Sunday, December 5, 2010

Can the Steelers Beat the Birdies in Baltimore?

I kinda think no.

It pains me to say that, but the injuries continue to mount for the Steelers and no matter how many times Coach Tomlin says 'the standard is the standard,' there is bound to be some drop off. You need all hands on deck, in fact you need your very best hands on deck if you want to beat a very good Ravens team in Baltimore.

First, the Steelers lost tackle Willie Colon. They brought in Hotel Flozell Adams and moved on. The standard, after all, is still the standard.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, down went Max Starks for the year, so Jonathan Scott is starting in his spot. But the standard is still the standard. Mmmm, okay. If you say so.

This offensive line would be suspect even with Starks and Colon, two guys who don't put anybody in mind of Anthony Munoz or Jackie Slater. Now they're starting Scott, who wasn't good enough to beat out the competition for the spot left open by Colon's injury, and Hotel, for whom there wasn't exactly a long line of suitors. So, an already mediocre line was made worse through injury. What was that about standards again?

That sub-standard line is expected to protect Pig Ben of the broken-not broken-sprained-um-scar-tissue-aggravated foot. The only reason that the Steelers have been able to get away with having a less than stellar O Line through much of this decade is because Pig Ben can create opportunities by moving around when the pocket collapses, as it inevitably does. But can he bail out his line, and his team, on one leg tonight? And with Haloti Ngata bearing down on him?

Ray Lewis isn't the dominant player that he was 10 years ago, but Ngata is a serious threat to both disrupt the running game and possibly actually kill Pig Ben. (Something that would make some of my friends happy, I think.) For my money, Ngata is the best player on that defense right now, with apologies to the great Ed Reed.

Now, I don't want to tell you where this thought has led me. Oh, okay. While Reed is still fantastic, always a threat to break a game open, the Baltimore corners are not so great and the Steelers best chance to beat the Ravens may be through the air, via long passes that take advantage of Mike Wallace or Emmanuel Sanders against Chris Carr or Josh Wilson. The problem is, can the Steelers O Line protect a gimpy Pig Ben long enough for Wallace or Sanders to come open deep?

The Ravens do not sack the quarterback prodigiously; they have only 19 sacks on the year (compared to the Steelers with 32), but then again, the Ravens have only gone up against the Steelers offensive line once this year. Given all the givens, I think we can safely expect to see Bruce Arians call pass play after pass play after pass play. He may be right to take that kind of a chance, try to get up early and fast because the Ravens play a kind of vanilla version of themselves when they are down or tied, but get much creative and aggressive when they have a lead.

Even though I understand the reasoning, the idea of a pass-wacky Bruce Arians makes me kinda queasy.

On the other side of the ball, the injuries are an issue, too. We all know how different that Steelers defense is without Aaron Smith, but it's no use crying over torn triceps muscles. The fact of the matter remains that the combination of Ziggy Hood and Nick Eason are no replacement for Smith and Brett Keisel, but it looks like Keisel will be back tonight and that should give the defensive line a big lift. It also frees up Hood and Eason to just rotate in Smith's old spot.

Maybe it even means that the Steelers can get to Joe "Unibrow Spokesmodel" Flacco. Flacco doesn't throw a lot of picks - he has eight in 11 games - and his new toys, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Whoseyourmamma, have developed a good working relationship with him, so Ike Taylor, B-Mac and William Gay have to put the clamps on Boldin and Whoseyourmamma, to say nothing of Derrick Mason who always seems to save his best for the Steelers. And they have to contain Todd Heap, too.The best chance the Steelers have to contain all of the aerial weapons the Ravens have (still feels weird to type that in relation to this team) is to pile more sacks on top of their already impressive sack total. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison have to find a way to get free from holds (and they will be held) to make Flacco throw the ball away, hurry his throws, and generally get his uniform dirty.

Harrison, already feeling unfairly besieged by the league, has to find a way to keep his head in the game, without leading with his head; he has to remain calm no matter how bad the holds (and they will happen) or penalties. If an official wants to call a bullshit penalty like the one for landing on Jason Campbell, there's nothing he can do about that. But he can drive through with his shoulder and not the crown of his helmet. Then he just has to hold his breathe and hope for the best. Do it like this James, like this:That's a tall order for a man whose entire game is predicated on hitting harder than anybody else in the league and who feeds off seemingly congenital, unwavering enmity. But he has to do it.

That's a tall order for the team as a whole. I am not hopeful. But I'm usually wrong! any time I try to predict the outcome of a Steelers game. At least that's one thing that bodes well for Pittsburgh.

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