Joe Flacco

Tom Brady, Haloti Ngata, Dawan Landry

2011 NFL Season: Championship Week

And then there were four:

Baltimore Ravens (13-4) vs. New England Patriots (14-3). 3:00 pm ET. Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Give me the Ravens over the Patriots (-7.5). How much of the betting line is driven by the Patriots impressive win over the one-dimensional Denver Broncos? How much is driven by another underwhelming performance by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco? The Patriots are at home and have the better quarterback. They also have a defense that just might be coming together at the right time. The return of Patrick Chung (#25) to the lineup has inspired some confidence in New England that the back end just might hold up under duress. Who knows! The Patriots haven’t faced a team with a decent passing game since Week 12 (Philadelphia), and in that game, they surrendered 393 yards to Vince Young.

Conventional wisdom says the Ravens have to run the ball to win this game; that Ray Rice is their most reliable, consistent, and dynamic offensive player. The “smart money” says that Baltimore’s defense is beginning to show signs of age and strain; and, that they will be hard-pressed to defend the new tactical weapons in Brady’s arsenal (tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez). Perhaps, this game will be decided by the battle between Patriots safeties Patrick Chung (and whomever else Belichick puts back there) and Joe Flacco. The Patriots tight ends have been tremendous all season long, but the Ravens tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are very talented and capable of exploiting mismatches all over the field.

The production of Gronkowski (90, 1327, 17) and Hernandez (79, 910, 7) during the 2011 season has been historic. Still, the more conventional and conservative Ravens had a productive duo. Hickson and Pitta combined for 94 catches, 1033 yards, and 12 touchdowns.  Gronkowski and New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham were the only single players to eclipse those numbers. So, the Ravens also bring a viable tight end duo to this contest.

Perhaps the single greatest advantage in this game goes to Tom Brady. However, in recent years, Brady has proven susceptible to pressure up the middle combined with press coverage on his slot receivers. This approach compels him to hold the ball longer, while in a collapsing pocket. He must wait for his excellent (but slower) tight ends to uncover against man or zone coverage, or he must buy time with his feet. The Ravens have a solid rotation of defensive tackles, including Haloti Ngata, who are capable of man-handling the Patriots interior lineman, pressuring Brady, deflecting passes, and defending the run. I believe the game will turn on the ability of these players to pressure Brady and slow down the Patriots offense.

The 2011 Ravens defense, in my estimation, is not as powerful as the 2008 version. Still, the Ravens have some options. I believe that Lardarius Webb (#21) may wind up facing Wes Welker in the slot. The Patriots have the option of featuring Welker or either of their tight ends. I’m not sure that Deion Branch or any of the other wide receivers are still capable of having a big game against the Ravens (#Ocho!!). Ed Reed is going to spend a major portion of the day dealing with Gronkowski and/or Hernandez. This will place a premium on Bernard Pollard’s ability to cover, make tackles, and deliver big hits.

The Patriots did not win any games this season against teams that finished the season with winning records. I’m not sure what difference that makes. The Patriots beat teams that had Super Bowl aspirations all season long: San Diego, the Jets, Philadelphia. Still, they have managed to lose to teams that used physicality to dominate the line of scrimmage: the Giants and Steelers, in particular.

I like the Ravens physicality in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Baltimore 31, New England 21.

Stats of interest:

Tom Brady’s 300-yard passing games vs. Baltimore: 0

Brady’s 3 touchdown games vs. Baltimore: 0

Games completing under 60% of passes: 3

New York Giants (11-7) vs. San Francisco 49ers  (14-3). 6:30 pm ET. San Francisco, California.

It’s pouring down rain in San Francisco. I like the Giants as much as any team in the league in bad weather. The last time these teams met, Frank Gore played a half, and Ahmad Bradshaw missed the entire contest. Bradshaw’s return to the lineup means a great deal for him and Eli Manning, but it also makes Brandon Jacobs more dangerous…and in bad weather, with a wet track, Jacobs’ change of pace may be just what it takes to finally power through that impenetrable San Francisco defense.

The Giants have more versatility on offense. The 49ers have more depth on defense. But if the rain is going to affect the Giants pass rush, it’s also going to affect 263 pound Aldon Smith. I like Cruz, and Nicks, and Manningham more than I like Michael Crabtree and whomever else the 49ers have found to play opposite him. Vernon Davis is a phenomenal talent, but he is not a wholly unique talent. I like the Giants to live with his production and force someone else to beat them.

