Steelers-Ravens Gameday 11/28/13: Thanksgiving Edition

(Disclaimer:  I usually try to be objective when writing on here, but there’s going to be some hate in this post.  It’s Steelers-Ravens.  Get serious.)

Steelers-Ravens.  Thanksgiving night.  Same record.  Both in the hunt for the final AFC Wild Card spot. 

Not a bad script, huh? 

When the NFL scheduled this game for primetime on Thanksgiving, I’m not sure this was exactly what they had in mind.  They certainly didn’t think these two teams would both be below .500 and all but out of the race for the AFC North title.  As recently as three weeks ago, it looked like this was going to be an embarrassing game to televise to a national audience. 

That’s no longer the case.

On November 3rd, the Steelers got completely obliterated in Foxborough in the latest installment of “Can We Please Forget This Patriots Game Ever Happened?”  The 55-31 flogging dropped the Steelers to 2-6 and playoff hopes were squashed.  That same day, the Ravens lost to the Browns bringing their record down to 3-5.  The Steelers defense gave up a billion yards to Brady & Co. the same day Joe Flacco got outplayed by Browns quarterback du jour Jason Campbell.

On November 3rd, no one was looking forward to Steelers- Ravens on Thanksgiving night.

Fast-forward three weeks, and here we are.  Left for dead, these two teams are now in the thick of the playoff hunt and both need this game to get there.  Now, a 9-7 record may very well be good enough to get into the postseason in the AFC, so losing this game doesn’t mean either team is definitely out of the hunt.  However, looking ahead, both teams still have to play the Bengals once,  plus the Steelers have to go to Green Bay and the Ravens still have to face Tom Brady.  The loser of this game will have little room for error the rest of the season.  

So let’s talk about the Ravens!

The sports gods were pretty awful to the majority of sports fans this year.  A BoSox-Cardinals World Series, a Blackhawks-Bruins Stanley Cup Finals, and LeBron and the Heat winning another title.  But none of that can really compare to the horror of an all-Harbaugh Super Bowl.  I can’t believe the Superdome was big enough to fit both Jim’s and John’s egos.  The Ravens winning the Super Bowl really sucked.  Unibrow being named MVP was even worse. 

But then something amazing happened:  Joe Flacco, Super Bowl-winning quarterback, got paid big money and then he started playing like Joe Flacco, Tyler Palko’s backup at Pitt.  Flacco has had a rough year.  He has 14 interceptions to go with 14 touchdowns.  To be fair, those numbers are somewhat skewed, because five of his interceptions came in one game.  On the other hand, that game was against the Bills.

 Image

Flacco has not played well, but the offense has a whole seems pretty abysmal.  I admittedly haven’t watched a ton of Ravens games, but it seems their offensive line is pretty bleak.  Flacco has actually been sacked once more than Ben has this season, which tells you all you need to know, really.   Flacco has been sacked at least twice in every game this year, except for the first meeting against the Steelers. 

The Ravens rushing game is not any better.  Ray Rice is right behind Le’Veon Bell in rushing yardage, but Bell has played in eight games, Rice in ten.  Remember when Ravens fans hated Cam Cameron and blamed him for all the Ravens offensive woes? And then Cameron was canned late last season and Jim Caldwell took over and they won a Super Bowl?  And Ravens fans LOVED Caldwell?  Yeah, not sure if that’s the case any longer.

Despite losing several key players in the offseason, the Ravens defense isn’t too bad.  They obviously aren’t the dominant Ray Lewis-led defense they once were, but they’re ranked 10th overall in and giving up an average of 19.5 points per game.  Comparatively, the Steelers are ranked 13th and giving up 23.3 points per game.  I think there’s a good chance this game comes down to the defenses, because it always seems to.  Now, since I said that, this game will obviously turn into a shootout. 

Things to watch for in this game:

  • Le’Veon Bell vs. the Ravens defense.  The Ravens run defense struggled against the Steelers last month.  Bell had the best game of his young career, rushing for 93 yards and averaging 4.9 yards/carry.Image
  • The Wildcat.  The Ravens utilized Tyrod Taylor in the wildcat in their game against the Jets on Sunday.  It’ll be interesting to see if they attempt it tonight, though it don’t think it’ll be terribly successful against a Dick LeBeau defense.Image
  • Troy vs. Flacco.  In my last post, I named a few reasons why Troy Polamalu certainly haunts Joe Flacco’s dreams at night.  Image   
  • The Steelers offensive line vs. the Ravens defensive line.  The O-line gave up three sacks against the Ravens in October.  They’ve obviously played much, much better these past two weeks, giving up only one sack in two games.  They managed to dominate Suh and Fairley last week, let’s see if they can do the same against Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty. 
  • Ben vs. Joe.  Flacco has beat Ben just twice in his career, both times coming in 2011.  The two actually had pretty similar stats in the first matchup this year, so I’m hoping Ben can really outperform Flacco tonight. 
  • Special teams.  Jacoby Jones is a dangerous return man, and he ran one back against the Steelers last year.  I’m also begging the Steelers to not use Felix Jones or Jonathan Dwyer in the return game, because that hasn’t worked out too well so far.  

The great thing about this game is that it’s really hard to predict what will happen, because Steelers-Ravens games are always crazy.  These games are usually decided by three points and often come down to some late game magic. These games are always nerve-wracking, vomit-inducing, amazing/horrible affairs.  I can’t wait for this one.  

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