Mike Tomlin, Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, once described the Ravens-Steelers rivalry as being “like two brother that can’t stand each other.” What an apt description. However, this rivalry goes deeper than two football teams and their contentious history; it is and always has been personal.
The Baltimore-Pittsburgh blood feud is deeper and more pervasive than mere “bad blood” between two very good football teams. It goes back to the Baltimore Colts-Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry and their playoff slugfests in the mid 1970’s. It goes back to the Steelers victory at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium after which a small airplane crashed into the stadium’s upper deck. It goes back to the epic 1971 and 1979 World Series battles between the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. It is a rivalry between the cities of Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
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The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers; the “two brother that can’t stand each other” will meet again tonight in prime time to determine which of them will go on to play next week and which of them will go home. They will attempt to beat, batter, bash and bludgeon each other into the Heinz Field turf. Both will attempt to avenge 20 point losses to the other and they will both have something to prove.
“The Baltimore-Pittsburgh blood feud is deeper and more pervasive than mere “bad blood” between two very good football teams.”
Last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers clinched the AFC North Championship by “man handling” the once formidable Cincinnati Bengals; relegating the Bengals to a “wildcard” berth. With that victory, the Steelers locked up the number 3 seed in the AFC playoffs and secured a date with their favorite “dance partner”, the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens, by virtue of San Diego’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and their own victory over the Cleveland Browns, slid into the playoffs as the number 6 seed. [related tag tag=NFL]
Although the Ravens and Steelers split 20 point “blowouts” this season, both teams have changed since the times of those regular season games. The Steelers have improved from the team that loss to the Ravens in week 2 and the Ravens have made significant changes since their week 9 loss to the Steelers. However, with star Running Back, Le’Veon Bell “out” for tonight’s game and the Ravens roster looking more like the patient manifest of a hospital ward; both teams have significant handicaps as kickoff approaches.
If the Baltimore Ravens want to win this contest, they must “step up” their game. They will have to play mistake free football for 60 minutes and possibly beyond. They must quickly correct the issues that have lingered throughout the 2014 season and “get out of the gate” much faster than they have in recent games.
Ryan Mink, Staff writer for BaltimoreRavens.com, discussed the major issues that Baltimore must address if they want to be victorious at Heinz Field. In his article entitled “3 Items on Offensive Fix-It List Heading into Pittsburgh” (http://www.baltimoreravens.com/news/article-1/3-Items-On-Offensive-Fix-It-List-Heading-Into-Pittsburgh/e559faa2-d87e-4dca-ac3a-deb90617f439 ), Mink identified the maladies that will require repair going into Pittsburgh.
The first was “putting an end to the slow starts.” A slow start against the Pittsburgh Steelers can be fatal. The Offense cannot afford to go “three and out” putting early pressure on the Defense. Offensive Coordinator and play caller, Gary Kubiak, must raise the tempo, giving Quarterback Joe Flacco time to make adjustments at the line. Kubiak must also call plays that quickly get the ball out of Flacco’s hands and into the hands of his “playmakers”. Finally, Kubiak needs to open the playbook, using pitches, screens, misdirection, cutback runs and anything else that can take advantage of Pittsburgh’s aggressive Linebackers and Safeties.
“Joe Flacco and his Offense have proven throughout the season that with increased tempo comes increased focus and proficiency.”
Joe Flacco and his Offense have proven throughout the season that with increased tempo comes increased focus and proficiency. There was no greater example of this than the fourth quarter last week. The Ravens must pick up the pace or they might not recover from another slow start.
The second item on the Raven’s “fix-it” list, according to Ryan Mink, is “improving third down efficiency”. Increased tempo and discipline will help. The key to third down efficiency is first and second down proficiency. Increased tempo on first and second down will result in “third down and manageable” yards to go. The Ravens must (1) increase their first and second down effectiveness which will lead to more manageable third down conversion opportunities and (2) eliminate the silly penalties (false start, illegal formation, illegal shift, etc.) that put them in a hole and usually results in a punt.
The last item on the Ravens’ list was “scoring touchdowns in the Red Zone.” I hate to “beat a dead horse” but tempo and play calling are the keys here too. The Ravens must be more aggressive as they approach the goal line. The Offensive Line has to get nastier and the backs must have greater resolve. Several times this season, the Ravens were rejected after a first and goal inside the 10 yard line. Their scoring strategy and sluggish execution was straight out of Pop Warner. Lame efforts like that will not work against the Steelers; the Ravens must “will” their way into the end zone.
The Baltimore Ravens can win tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers if they pick up the offensive pace, execute well, diversify their play calling and remain disciplined throughout the game. The choice is theirs: play with more energy and discipline or go home.