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.

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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.

30 comments

  1. You forgot to mention what the G-men did to that defense. Sure, none of the 3 backs broke 100, but on just 9 carries, Ahmad Bradshaw gain 96 yards on that defense. Best run came running at Suggs and Bannan, then cut inside. They lined up a fullback out of motion and made the Ravens thing they were going inside. Brandon Jacobs had only 11 carries, but rolled up 73 yards himself. He also ran at Suggs for one of his best runs of the game, but most of his yards came between tackle running right at Ray Lewis.

    Zone blocking will help the Steelers against the Ravins, but you guys can throw on that Defense. They won’t be able to have Reed as a floater. He’s going to have to play his position in it’s natural way because Holmes and Washington are both in good shape. I don’t the Ravens D being very dominant against your offense. I don’t see Flacco advoiding throwing picks against a rested, healthy Steelers D. Thou I wrote this game could go to overtime in an email to a group, I honestly don’t believe this game will be that close. I believe if the score is close, it’s only because of garbage time scoring. As good as the Ravens are, you are right to say that they are a step slower since they’ve had no rest and a very tough schedule. The Steelers will have a lot of problems with them next year, but next Sunday should be a breeze.

  2. Initially, I was thinking that rest or the lack thereof would not be a factor, but the genuine mutual dislike will keep the Steelers from coming out flat and, should enable them to actually keep an adrenal edge. I look for another hit to be either thrown or taken by the tough-as-nails Ward to further energize the Steelers. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this ignites a brawl because of the stakes and becomes a game of the ages hereafter known as “The Bounty” game. The one thing the Steelers will need to guard against will be big runs by Flacco and, don’t be surprised if the Ravens pull out all of the stops and puts in Troy Smith and Flacco, as they seem to be big on wrinkle plays. While I am sure the Steelers will pull this out, it may be closer than I and others speculate (as the Ravens certainly seemed like a team of destiny in the games against the Cowboys and the Titans), despite the Ravens running on empty. This will indeed be a SB caliber game, but it will be an all Pa. SB with the greatest game yet to come.

  3. I hear you. Frankly, the players in this game are too smart to have a brawl. Before the game — maybe. After the game — maybe. During the game? I doubt it.

    I think we’ll see a bit of Troy Smith as well. Maybe only 1 or two plays — but if it works, look out.

    Even though I’ve picked a wide margin for the Steelers, I can certainly see another outcome to this game. These teams are so close in so many respects. Looking forward to a great game.

  4. What I appreciate, in advance, the most about this game is that not a single player on either side will be looking past this game, such that they won’t give it all they’ve got. Both sides will absolutely leave it all out on the field—not just due to the bad blood, but perhaps because they’ve both pridefully, subconsciously bought into the hype that THIS GAME will be the REAL SB, as some prognosticators are saying. I believe that it will indeed be a Pyrrhic victory for the winner and this will cost them dearly in the SB; thus, allowing the Eagles to come out victorious.

    On a more cynical, yet marketing/ratings standpoint, were I an NFL Executive (who for such a big game, is keenly aware of the public perception as to whether a game will be viewed in advance as being truly being competitive or not), I would think that Philly (considering the McNabb/Reid benching/redemption subtext) rather than AZ (yes, bigger than Warner going for his second SB Ring) would be the better draw, as I think that most football fans would truly feel that the Cards, even if they won big over Philly, would not stand a chance against either the Steelers or the Ravens. This might leave some to not even bother tuning in or even just checking in near the half for the commercials. Therefore, with the aforementioned being the case, expect Philly to get any controversial call if this game is close with Philly prevailing in the end.

  5. Philly is one of the more popular teams in the league. So are the Steelers. That’s no guarantee, but that’s what the TV people want. No question at all.

  6. I think that (like a majority of people) the Ravens are a tired team. It showed even in their tackling against the Titans. They also have some injuries to key players (Suggs, Rolle, Reed, etc.).

    I think that the Steelers will run the ball good enough the wear down the Ravens’ defense. I look for (and expect) the Steelers to score early. In order for Baltimore to pull this one out, they need a score on defense AND special teams. Something tells me that they will try to throw the ball more than they have in the previous games. If they want to take the crowd out of the game early, it might be a risk they’re willing to take; but is it the right risk?

