a long afternoon. The Ravens’ ability to keep Joe Flacco on his feet and give him time to take his shots down the field will be - in my opinion - the game’s biggest key.
Defensively, the Ravens know what they’re working against. The focus put on bringing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger down when given the chance will only be magnified this year because of the speed of Pittsburgh’s wide receivers. Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders all can fly, and if the Ravens’ front seven isn’t able to take Roethlisberger to the turf, he’ll be able to extend plays and pick up some big gains through the air.
So, which team scores the win on Sunday and gets a head start in the race for the AFC North title?
After much thought, I’m giving Pittsburgh a slight edge. Roethlisberger always seems to come through when it matters, and I have trouble believing that the Ravens’ new-look offensive line will be able to contain the Steelers’ complex blitzes after having just a week and a half of practice time together.
Put me down for a 24-21 Steelers win.
How ‘bout yourself? Do you think the Ravens’ new pieces will help them take out Pittsburgh in the opener? Will Flacco finally be able to topple a Steelers team with Big Ben at the helm? Or do you see Pittsburgh being able to exploit some of the Ravens’ inexperience at cornerback and lack of cohesion along the O-line?
Who you got?