Ravens Week—Let the Mayhem Begin
Photo via Steelers.com
I’m always very conflicted about Steelers-Ravens. Part of me looks forward to what often proves to be a true test of a given Steelers club. This is irrespective of whether the current iteration of the Ravens is a good team or a bad one. (See the embarrassment in Baltimore to a bad team quarterbacked by Ryan Mallett.)
But, as several people just on this site have noted, it’s pretty difficult at this point in the season to make any sort of determination as to what sort of team the Steelers are this year. (Or, I suppose, the Ravens, although they’ve been faintly more consistent.) We are all still trying to get a handle on what’s going on, just here in Pittsburgh.
Is the supposed high-powered offense which has averaged just over 21 points per game so far ever going to live up to its potential? If not, why not? Is Ben just “old, slow, and over,” to quote someone we don’t like very much around here? Is the very expensive offensive line going to disappoint when they should be in their prime? (Of course, having two of the five out last Sunday wasn’t much help.) Antonio Brown is exempt from criticism, as he has performed in the way we would expect when not actually triple-teamed. But what about his counterpart in the backfield? Did Le’Veon Bell’s most recent brush with the surgeons somehow take away part of what makes him special? (Gosh, that could be badly misinterpreted, so please don’t go there…) (Cold Old Steelers Fan just spit out his coffee, I’m guessing.)
And what about the defense which seemed so promising at the start of the season? What about special teams? Did everyone just lay a collective egg in Chicago, a place where they’ve laid many an egg in the past?
And although I’m not nearly as knowledgable about the Ravens, there’s some major questions about them as well. Their vaunted defense, considered by just about every metric as the top defense in the league, by a long way, suddenly looked mortal last Sunday against the mighty Blake Bortles. The defense which had given up 10 points total in the first two games gave up 44 to the Jaguars. The defense which pulled in five turnovers per game in Weeks 1 and 2 and who sacked the quarterback 4 times in each game in Weeks 1 and 2 had a total of 0 takeaways and 0 sacks in Week 3. While the Steelers defense was exposed in the run game, they did manage an interception, a forced fumble/recovery, and a sack. (They also missed a fumble recovery and an interception in back-to-back plays near the end of the game. But as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Or something like that.)
And Joe Flacco, who has a career passer rating of 84.2, so far has a rating of 65.2 for the season, in large part because of last Sunday’s rating of 12.0. Although Ben has disappointed overall, he looks positively brilliant in comparison, with last Sunday’s passer rating of 82.7 pulling down the season average to 93.8. Really. That surprised me too, because although some of his play looks like vintage Roethlisberger, there have been a disconcertingly large number of throws which don’t quite hit the mark.
And of course this brings up the question in such cases—who is actually at fault? If a ball looks significantly overthrown, was the receiver slowed down enough by his covering DB that he couldn’t get to where he was supposed to be? I’ve certainly seen some of those situations this year. If a ball gets picked off, or, as happened a couple of times last week, almost picked off, did the receiver run the wrong route, did the DB make an (almost) great play, or did Ben just miss? As fans we will probably never know, and frankly, I suspect a lot of the people who think they know are only guessing, too.
So what does this mean for next Sunday? Will it help the Steelers that the Ravens had to fly back from London last Sunday? (Probably not.) Will it help the Ravens that the Steelers were embroiled in a controversy this week? (Probably not.) I think, barring some catastrophic injury to one team or the other, they will be playing on pretty level ground, which means the home team has the advantage.
I’m not going to go through the usual roundup of stats, because honestly I think they are essentially meaningless in the case of Steelers-Ravens. The Steelers theoretically have a better offense, although they haven’t exactly played like it. The Ravens theoretically have a better defense, although they certainly didn’t look like it last week. Both teams were embarrassed last week, and have a lot to prove. Both teams are gunning for the division lead. Anything can happen…
11 Steelers were on the Wednesday practice report. 11! But it is not quite as bad as you might think.
Two of them, Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell, missed Wednesday’s practice, but it was “not injury related.” In Ben’s case, it was presumably the Over-35 protocol. Bell was a “coach’s decision,” whatever that means.
Apparently the illness is still making the rounds, because Martavis Bryant was out with that.
The rest are actual injuries, of varying magnitude:
The good news is that Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, and Marcus Gilbert were full participants on Wednesday. Of course, we have to see how they managed and whether they can continue to practice, but this is alway a good sign.
The maybe good news is that Jesse James was a limited participant (it wasn’t the ankle, which is no longer mentioned, but his shoulder, which he hurt on Sunday.)
The maybe bad news is that Bud Dupree was also a limited participant. Maybe they are just being super cautious with the shoulder, but you don’t like to see that.
And Sean Davis, Ramon Foster, and Mike Mitchell did not practice on Wednesday. It’s not good when both your starting safeties are unable to practice.
For the Ravens, there were only four players on the injury list, but all of them were non-participants—CB Jalen Hill, TE Benjamin Watson, DT Brandon Williams, and TE Maxx Williams.
So all of this is something to watch. But whether it really has anything to do with the outcome is not at all certain. Yep, it’s AFC North Football!