    The Ravens are not your typical “come-from-behind” team, and if they get behind against Dick LeBeau’s defense, it aint gonna be pretty for Flacco.

    I like the Steelers to win 27 – 16.

  7. Also, I had no idea that Parker had Arians incorporate the zone blocking scheme. That’s news to me…..

  8. GN:

    I don’t recall exactly where I heard that…either NFL.com or ESPN. I think that’s a smart move. He’s much more dangerous as a one-cut runner who can either flow with the blocks or hit quick cut backs. From a scheduling standpoint, the Ravens appear to be right where the Steelers were when they went on the road to Tennessee in Week 16.

    If the Ravens are able to pull this off, it will have to be the greatest win in their franchise history — except for the Titan win in 2000 and the Super Bowl.

    One of the little facts of the Steelers getting healthy is that Darren McFadden is back on the field. He’s a tremendous player. His first “coming out party” was in that 2005 playoff game at Indy. He defended Reggie Wayne on two consecuitve plays — man-to-man — in the corner with the Colts desperately needing a score.

    He and Ike Taylor really hold it down out there.

  9. Yeah, I think that was a smart move as well. I’m kinda surprised that Arians bought into it….lol (j/k). Parker should do well carrying the ball. He just need to hold on to it b/c you know the Ravens will be looking to rip it away from him.

    I agree with your assessment on McFadden and Taylor. McFadden will take over for Townsend soon and those two should be a force for a while. I know that for a long time I wanted DeShea Townsend to bounce….but I think he is quietly having perhaps his best year.

    The secondary as a whole has improved tremendously. I’ve never seen them look so good in m2m coverage. I think with Tomlin coming in, and him being a 2ndary coach, he’s getting the most out of those guys.

  10. I’ve stopped the habit of making predictions, but I’ll say your analysis of both teams, T3, is on the mark.

    The key to countering the Ravens’ version of what is (essentially) the 46 defense is quick hitter plays and an ability to go deep once the D takes to the habit of blinking. The Steelers have the personnel to pull off such a strategy, on top of enjoying an advantage of healthy bodies over Baltimore. I also don’t see Pittsburgh turning the ball over as did the Titans.

    As with the Tennessee matchup, Baltimore does have a puncher’s chance against the Steelers.

    Of course, these opinions are not necessarily those of management. Your mileage may vary. Check with your doctor for details.

  11. I’m banking on the Steelers having two things:

    1) A roster full of guys who remember the agony of losing the AFC Championship Game in either 2001, 2003 or 2004.

    2) A roster full of guys who know exactly where the Ravens are — having been an “exhausted” Wild Card in 2005 when they won on the road at Cincinnati, Denver and Indy.

    Only Ray Lewis, Chris McCallister and Matt Stover were down with the Ravens in 2000.

  12. Brothaman that was some good ass sleep…

    Good work here bruh. Very extensive. I’m ready for some football!

    It’s crazy certain quarterbacks have so much success against the Ravens. Could that success be translated to the rest of the league as well or is it Ravens specific?

    Ron Glover is back so I’m waiting for his picks but I’d go with Pittsburgh as well. I recall a conversation after the Eagles beat Pittsburgh early in the season where we both agreed those two teams could face each other in the Super Bowl. Strong possibility of that happening bruh. Crazy how this season has gone down.

    I’m beginning to hear a lot of pundits pick Arizona–which is interesting.

    I don’t think the TV people would mind if Arizona won this game strictly because it would advance the grizzled golden boy mantra Warner has in tow.

    If it is in fact a Keystone Classic, then to me the story line is the Black coach facing the Black quarterback. This is the best possible match up IMO. Of course this would also be a battle of great defenses…maybe I’m biased but I’m interested in what a coach like Tomlin could do with a Black quarterback.

    This is taking nothing away from Ben but I think it’s the final frontier to be explored.

    Denny almost had it with Randall but it came down to that dang ex Steeler 😉

    Way off base here, but for once I would like to see our sons.

  13. Yeah, definitely surprising. Not that I think Gruden is a great coach (he won w/ Dungy’s team), but I just didn’t see this fast ball coming.

  14. Question for you T3….

    I’ve watched the majority of Steeler games this season and i’ve come to notice a trend.