New York 27, San Francisco 17.

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2011 NFL Season: 10 Early Questions for NFL QB’s (Week 3)

No time like the present to dig in and ask some tough questions about performance.

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions

  1. Why is Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco currently ranked 28th (tied with Browns’ QB Colt McCoy) with a completion percentage of 54.1%?
  2. Of the three QB’s that have thrown for over 1,000 yards this season (Brady, Brees, and Newton), which one has the biggest “upside”?
  3. Which QB with a lower completion percentage than Minnesota’s Donovan McNabb should be benched first: Jay Cutler, Chad Henne, Kyle Orton or Sam Bradford?
  4. Quarterbacks averaging less than 7 yards per attempt include Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford and Donovan McNabb. Only Ryan has offensive weapons as deep and varied as Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Is it time for a change in Atlanta — and if so, who stays, who goes?
  5. Why is Chad Henne still playing (and why is Tony Sparano still coaching)?
  6. Should we all expect Kevin Kolb to win close games by now? When does his honeymoon end with the national press? Kolb and Cam Newton are the only 2 QB’s average more than 8 yards per attempt with losing records. The Panthers lost to the Cardinals in Week 1 due, in part, to a dropped pass in the endzone at the end of the game.
  7. How many writers had to trash stories about a “gritty, tough, resilient, smart, heady and really, really gritty, tough, resilient, smart and heady” Kevin Kolb positioning the Cardinals for a playoff run after T. Jax ran over both Cardinals safeties to knock off the red birds? Kolb is as unproven today as he was when the Philadelphia faithful fawned over his every move.
  8. When is Ben Roethlisberger going to stop playing down to the level of his competition and author a blowout defense that allows his aging defense to get some rest?
  9. Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Matt Cassel lead the league in pass interceptions. Anyone covering this?
  10. Philip Rivers has thrown two interceptions in EVERY GAME THIS SEASON; his teams have always underperformed; and the Chargers are a razor’s edge away from an 0-3 start, but it’s crickets ALL AROUND the national media. Can Phil get a check up from the neck up? Is it as simple as the loss of a “security blanket”?

EXTRA CREDIT

  1. Tom Brady throws 4 picks and some analysts, I use the term loosely, are blaming receivers for failing to run routes properly…but missing Brady’s failure to finish plays and convert to defense once he surrenders the ball. Play the game the way its supposed to be played.
  2. If you’re running the Rams right now, would you rather have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ndamukong Suh or Sam Bradford?
  3. The Texans next three games are against the Steelers, Raiders and at Baltimore. Is Matt Schaub the guy? Will we know after this stretch, once and for all?

Just one final note: At some point it will be fitting for the NFL family to remember that Tom Brady has essentially had two careers. In the first stage of his career, as his team won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years by a total of 9 points (three point wins each time), Brady was not a dominant passer. He was efficient. He didn’t throw interceptions. He was a game manager, not a game changer. Young Tom Brady didn’t win games with his arm. He won them with his hand offs, and his execution of play action fakes. He had some big passing games (Super Bowls vs. Carolina and Philadelphia), but each of those games was also punctuated by high carry games from Patriot running backs. He threw for less than 4,000 yards in each of the Patriots Super Bowl-winning seasons…and he had QB ratings of under 93.

Rivals of the Era: Closer than Close

In the second stage of Tom Brady’s career, he has emerged as a dominant passer, but his teams have struggled to win post-season games. The Patriots, with an undefeated team, lost a Super Bowl to the New York Giants in which Brady threw 48 passes for a mere 266 yards. He was throttled, hammered and harassed all night long – and it still took a miracle for them to lose. Still, they lost. His passing was unable to carry the day – in much the same way that dominant passing was unable to garner rings for players like Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, and others.

It seems as though there is a bit of collective amnesia with respect to these two phases of Tom Brady’s career. The elite passer of the second phase has not won a Super Bowl. Like Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb and Dan Marino and others, he was won a lot of regular season games. However, he has lost a home playoff game to a team that featured an overwhelmed Joe Flacco (4-10, 35 total passing yards, 1 INT). He has lost to the New York Jets and second-year QB Mark Sanchez. And, for what it’s worth, Tom Brady has not thrown for 300 yards in a PLAYOFF GAME since 2005 against the Denver Broncos…and New England lost that game by 2 touchdowns.

