Ravens – Steelers Thanksgiving Day Game Preview


Oct 20, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) carries the ball as Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) and defensive end Brett Keisel (99) defend .. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Much is being written about the challenges of a short week for the Ravens – contemplating the positives and negatives of this change of weekly rhythms. Hey, from a writing point of view, we are typically in the rhythm of still looking back and analyzing the week past, rather than writing a preview on a Tuesday night. So … I’m all thrown off!

Speaking of writing and looking back … Wow!… I’m really glad I’m not a Jets writer! That was just pitiful. Without doubt, the Ravens played a great game defensively. But from a New York point of view, there was really nothing positive to take away from the game, other than the Jets’ excellent run defense. And neither do NY fans have a lot positive to look at across the river in The Meadowlands. So let’s pause for a moment of sadness for NY fans … ah … ok, that’s more than enough.

A number of factors come together to make the short week not as difficult for either side as may at first be assumed. First of all, these are teams that know each other well. They play twice a year as mutual members of the AFC North. Beyond that, Baltimore had a home week, and though the Steelers played in Cleveland, the trip is little more grueling than a high school bus ride (Ahhh, as a former high school coach, check that remark to say, “it was less grueling than a high school bus ride.”).

So what better than to throw out a few wrinkles for the other team to have to consider … you know, like running a Wildcat offense for a change. The Ravens threw backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor into that formation against the Jets and got 17 yards on the first effort. But after that, it did not accomplish much. And Joe Flacco made clear this week what he thinks of it, saying that it makes the team look like a high school offence. Well … not to be ungenerous, but, lots of stuff this year has looked that way. Flacco said, “I want to line up behind center … playing wide receiver is fun for a little bit, but that’s it.”

Hey, if I had a 120-million dollar body, I wouldn’t want to be out there all unprotected either!

The Steelers come to town playing a good brand of football. The Ravens had a chance in October at Heinz Field to essentially bury their rivals for this season. At that time, Pittsburgh was 1-5; but the Ravens lost the game 19-16. Since then, the Steelers have won four of five, including the past three games. Ben Roethlissberger has averaged 263 yard per game over the winning streak and thrown seven touchdowns.

But it is not just the offense that is clicking for the Steelers, their defense has stepped up as well. This past week against the Browns, they had five sacks and held the Browns to just 55 yards rushing.  Mike Tomlin said, “Defensively, it was simple. We were able to stop the run, and that put us in position to apply pressure to the quarterback.”

Another strong run defense? Ugh! This is not good news for the Ravens, who after hoping to have had a breakout, corner-turning rushing game against the Bears, ran into another brick wall with the Jets. However, the Pittsburgh rushing defense is not highly ranked. But through this season, the holes and lanes for rushing just aren’t there, and when they are, it seems the Ravens are unable to take much advantage.

The Steelers will be without starting nose tackle Steve McLendonon due to his right ankle sprain in the win over the Cleveland Browns. And a number of other defenders are questionable as well.

Pittsburgh is ranked 15th in total offense (30th rushing at 77 yards per game, eighth passing) and 13th in overall defense (23rd against the rush, 10th versus the pass). The Ravens are 29th in total offense (27th rushing, 19th passing), while ranking 10th in total defense (11th in both passing and rushing).

In the AP Pro 32 Rankings, the Steelers are listed 18th, with the Ravens 19th.

This all sets up to be yet another close game. Of the last 10 games between the rivals, eight of them have been decided by three points – including the last four meetings split 2-2 between the teams. Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery spoke well of the nature of this twice-annual clash, “It always seems like whenever either team is trying to get somewhere, the other is in their way.”  I know the fans feel this way also. Living as I do in western Maryland, there is a significant following for both teams, and these folks are passionate in their distaste for the other franchise.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy Thanksgiving. Football is great, but I was hoping to not be completely overdone by it. Four of my five boys have girls coming with them, so after years and years of too many boys, I’m pretty excited about this. But most of them are Dallas fans, so, between that game and the Ravens, it looks like a lot of football in the house.