Top Gun--Week 11--Pre Game Summary
Live from M&T Bank Stadium at 1 PM EST. on CBS.
DOUBTFUL : WR Willie Reid (Foot)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Najeh Davenport (Groin) , WR Hines Ward (Knee)
PROBABLE : OLB Clark Haggans (Quadricep) , OLB James Harrison (Ankle) , C Jeff Hartings (Knee) , CB Deshea Townsend (Ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: MLB Ray Lewis (Back) , OLB Adalius Thomas (Ankle) , G Keydrick Vincent (Thigh) , TE Daniel Wilcox (Thigh)
PROBABLE: FS Ed Reed (Knee)
Well boys and girls, to use a quote from my favorite movie, " It's the bottom of the 9th and it's time for the big one!" It's Ravens week !!!
Considering the hole that our Steelers have dug for themselves to date in this 2006 season they are about to face the biggest game of the year on Sunday afternoon. The Ravens will come to work this weekend as the AFCN Division leaders still, after defeating the fading Falcons last weekend to the tune of 24-10 and keeping a 3 game lead on 2nd place Cinncinnati. They did it on the strength of B.J. Sams' 212 total yards on 6 kickoff returns combined with RB Jamal Lewis' career high 3 touchdown game as they went on to win their 4th in a row. Ravens QB Steve McNair had an efficient day throwing the ball as he went 24/34 for 236 yds. While he had 0 TD's in that game, more importantly he had 0 interceptions and efficiently drove the offense into scoring position so Lewis could add to this TD total for the year and help lift the team to a victory. McNair did a good job of spreading the ball around to eight different players on offense with the bulk of looks going to WR Mark Clayton who had 5 receptions for 89 yards, and also TE Todd Heap who pulled 6 catches for 62 yards.
The Ravens defense registered 5 sacks on the day against Vick and only allowed 127 yds passing. While they did not register any turnovers in this game, their constant pressure on Michael Vick never allowed him to get on track and continuously forced Atlanta into poor 3rd down situations while ultimately ended up Falcon Punter Michael Koenen taking the field after the offenses ineptness to move the chains and give their defense a rest.
Today for Baltimore it was the BJ & Jamal show as Sams constantly put the offense in good field position with his excellent returns and Lewis put the game out of reach from the slumping Falcons.
As for our beloved Black 'n Gold, they went into the game at Cleveland last weekend with a clear mission ahead of them: Win the game, and hopefully gain some ground in the division. Well, they accomplished one of those objectives, the most important of those two, and that was getting the win. The hated rivals of Pittsburgh were looking to push the defending World Champs into the bottom of the division and all but put a dagger in any playoff hopes this unit may still have. The Steelers looked to come out strong and get up on the Browns fast and make them one-dimensional and get the hometown crowd of barking fans out of the equation. To say the least that didn't the happen. Through three quarters of play Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger continued his struggles by throwing 3 interceptions which continually killed point opportunity after point opportunity. The Steelers running game with Fast Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport had shown some sparks through 3 quarters in this game but never really got on track. It was a physical contest that you'd expect from two bitter and long standing AFCN rivals. Credit the Browns, they came to play and had our Steelers dead to rights in the first half but once again proved why they are the Browns by letting leads slip away and allowing Pittsburgh to do a 180 degree turnaround in the 2nd half to the tune of Big Ben's 224 passing yards in the 4th quarter and 2 TD's including the game winner with 32 seconds left as he found Willie with a quick shovel-pass and allowed the speedy one to scamper 4 yds into the endzone and put the game on ice for the Steelers...or so we thought.
The Steelers Defense allowed the Browns to drive to the 22 yardline with just enough time for one play. A Hail Mary in the left rear corner of the endzone that was batted around before finally getting tipped out of bounds by the Steeler's Deshea Townsend on a play that was reminiscent of Jim Harbaugh's Hail Mary into the endzone in the AFCCG that still sticks in the minds of the Steeler faithful as one of the wildest games ever. Joey Porter and Co. allowed Browns QB Charlie Frye to have a workman-like efficient day by going 17-of-27 for 224 yards with the bulk of his yards going to WR Braylon Edwards who had 7 catches for 137 yds. The defense continued its weekly tradition of allowing a relative nobody to have a career day and appear to be destined for Hawaii.
Our Steelers are having the type of year that if you looked at everything but their record you'd think we were at least 6-2 and expecting another playoff season ahead but this team has continually underachieved and shot itself in the foot by turning the ball over on offense, the defense allowing long drives and big plays combined with the inability to get off the field on 3rd down, and a special teams unit that we haven't seen struggle this much since Jay Hayes was coaching them. Most of the NFL has counted us out already, but this team to its credit continues to believe that it's not over till it's over. Ben, for all of his struggles, has kept a positive attitude and continues to accept blame for the mistakes and poor play that has plagued this team all year. The last two weeks the team has been able to rally and come from behind in the 2nd half to get a victory and keep their slim playoff hopes alive despite nearly everyone telling them they're finished.