It is difficult to separate Brady’s numbers and the regular season wins from his early success as the offensive leader of a team that was actually run by men like Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Ty Law, and Lawyer Milloy. It’s hard. I know it is. But the bottom line for Brady and the Patriots is what it is…and the numbers never lie.

2010 NFL Season: Historic Day for Black Quarterbacks

For Black quarterbacks across the NFL, October 10 is a day that many of them (based on their previous recorded statements) will view as just another Sunday.  But, for observers of the game and others aware of the way that questions of race color perceptions of performance, yesterday was a historic day.  For the first time that I can remember, more than one or two Black quarterbacks faced off against elite non-Black quarterbacks on the same Sunday.  I’m sure it’s happened before, but my memory is not coming up with another such Sunday.  I might have to go all the way back to the heyday of Daunte Culpepper and Aaron Brooks to find such a week.  I’ll take a look and see what I come up.  But for now…yesterday was one interesting day.

Irrelevant Excellence?

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2010 NFL Season: 6 Questions Before Week 3

After two weeks, there are many teams around the NFL with some tough, hard questions at hand.  For those teams that had high expectations entering the 2010 campaign, these questions better get answered quickly.

1.  Minnesota Vikings. Are you willing to meet the demands of the San Diego Chargers for wide receiver Vincent Jackson?  The Brett Favre Experiment concludes at the end of the 2010 regular season.  The Vikings will not compete for a Super Bowl (and may miss the playoffs) without the addition of a high-quality pass catching option like Vincent Jackson.  Sidney Rice, thinking optimistically, cannot be expected to be a force on the field until Week 8 or 9.  While management debates the value of a 3rd round pick in a season that may or may not happen (2011), your offense will gear up to get beat down by and/or keep pace with the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots.  It won’t be fun.  By Week 8, Brad Childress could be looking for a job as a color analyst on the NFL Network — covering Viking’s games.

2. Buffalo Bills. Are you willing to trade Marshawn Lynch to ensure that you make one positive contribution to the 2010 NFL season?  This team is going nowhere this season.  As you prepare to face the New England Patriots and their confounding defense, you’ve decided to ditch the “smart quarterback from Stanford” (Trent Edwards) for the “smarter quarterback from Harvard” (Ryan Fitzpatrick).  It won’t make a shred of difference.  If C.J. Spiller is supposed to be the Bills Most Valuable Player on the roster, Marshawn Lynch in the Most Valuable Player in trade. The Bills can retain Coe College’s Fred Jackson and then focus on figuring out a way to get these guys the ball.  The Packers could use a runner with Lynch’s power around the goal line.  It’s time to pull the trigger.

3.  Dallas Cowboys. Are you willing to reign in the Romo-Garrett Show and cede some time to the true triplets of Jones, Barber and Choice?  If the Dallas Cowboys are to win and compete for a Super Bowl title in 2010, they need to run the ball more, pass the ball less, and figure out a creative way to dump Roy Williams.

4.  Baltimore Ravens. Are you willing to start Marc Bulger ahead of Joe Flacco?  The Ravens signal caller ranks 32nd in passer rating at 41.2 and has a completion percentage of 48%.  At this rate, Flacco would have to throw something like 70 passes a game just to post mediocre numbers.  He has thrown one touchdown and five interceptions.  His receiving corps is as accomplished as any in the league.  Will the first matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4 determine the long-term fate of this franchise?

5.  Kansas City Chiefs. Are you ready to find out what is behind Door #1?  Over the next four weeks, you will host the hungry, angry San Francisco 49ers; have a bye week; then travel in consecutive weeks to Indianapolis and Houston.  Surely each of these opponents will take you lightly.  You will retain the element of surprise.  Are you ready?  If the Chiefs can get through this portion of the schedule, they have some “winnable games” ahead with Jacksonville, Buffalo and Oakland beginning in Week 7.

