It’s been called the best rivalry in the NFL by many people.
Just ask the players on both sides and they’ll tell you that many of them simply don’t like each other. That hatred provides for some cringe worthy hits and games that almost always decided in the games final minutes.
But much to our dismay the big games between the Ravens and the Steelers seemingly always go in Pittsburgh’s favor.
The facts aren’t pretty.
The Steelers have never lost a playoff game to Baltimore even going back to the 2001 Divisional game where Elvis Grbac finished his career in purple (and in the NFL) with a resounding thud and three interceptions.
The Steelers are 8-1 in their last Wild Card/Divisional playoff games, including 4-1 at Heinz Field.
The teams will meet for the 33rd time this Saturday and Pittsburgh holds an advantage in the series with a 20-12 record. But in the big games the Ravens always seem to come up just short against the Black and Gold. December 5th being the most recent example.
But fear not purple reader, I post to deliver hope that the Ravens can get it done this weekend. That they can finally give relief to Baltimore fans from the pain and misery of almost forty years (football and baseball) of Pittsburgh being once step ahead of Charm City when the chips are down.
1) Troy Polamalu’s Health -He been nursing multiple injuries (Achilles, ankle) and for the past few weeks has been limited during practice before stepping on the field. The same holds true this week as he should participate for Thursday’s practice and is expected to start Saturday.
You have to wonder though how effective he’ll be and if these injuries will impact his play in any way. Polamalu is the MVP of that team and in the past he’s burned Baltimore several times with big plays that have lead to heartbreaking losses.
2) Ravens Defense Causing Turnovers- I got a chill watching the defense line up against Kansas City in the third quarter. As I watched the defense produce yet another Three and Out the unit was pressing, aggressive, and blitzing without mercy. The improved play of the Corners has helped the defense play that way and it should continue to a degree this week,
This series has always been about who makes the big plays and with the Pittsburgh Offensive line one of the suspect chinks in the armor I just have a feeling that the Ravens should be able to take advantage here. Turnovers during the playoffs can be critical.
3) Joe Flacco – The third year quarterback is working on his third trip to the post-season and even though he was 3-2 heading into this year he had little individual success throwing only 1 touchdown against 6 interceptions.
His performance against the Chiefs should give fans cause for optimism though. He used his feet to make plays and hit the open man for multiple first downs. He stepped up in the pocket to evade pressure and Kansas City did throw a ton of pressure his way, especially from the secondary.
The Ravens and Steelers split during the regular season but in both games Flacco threw for over 250 yards, which is part of the plan in beating Pittsburgh – you must attack the corners.
If the Ravens are successful this Saturday, then it will be because Flacco led them.
4) Veteran Presence – There are a ton of players on this team that have never been to a Super Bowl – Derrick Mason, Ed Reed, Todd Heap, and Matt Birk just to name a few. These players know that the window is closing on their careers and that they need to take advantage of their chances right now.
Since Training Camp the buzz around this team has been “Super Bowl or Bust”. This team is no stranger to close games and I think as a group they find a way to advance one step closer.
5) It’s Our Turn – Easily the most arguable of my points has to do with the fact that the Ravens are just due.
I remember last season being given all the facts and figures as to why the Ravens had no chance at all of beating Tom Brady at home. Not only did they win the game but they scored 24 points in the First Half!
I don’t expect that type of performance Saturday but my gut tells that it’s time for a breakthrough. It started back in Week Four but of course that win wasn’t against Ben Roethlisberger.
It’s time to change all that.