    Why do they not have an “everyday” KR? Carey Davis? Melwelde Moore? Yes, they’re ‘sure handed’ but not exactly game breakers.

    Santonio Holmes only seems to get the call when they’re gonna get good field position or the team needs a big play. I’m trying to understand why Nate Washington and Limus Sweed aren’t being used in those situations.

    What sayest thou?

  15. I think the Steelers need to draft a player who has the capacity to return kicks on a regular basis. Holmes is too valuable to do it on a regular basis. He’s obviously very good at it. It would be great if he could stay back there, but he’d be the only #2 receiver in the league doing it.

    Washington doesn’t have the same agility or stop-start speed that Holmes has. Nate, from what I’ve seen, has straight line speed — and he needs to slow down a bit to improve his route running. Usually the only time he’s open is on a deep throw (sideline) or on a crossing route.

    Limas Sweed is too big to return kicks and I don’t trust him with the ball. He doesn’t play strong with the ball. He has trouble getting off the line of scrimmage, playing through tacklers and getting his pads behind him to exploit his size. He has too much learning to do to be back there jacking up our special teams.

    Honestly, I don’t believe overall speed is the key — it’s that gear that only great returners seem to have — after everyone has stopped for a half-second, they restart much faster than everyone else: Darren Sproles, Devin Hester, Dante Hall. They actually stop moving on KO’s and still score. Crazy.

  16. Ok, I can roll with that…..makes perfect sense.

    I know they had Allen Rossum for a minute but he was on the decline. I remember him returning one to the house when he was there, but it may have been in the pre-season when he did. Looks like they’ve been looking for that missing link for a while now.

    Yeah, they definitely need to draft a player who does that on a regular. We’ll see what happens in the offseason.

  17. Remember when they drafted Willie Reid from Florida State? Didn’t pan out. Ricardo Coclough was supposed to be good at that as well. Didn’t work out. They’ve tried.

  18. It’s great to be right isn’t it. Nice call on the score. Those 14 points might as well have been zero. Like I thought, Flacco is to in-experienced to handle a rested Steelers D that was going to be aided by time of possesion on offense. Not that they didnt deserve to be in the Championship game, but they didn’t show me enough in their win over the Titans to make me believe they could handle the Steelers. The one thing that did surprise me was that the Steelers ran the ball as poorly as they did, especially when you take into account how well they threw the ball.

  19. The passing offense is still not sharp. Sweed, Parker and Holmes all dropped touchdown passes. Ben just missed Holmes on another. Santonio is probably kicking himself because he was inches away from a 3 TD day in a championship game.

    I don’t expect them to have success running with just Parker vs. the Ravens. Its his body type. He’s fairly easy for them to tackle so he doesn’t get yards after contact vs. Baltimore. The Steelers would have to use more of a quick Butterball type runner to get through that defense — lower center of gravity, more power. The only one on the roster is too new to be seeing heavy action (Russell).

    I think the Super Bowl is going to be very tough. I do know that Whisenhunt will have to dig deep for plays to fool LeBeau — but the Cards beat Pitt in 2007. So, they know a little something, something!!

    I wonder how Alan Faneca feels about all of this!

  20. Just a few observations…….

    I’ve been looking at the Cards’ stats on defense for this past season, and i’ve also noticed some things that has not been talked about in the media during their current playoff run.

    – They were near the bottom of the league in opponent’s QB rating (#31, 98 QB rating)

    – They’ve given up the most TD passes this year on defense (36)

    – They’ve given up big plays during the playoffs (against the Falcons AND the Eagles), despite them being able to rally and win

    They way things appear, it looks like Ben could be in position to have a great game. Why? Because I look at the 3 QBs the Cards have faced in this year’s playoffs. Matt Ryan (a rookie, but who threw 2 Tds & 2 INTs), Jake Dehlomme (5 INTs), & McNabb (3 TDs & 1 INT). Of course, out of the 3 McNabb is better and he had a good game. Ben is better than Ryan and Dehlomme and I think that if the offensive line gives him time, he will hit his WRs. I think Santonio Holmes will have a big game. He’s made huge plays in both playoff games and I think the SuperBowl will be no difference.