6.  New England Patriots. Are you leaning toward Julian Edelman or Aaron Hernandez to replace the injured Kevin Faulk?  The Patriots are going to need another reliable go-to-guy on 3rd down.  Edelman has the experience, but with Wes Welker healthy, are his services really just a duplication?  Is Hernandez flexibility as an in-line tight end and an outside receiver or H-back better suited to replacing Kevin Faulk?  After scoring a mere 14 points vs. the Jets, the Patriots need to come up with answers fast.  Everyone is pouring over that video tape and looking to replicate what New York was able to do.

2010 NFL Season: John Clayton’s Quest for Integrity

ESPN reporter John Clayton is routinely lambasted on his “blog” for ESPN.com because he makes outlandish and often ridiculous statements.  Perhaps no single statement has garnered as much ridicule as his singular proclamation that Baltimore Ravens starter Joe Flacco is “an elite quarterback.”

Clayton has been stuck on stupid for some time now.  He affirmed Flacco’s future greatness years ago.  He was sure the evidence would come.  Clayton even went so far as to suggest that we were seeing was merely a mirage.  Flacco’s 4-10, 34 yards, 1 INT nightmare vs. the New England Patriots was not really a disaster!  It was a sign of greatness because he was a young QB winning playoff games on the road.  Clayton’s statements read as if Ray Lewis and Ray Rice had suddenly changed uniforms; as if Flacco’s 4 measly completions actually impressed someone in Foxboro other than his own mother and John Clayton.

Clayton, a former beat writer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even went so far as to ignore the pitiable performance Flacco offered up in the 2008 AFC Championship game.  He served up another fitful apologia after the Colts put Joe to bed without any dinner in 2009.  In 2010, it’s been CRICKETS. (more…)

Is Joe Flacco the Worst Post-Season QB of All Time?

It is possible that Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco is the WORST POST-SEASON QUARTERBACK in the history of the NFL?  While the national media (and Baltimore’s local media) have given Flacco a pass for his ineptitude, 2010 will be the season where improvements must manifest.  ESPN’s top football writer, John Clayton,  considers Flacco to be an elite quarterback and cites his post-season performance as proof.  While no one at NFL.com is quite that delusional, Flacco has managed to escape public scrutiny.  If Flacco cannot perform with the addition of Anquan Boldin to the receiving corps, Baltimore needs to look for a new quarterback.

In five post-season games, Joe Flacco has an abysmal rating of 46.5.  He has completed 57 of 120 passes (47.5%) for 660 yards.  The Baltimore signal caller has thrown one touchdown and six interceptions.  The Ravens are 3-2 in these games.  The defense and a powerful ground game were able to mask a horrific 4-10, 34 yard, 1 INT performance vs. the New England Patriots in January.

Brady Consoles Flacco for Piss Poor Performance

Flacco has yet to pass for 200 yards in the post-season.  He has had two games with ratings under 20 and two games with ratings under 60.

How much worse does it have to get before Ozzie Newsome turns to the guy he originally envisioned in this position: Troy Smith?

Addendum:  If Flacco is not the primary candidate, “Jaws” is in the running.  Ron Jaworski completed 46.5% of his post-season attempts and finished his career with a 4-5 record, including one Super Bowl appearance punctuated by 3 interceptions to Oakland Raiders LB Rod Martin.

Drew Bledsoe is in the conversation as well.  7 games.  51.2% completion percentage with 6 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.  Cumulative rating of 54.9 and a measly yards per attempt measure of 5.3 yards.

Looking Ahead: Top NFL QBs in 2010

Who is in your Top 10?

Drew Brees is a no-brainer. What about Vince Young (26-13 as a starter)?  Joe Flacco (21-13 as a starter)?  Alex Smith?  Mark Sanchez?  Are you looking to the upside of a quarterback who has yet to make his mark, or are you sticking with the men who’ve done it before?  Manning (2x) and Brady.  What about the potentially retired?  Are you expecting a Beltway Revival for choir boy turned QB, Jason Campbell?  How much are you going to hold Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl loss against him?   How much are you going to hold Eli Manning’s late season collapse against him?  How ’bout them fumbles (Tony Romo)?

Romo: "Sometimes, you've got to give the defense...give the defense what they want."

Who do you rank in the top 10 — and who is number one on your look good chart?