The Steeler faithful continue to scratch our heads in disbelief at the struggles this team has faced and the position they have allowed themselves to be put in coming into this game.
THE KEYS TO VICTORY:
- NO TURNOVERS !!! plain and simple. Ben cannot let a ball-hawking defense like the Ravens give their offense prime field position, or worse yet, take a pass to the house all by themselves or quite frankly this team will not win this week. Ben needs to be careful and selective in his passes and work on getting into a rythmn early in this game with short, intermediate passes and force that pass rush of the Raven defense to stay honest.
-Hines Ward is listed as questionable at this point. So far all indications point towards him playing this weekend. He knows the importance of this game and how important it is to have him on the field for us. Barring an unforseen setback I fully expect him to be on the field for us.
- A back like Willie Parker can do well against a defense like the Ravens because he's quick and can get past the first wave of purple defenders to run for some daylight. Big backs like Jerome Bettis and this year's version Najeh Davenport typically do not do well against Baltimore mainly because the defense is so fast that big backs can't get a full head of steam and punch it through the front seven before the persuit is already on top of them. The Steelers will need Willie to continue to work for every single yard he gets and help keep drives moving while looking for him to break a few long runs in the process.
- Heath Miller can be a critical cog in the Steeler offense. With hands as comparable to any WR in the game and the size/toughness that you want in a TE going across the middle on a critical "gotta have it" 3rd down play, the Steelers should look to Heath as often as possible because he's money in the bank, especially in the red zone.
- The Defense absolutely cannot allow Jamal Lewis to get on track so stopping the run is as imperative as ever. Lewis is coming off that career high 3 TD game last week and the Ravens would like nothing more than to ride his back all day long and shorten this game by taking the time of possession all the way to the bank. On the flip side of that, getting on McNair is of key importance as well. The Steelers are very familiar with McNair and know his tendancies as well as knowing his ability to scramble out of trouble so keeping containment on the QB is paramount or it could be a long day.
THE KEYS TO VICTORY:
- BJ Sams is looking to have a big day against a Steelers ST unit that has struggled all year long and has had a knack for allowing far too many kicks to be returned for scores or at the very least putting the Steeler Defense in a bad position. The Ravens have a top flight Special Teams unit so there is little doubt they are licking their chops this weekend.
-Ray Lewis is listed as questionable at this point. Whether or not he plays will mean a big difference in how well the Raven's defense does. He is the unquestioned leader of the team but in particular the defense thrives on his intensity and playmaking. When he is not playing, this unit does not have the same killer instinct as when he's on the field.
- Jamal Lewis has not been the same RB since he rushed for over 2000 yards but he has been looking better this year and is still one of the toughest RB's in the league. If the Ravens can get the running game going this weekend it will allow McNair to use play action virtually at will and take more than a few shots down field against a struggling Steelers secondary.
- Todd Heap continues to show why he's one of the best in the business at Tight End. His size & speed along with an uncanny knack for finding the soft spot in the zone could spell disaster for the Steelers, especially in the Red Zone where his 6'5" 252 lb. frame allows him to win virtually any jump-ball opportunity that comes his way.
- The Raven defense has be drooling over the opportunity to play against Big Ben so their success in the secondary will be key to a potential victory they are looking forward to. If they can continue the interception streak that Big Ben has allowed himself to get mired in, they will win this game. Stopping the run is something this team does very well so they will look to have all eyes on Willie Parker and keep him from turning on the afterburners by using their fast pursuit & trying to confuse the opposing OL's blocking schemes.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE GAME:
This is the Steelers vs Ravens people, this isn't going to be pretty. It's going to be an all out slug fest with the last team standing still as battered and bruised as the one that isn't. When these two teams play, all records go out the window. It doesn't matter whether one team is undefeated or the other hasn't won a game because these two teams, cities, coaches, even the front office staff have an unbridled & genuine hatred for the other. The Steeler-Ravens rivalry has come to the forefront of tough NFL matchups and this one looks to be no different.
As Steeler fans it's our duty to break out our Terrible Towels and cheer louder and harder than ever this weekend as we face an absolute must-win game heading into Baltimore. A loss in this game and we can kiss the playoffs goodbye because we'll be five games back with only five more to go. The players understand what this game means and what needs to happen on Sunday afternoon if they are expecting to continue to live for another week. This is our opportunity to show the hated Ratbirds what it means to have the heart of a Champion and what Steeler Pride is really all about !!!
Here We Go Steelers !!! Here We Go !!!!
My Prediction this weekend: