Friday, January 16, 2009

NFL Championship Weekend Pre-Game Analysis: Baltimore at Pittsburgh

Expect the defenses to get UGLY (courtesy of nytimes)

Pittsburgh Do’s and Don’t’s

Do let Willie Parker do his best Chris Johnson impersonation…except for the part where Johnson didn’t play the 2nd half. If Chris Johnson had played the 2nd half of the game, the Titans would probably have been the opponent here.

Do put 8 to 9 men in the box and stifle the Ravens run game. Jim Schartz did it last week, holding Ravens RBs to 50 yards on 30 carries. The Titans nearly shut down the Ravens offense, if not for a non-call on a big play. If McGahee and/or McClain get going, the Ravens offense will open up for business.

Do attack the banged up secondary of the Ravens. All DB starters, including S Ed Reed (knee, hamstring), S Jim Leonhard (concussion), CB Samari Rolle (groin) and CB Fabian Washington (neck) are nicked up. This is also a group that isn’t boasting much depth.

Don’t let the refs give the Ravens any cheap plays. The Flacco to Heap play on what should have been a Delay of Game penalty gave the Ravens the leg-up they needed to beat the Titans. It is hard enough to beat the Ravens. Playing against the Ravens and the Refs could make the mission impossible. Then again, do hope that the refs take your side and allow another controversial catch (ala the Santonio Holmes’s TD in Week 15).

Don’t let the Ravens’ 1-7 record at Heinz field fool you. They marched into Tennessee and walked away with a W. In a match up like this one, the Ravens may be forced to push the envelope and try to make some aggressive plays. Be patient, and wait for them to make mistakes.

Baltimore Do’s and Don’t’s

Do what is necessary to get Flacco hot early. Against a defense like the Steelers, it takes one to set up the other, either pass to set up the run or run to set up the pass. The Steelers should be hell-bent on stopping the run, so the Flacco will be key in getting the offense running on all cylinders.

Do put Ed Reed in position to get 2+ turnovers. This sounds oddly familiar. Oh yeah, I said this last week. The Ravens are undefeated when Reed gets 2 or more turnovers. Redundant? Yes. Dismissible? No.

Do take some chances. The Ravens are the underdogs, and winning the momentum game is a requirement. How do you get momentum? Big plays. Time to get Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason into their track shoes, as some long-balls should be coming.

Don’t expect the defense to do 100% of the work. The Ravens offense cannot put up another 211 yard, 9 first down, offensive performance again. It worked against the Titans, but it will not work against the Steelers. While it’s tougher against a defense like the Steelers, it is an imperative if you want to make it to Super Bowl Sunday.

Don’t let the regular season sweep by the Steelers make you think you have no chance here. Since 1970 teams who swept their division rival in the regular season have gone 11-7 against that team when they’ve met in that season’s playoffs. There is some light at the end of the tunnel for the Ravens.

Key Match ups:

When either team has the Ball
Defense vs. Defense
These are the top two defenses in the league. One of these teams will be playing for the championship against an NFC team that shouldn’t stand a chance against them. Could we see the game go into overtime, knotted up at 0-0? Improbable, yet not impossible, and awe-inspiring.

When either team has the Ball
Offensive QB vs. Defensive QB
It’ll be a match up of Flacco vs. Polamalu and Roethlisburger vs. Reed. Which QB can cut down on the mistakes, and which safety can cause the opposing offense to make mistakes?


Keep It Clean
With the rivalry (hatred?) between these teams, we’ve seen a lot of hard hits and cheap shots in past games. Both teams received warnings this year. The Ravens in particular are scrutinized as Terrell Suggs and Co. were called out for their bounty hunting Hines Ward and Rashard Mendelhall. It would be unfortunate for this game to be decided on stupid penalties resulting from immature behavior. No death threats from Bart Scott either.

Escaping Logic
As much as I’ve been talking up the defenses, this match up actually comes down to Cam Cameron and Bruce Arians. Which offensive coordinator comes in and calls the right play at the right time that determines this game? Can either of their offenses put up 20+ on the best defenses in the league?

Final Score Prediction
In a battle for the ages, the Steelers edge the Ravens 16-13 in Overtime.


Clement said...

Great work.

One question: how do you "set up" Ed Reed for turnovers. My guess is with exotic blitz packagaes, but I also wonder if Reed makes a lot of turnovers simply on athleticism and instinct alone.

I wanted to add one important note to this game: the 1st quarter.

Last week, San Diego marched downfield and burned the Steeler defense for a near 50-yard bomb from Rivers to Jackson.

The Steelers struggled to answer on offense; however, the punt return from Holmes (which was underrated heavily in postgame analysis) really dug them out of the 7-0 hole.

Much like the Patriots of the past, you need to stop teams on their first drive. Especially Baltimore. If they can score an early offensive TD (we all know a defensive TD is more likely with this team most games), the game may change dramatically.

Great work, again.

Armin said...

Good question. Is it the blitz packages that force the QB to make a bad decision, causing Ed Reed to capitalize, or is it Reed's pure determination and athleticism?

I'd say it's both. One couldn't live without the other. Without a great front 7, Reed probably gets 2/3 of the INTs he currently has. Any other ball-hawking safety with that front 7 gets 2/3 of the INTs. I believe it's the combination of the two that helps make the situation extra special.

I also agree that Holmes's TD return was underrated. As a Chargers fan (my #2 team) in that game, I can tell you that the return deflated me somewhat.

Sum said...

I'm glad you noted how BOTH teams have benefited from bullshit calls by refs. The true hypocrisy of Ravens fans shined last week when they gladly took a cheap win handed to them in-part by the obvious non-call on the Delay of Game. Weren't these the same f-tards that were crying bloody murder about the bad call on the SanTurdio TD pass?

If I were a Ravens fan (which I thank God on a daily basis that I'm not) I'd take the win, but stop the bragging ... there was nothing to brag about.

Sum said...

Oh yeah ... and since I hate both teams with a passion (I hated the Steelers more until last week ... now it's even), I'm picking the Refs to win it. Wait ... I hate them too. damnit.

Steelers 17-10