2009 NFL Season: QB’s Under the Gun

NFL defensive coordinators are always looking for an advantage.  Of course, with the pursuit of any reward comes some degree of risk.  Such is life with the ‘blitz.’  Some quarterbacks fold like picnic tables…some come out firing and scorch defenses into submission.

Tom Brady - Taking One for the Team

Here is a look at some interesting blitz ratios for QB’s through Week 4. (more…)

2009 NFL Season: Week 4 – What to Watch For

Five things on my radar this week:

1.  Packers at Vikings. Revenge is a dish best served old.  I have this feeling that the Vikings may not be served by the spectacular success of last week’s win vs. the San Francisco 49ers.  The Niners are a team that lacks the offensive punch and balance of the Packers.  The Niners lost Frank Gore early in the game and were unable to run out the clock with less than 2 minutes remaining.

I am wondering if newly-minted OLB Aaron Kampman is comfortable enough in his new position to bring the pain from the edge.  He was the best DE you’d never heard of for the past three seasons.  He notched 37 sacks playing in a 4-3 scheme.  He’s been moved and has only registered one sack through 3 games.  Does he break out in Minnesota?  I’m sure he’ll want to show former fellow-Hawkeye and current Viking LB  Chad Greenway a few tricks.

I think Al Harris and Charles Woodson are really going to be up for this game.  I think Brett Favre will be so charged up that he will have to work hard to resist his urges to embarrass the Packers.  The men he is most angry with will not be covering Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin.  If Favre loses focus, Harris and Woodson could take him to the wood shed.

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2008 AFC Championship Game Preview: Ravens vs. Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to host the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday for the 2008 AFC Championship Game.  The winner goes to the Super Bowl to face the winner of the NFC Championship Game featuring the Philadelphia Eagles at the Arizona Cardinals.  In this, the Year of the Risen Bird, the Steelers must feel like uninvited guests to a party of winged wildcards.  Only Pittsburgh managed to earn a bye week.  Only the Steelers survived the aerial assault (mostly on defense) by the Ravens, Cardinals and Eagles.  Aggressive snatch and grab techniques pushed these upstarts past favored teams like Tennessee, Carolina and the defending-Super Bowl champion New York Giants.09000d5d80b3e4a2_gallery_6001

The Steelers and Ravens will square off for the third time this season.  The Steelers won at home 23-20 in overtime earlier this season.  They survived a controversial finish in Baltimore and escaped with a 13-9 victory in December.  Historically, the Steelers are 16-11 vs. the Ravens.  These two teams have played some of the most physical and brutal games in the history of the league.

jarret-ben-bart

Back in September, Pittsburgh’s first-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall was separated from his shoulder and the rest of the season by Ravens all-world linebacker Ray Lewis.  Ravens defenders like Ed Reed and Jarret Johnson have been rocked to their core by Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward.  Ward has been so effective that Terrell Suggs has seen fit to place a redemption bounty on Ward.

Beyond the fabled defenses which feature the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year (Steeler OLB James Harrison – 101 tkls., 16.5 sacks, 7 FF), safeties Ed Reed (only unanimous All-Pro selection) and Troy Polamalu, and the aforementioned Ray Lewis stand two quarterbacks poised to do battle once more.

and

For the Ravens, the man in the eye of the storm is “rookie” quarterback Joe Flacco.  The new kid from Delaware appears to be a star in the making.  He is the big-armed quarterback the Ravens looked for in Kyle Boller.  Flacco, though, appears to have the composure the Ravens sought in discarding Boller and drafting Ohio State legend (video link) Troy Smith.  An injury to Smith afforded Flacco his chance.  He hasn’t disappointed.  While his numbers have not been stellar, he has done two things: maintained ball security and made the occasional deep throw to loosen up defenses.  In the December rematch, Joe Flacco played his worst game of the season.  He was 11-28, 115 yards and 2 interceptions.  He didn’t enjoy his second look at the Steelers.  Odds are that his third look will be somewhat better than his dismal showing four weeks ago.

The Ravens feature the 4th-ranked run game in the entire league.  It is anchored by a large, bruising offensive line and an equally punishing LeRon McClain.  The nifty fullback-turned lead back led the Ravens in carries and yards in that December matchup vs. the Steelers.  He racked up 87 yards on the ground and alleviated some of the pressure faced by Flacco.  The Ravens also feature two excellent route running receivers (Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton) and versatile tight end Todd Heap.