    I think that having that extra week will help the Steelers’ scheme to contain the Cards passing game. If you go back to their first game against Atlanta, Fitzgerald wasn’t all that spectacular in the 2nd half. In all three games, he’s made his mark in the first half. I’m sure LeBeau will look at what their opponents did and devise a scheme to limit his big plays. The Cards also threw in some gadget plays and caught ATL & Philly slippin’. I think the Steelers will be prepared for those plays.

    Also, I like the matchup with Fitzgerald vs. Ike Taylor. I don’t expect them to shutdown Larry Franchise but Ike will be physical with him and hold his own. I’m sure that Taylor has confidence coming in b/c he had to cover T.O., Randy Moss, Ocho Cinco, Andre Johnson & Plax this year alone. So i’m pretty comfortable with this match up. The matchup that i’m worried about is Anquan Boldin and DeShea Townsend/McFadden. His size and strength is going to pose a problem.

    I’m sure the Cards will focus on stopping the run and they’ve done it quite effectively up until this point. But they didn’t really stop the Panthers’ run game contrary to what the media pundits have stated. The Panthers chalked up good yardage on the ground before Jake D threw the game away. DeAngelo Williams was avging 5.3 yds a pop before they went away from the run game. The Eagles only ran the ball 18 times. Westbrook averaged 3.8 per carry and Buckhalter averaged 5.3. So, i’m not that impressed with the Cards’ run defense because in their last two games their opponents abandoned the run.

    What do you think T3?

  21. The 2006 Indianapolis Colts taught me a lesson. Forget about the season stats unless they actually reflect what you see. I recognize the Cards have given up some big plays, but I think their defense is much, much better than during the regular season. I think they’re still a bit mushy, but they are making plays that turn the tide.

    Dominique Rogers-Cromartie didn’t become a starter until Week 9. The team made 5 cross-country road trips and was blown out in most of those games (at the Jets, at Philly (short week Thursday game), and at NE (in a blizzard)). That’s important context for me.

    I think the Cardinals deserve credit for stifling the Falcons run game. The Falcons were 1 of the top run teams all year. Turner had 18 carries for 42 yards a fumble (botched handoff?) that turned the tide of the game. (Funny — I thought ATL was in the driver’s seat for that game because of their strong finish to the 2nd quarter. The fumble totally flipped the script.)

    With respect to the Panthers, its worth noting that DeAngelo popped 2 big runs (31 yards — 4th play of the game; 15 yards in the 3rd quarter.). Other than that, he had 9 carries for about 15 yards. The turnovers killed them because there was no continuity to their offense — no chance for a back to get a flow. DeAngelo could have gouged them — but on the 2nd drive of the game, he had 3 carries for 8 yards…punt…AZ ball and it was a rap from there.

    With respect to the Eagles, I really don’t believe Philly had a good reason to get away from the running game. The Cards lead was not insurmountable — and it was the running game that helped Philly storm back to the lead. I guess, overall, I think we’ve seen some good things from AZ’s run defense — and pass defense. It isn’t comparable to things the Steelers are doing (McNabb had 400+ total yards.).
    ——————-
    I’m comfortable with Ike on Larry as well. Warner is so quick with the ball and accurate that Larry is going to get his. Still the rest of the defense plays a big part in all of that. On Polamalu’s big pick, James Harrison hit Flacco right in the chest as the ball came out. Ike Taylor also covered Reggie Wayne, Braylon Edwards, Vincent Jackson and Santana Moss. If he could catch, he’d be a household name already.

    I actually like McFadden on Boldin — as much as I can like anyone on Boldin. They both went to Florida State, so there is going to be considerable familiarity there.

    My biggest concern about Arizona is two-fold: Can the Steelers run? (I hope so. Gerald Hayes doesn’t scare me, so I’m optimistic.) What approach will LeBeau use vs. Warner? Remember the Indy game. Very little blitzing — but the team dropped 3 balls on defense (including Polamalu in the flat — would have made score 21-7 in 2nd quarter.)

  22. I hear you…..

    Now don’t me wrong, I know that stats don’t mean as much in the post season but I still cannot overlook the possibilities that are there. Arizona’s defense has greatly improved, as I stated on TSF when I cautioned the Philly fans to not sleep on them.

    I think with LeBeau having that extra week will play to his advantage. I expect a scheme that will put pressure on Warner and cause turnovers.

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