Ray Rice can give the Steelers fits
(Nov. 29, 2009: Ravens 20-17)
The Ravens needed overtime to beat Pittsburgh, even with Dennis Dixon making his first career start for Pittsburgh. An interception by Ravens defensive end Paul Kruger on a zone blitz was the big play in OT and running back Ray Rice dominated in regulation.
Rice racked up 310 yards from scrimmage in two games against Pittsburgh in 2009. He’s the key player on Baltimore’s offense this weekend because he’s the one Raven that can make people miss. Pittsburgh doesn’t really have a linebacker that can handle Rice as a checkdown receiver. Few teams do.
Rice was limited by injury when he faced the Steelers this October. Now he’s playing his best ball of the year. The availability of tight end Todd Heap is also important for the Ravens; he was knocked out immediately in the team’s Week 13 loss to Pittsburgh.
Big Ben is the big equalizer
(Dec. 5, 2010: Steelers 13-10)
Just after this game finished, I asked the football gods to grant us a third Ravens-Steelers matchup this season. They were listening.
The rubber match could easily be in Baltimore because the Ravens were in control throughout December’s game. Terrell Suggs lived in the Pittsburgh backfield with five quarterback hits. The Steelers lost their starting right tackle during the game, and had no answer for Baltimore’s blitz. Ben Roethlisberger came through with yet another late drive after Troy Polamalu recorded a sack fumble on Joe Flacco.
Roethlisberger often defeats the perfect defensive play call. Suggs had him in his grasp for a game-changing sack, and Roethlisberger shook him off to escape the pocket and throw an incompletion.
Back in 2008, Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce had some sage words on how to handle Roethlisberger.
"Here's my advice to the Arizona Cardinals: Don't rush Ben Roethlisberger," Pryce said. "After that, he's a playground football player. That's what he is, and he's a damn good one."
Roethlisberger’s scrambling ability allows for more time for Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown to get open. Pittsburgh’s young receivers could be the difference Saturday. They have a huge speed advantage compared to the Ravens’ trio of slow possession wideouts. Baltimore wideouts Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh all struggle to get off man coverage.
At some point, it has to get in Baltimore’s head that they can’t beat Roethlisberger. Steelers did virtually nothing for three quarters in December, yet still scored 10 in the fourth quarter to set up another home playoff game. Sound familiar?
They hit even harder in the playoffs
(Jan. 18, 2009: Steelers 23-14)
Ravens running back Willis McGahee lay momentarily unconscious on the ground. Nearby, the football McGahee was carrying was just recovered by Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Down nine points with less than four minutes left, the Ravens were knocked out.
"It's always that way," said Roethlisberger at the time. "This is always a 12-round slugfest. We always go at it. It's always violent from start to finish. I was ready when I took a knee at the end, you never know when somebody is going to fire off the ball."
Steelers receiver Hines Ward left the game early.
"Sometimes guys get hit so hard, you don't know if they're going to get up,” Ward said.
As Ray Lewis might say, these teams don’t play fantasy football. They play for real football. A Troy Polamalu’s pick six of Joe Flacco with under five minutes left was the decisive play. Once again, an entire season flipped in one moment, one play.
I can’t wait to see what that play will be on Saturday.
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