The Steelers feature one of only three quarterbacks* to amass five wins versus the vaunted Ravens defense since 2000.  Ben Roethlisberger is 5-2 as a starter vs. the Ravens, with both losses coming during his Season of Riding Dangerously (2006).   In 5 career wins vs. the Ravens, Roethlisberger is 81-129 (62.7%) for 1044 yards, 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions with a rating of 103.2.

The Steelers also feature Willie Parker.  Parker was the league’s leading rusher in 2007 through 16 weeks, but he broke his leg in a game at St. Louis.  His recovery was to be aided by the insertion of Rashard Mendenhall into the lineup.  The Ravens scrapped that plan for the Steelers and forced an adjustment which was not completed until Week 17.  The Steelers dipped from 9th in scoring a year ago to 20th this season.  The rushing attack fell from 3rd in the league to 23rd.  For the first time in a long time, Willie Parker looks healthy.  He ran for 146 yards vs. the San Diego Chargers in the Division Round of the playoffs last week.

The Steelers may not be well-suited to run well against the Ravens.  Historically, even though the Steelers have had big lineman, they’ve used counters, traps and other types of pulling plays with very little success vs. Baltimore.  Reports out of Pittsburgh were that Willie Parker convinced Bruce Arians to go to a Zone Blocking scheme vs. the Chargers.  The zone blocking scheme allowed Parker to hit holes quicker and make decisive runs.  The line supported him by getting effective double-teams on Charger NT Jamal Williams.  The huge difference between the Ravens and Chargers is that SD does not have two run stuffing linebackers like Ray Lewis and Bart Scott.

*Note – The last player to rush for 100 yards vs. the Ravens was Larry Johnson (KC Chiefs) back in Week 14 of 2006.

Larry Johnson vs. Chiefs

Since 2006, most teams that have had success on the ground vs. Baltimore (100+ yards) have featured multiple backs with contrasting styles  (Chris Johnson and LenDale White, Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw, Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, Sean Alexander and Maurice Morris) or a zone blocking scheme (Tatum Bell in Denver; Vick and Dunn in Atlanta; Addai and Rhodes in Indy; Travis Henry and Vince Young in Tennessee.   The Steelers may not trust Gary Russell to provide that change of pace attack, and so will rely on zone blocking schemes and seek to approximate the success of others.  The problem?  Neither Parker nor Mewelde Moore are “pile movers” and tend to play with a higher pad level that allows them to be tackled more easily when running in traffic.  (Both, of course, are magnificently elusive in “space” … the very thing the Ravens don’t give you.)

The Steelers know the Ravens are not the Chargers.   There are no secrets between these teams.  There is no love lost and the winner will be determined between the trenches and between the ears.  Turnovers may not be a factor in this game.  The teams have played even in head-to-head contests this season.  The game may well be decided through the air, where contrary to popular opinion, the Ravens have been decidedly weak against certain players.

Since 2004, the Baltimore Raven defense has been ranked sixth, fifth, first, sixth and second in overall defense.   (Only the Steelers have been better: first, fourth, ninth, first, first.)  The legacy of that defense goees all the way back to the Super Bowl team in 2000.  However, for all of their success since 2000, Baltimore has had some very surprising regular season failings against 3 QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer.

These three QBs have a combined regular season record of 15-8 vs. the Ravens.  In the post-season, only Manning has faced the Ravens.  He won a 15-6 slugfest en route to the Super Bowl (and did not perform well at all).

In the five wins vs. the Ravens, Roethlisberger has a 62.7 completion percentage and 11 touchdown passes.  He’s thrown 4 interceptions.  His rating is 103.2.

