Thirteen to nine and twenty-three-twenty consecutive loses to the Steelers have the upstart Ravens thinking that they own their long time division rivals plenty!
The Ravens are this year's very best NFL rags to riches story; a relatively unknown assistant coach, who labored in anonymity for nearly all of his professional coaching career, takes over a club with no quarterback, an aging defense minus it's best cover corner, a patchwork offensive line that played the entire season without retired offensive tackle extraordinaire Jonathan Ogden and beginning a season with star running back on the shelf, didn't get I or for that matter most all of the football experts around the country very excited about their playoff chances.
After losing three of their first five contests in the regular season, the Ravens won eleven of their next thirteen games and tonight find themselves just one sixty minute game away from returning to the Super Bowl.
The amazing thing in my mind is that they have done so not only with a rookie coach, but also with a rookie quarterback from a Division 1AA university.
How Joe Flacco has managed to cope with all of the pressures (physically and mentally) that befalls all rookie quarterbacks in this league is truly amazing, but throughout the season and in particularly the playoff run, has many people wondering just how good in this guy!
He (Flacco) deserves a great deal of credit for the Ravens success in 2008, but he certainly hasn't doing it alone. The running game led by Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, rookie Ray Rice and battering ram Lorenzo Neal have been the key of keeping defenses honest while the passing game which features Mark Clayton, tight end Todd Heap and the ageless Derrick Mason, has been light out, particularly in their playoff victories over the Dolphins and Titans.
They are going to need it all against this Steelers defense which does an absolutely unbelievable job or restricting opponents running games. When one adds to the fact that no club in the league rushes the passer better than the Steelers one see that the task ahead for the Ravens will be formidable.
The Titans had good success running the ball in the first half versus the Ravens and I'm certain the Steelers hope they can emulate that success on Sunday evening, but Rex Ryan is one of the very best coaches in the game and you can believe that he has made adjustments to the Ravens already formidable defense. Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that the Titans offensive front is far superior to that of the Steelers.
Both teams are very similar on both sides of the football so their keys to victory are surprisingly also similar:
1) Run the football and restrict their opponents running game
2) Eliminate offensive and create defensive turnovers
3) Win the time of possession and field position battle
4) Efficiency and big play making ability from your quarterback
This playoff battle has everything the viewing public could ever want; two unpretentious, blue collar football clubs doing battle with everything on the line for sixty pressure filled minutes.
Again, I've gone back in forth many times in the days leading up to this epic battle, but in the end, I'm going to go with the Steelers simply due to their big game playing experience, a more formidable defensive front led by Casey Hampton, outside pass rusher James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and the huge edge that their loyal and rabid fans give to them on a weekly basis.
Steelers 21 – Ravens 17