Manning and Palmer have been even better.   Manning has a 66.8 completion percentage (103-154), 1307 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and only 1 interception.  That interception was thrown in 2002.  In his last two games vs. Baltimore, Manning has thrown 7 touchdowns and no interceptions.  He has a rating of 114.3 in his 5 wins.

peytonvsravens Carson Palmer has been unbelievable.  In his 5 wins vs. the Ravens, he has completed 71.5% of his passes for 1,397 yards and 10 touchdowns with 2 picks.  His rating is 114.6.  Palmer has been injured more frequently since his run-in with Kimo Von Oelhoffen in the 2005 Wildcard game, and has had some terrible games vs. the Ravens as well.  The 2008 season opener was one such game (9-24, 94 yards, 1 pick).  Nonetheless, Palmer has been more successful than not vs. the Ravens.  That is a claim that very few players can make.

ochocincovsravens Perhaps what is most striking about these numbers is that Roethlisberger, Manning and Palmer have significantly outperformed their career averages in wins vs. Baltimore.  Their concentration, attention to detail and execution has been razor sharp in those 15 wins.  They’ve produced amazing results.  That level of production over a full season is simply not possible – and its no guarantee of success on Sunday.  Can you imagine?

Roethlisberger:

259-413, 3341 yards, 35 touchdowns, 13 interceptions.  Rating 103.2.

Manning:

330 – 493, 4182 yards, 35 touchdowns, 3 interceptions. Rating 114.3

Palmer:

362 – 506, 4470 yards, 32 touchdowns, 6 interceptions. Rating 114.6

Caveat:  If the Ravens had the benefit of a balanced offense in these games, these numbers would probably look very different.  Big-armed QBs who do not turn the ball over have had success against this intimidating and formidable collection of players.

Prediction:

Ben Roethlisberger has two career losses to the Baltimore Ravens.  Both losses occurred during his worst season as a professional.  They occurred during a season in which he and Bill Cowher were the only two people in America who thought he should not have been benched.  Prior to his motorcycle accident, and since the beginning of the 2007 season, Roethlisberger is undefeated as a starter vs. the Baltimore Ravens.

His numbers vs. the Ravens in those wins suggest he is capable of having a productive game.  While quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer play alongside elite wide receivers like Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, and Chad Johnson, the Steelers have had consistent production from only Hines Ward.

For the Ravens to win this game, they will need to SCORE on defense and/or getting touchdowns from their passing game.  It would be wholly uncharacteristic of the Steelers for that to happen at this time.  For the Steelers to win, Willie Parker will need at least 20 carries.  I believe if he can average as little as 3 yards per carry, that will be sufficient to carry the day.  I expect Roethlisberger to have a solid game and make a few deep throws throughout the game.

I believe the Steelers to be the more rested team.  The Ravens bye week was moved to Week 2 this season due to weather in Texas.  The team hasn’t had a week off since September.  The Steelers defense was run down after several tough games and it showed as they yielded 100+ yards on the ground to New England, Baltimore, Tennessee and Cleveland to close out the season.  Only Dallas (95), with backup Tashard Choice,  failed to eclipse the 100 yard mark.   The Steelers rebounded from this slide to hold the San Diego Chargers to a mere 15 yards on the ground.  In Baltimore’s last five games, teams have rushed for 91 (Pittsburgh), 92 (Dallas), 118 (Jacksonville), 52 (Miami) and 116 (Tennessee).  Ed Reed’s after the whistle effort to crack the back of Chris Johnson was successful in getting the speedy back out of the game.  Only the Dolphins, led by a weak-armed QB incapable of keeping the Ravens defense honest was unable to have success on the ground.  The trend is clear.  The Ravens are a fatigued team that may be just a step slow on Sunday.

(It is worth noting that the Ravens are ranked 11th in scoring.  The defense scored 6 touchdowns and created short fields for many more.  Were it not for the prowess of the defense, the Ravens would probably rank around 22nd in the league in total scoring.  The offense was ranked 18th in yards.  Perhaps the Ravens should take a page out of the Chargers book and go deep early.  The plan needs to be different than the first two games.)

Question:  Name the last team to beat another team three times in the same season?

steelers_full_width 2002 Pittsburgh Steelers.  3 wins, by 3 points each game over the Cleveland Browns.

Score: Pittsburgh 33, Baltimore 13.

(Note: Last week, I predicted Pittsburgh 42, San Diego 17.  Actual score: Pitt 35, San Diego 24.)

Ray-Ray and Warren talk Defense…at NFL.com

NFL Preview Video at NFL.com

Addendum:  The Ravens finished the season with 5 blow out wins over Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Washington, Dallas and Jacksonville.  Baltimore blew out Miami in its first playof game for the second time this season.  Only the Steelers and Titans played Baltimore closely.