So the Steelers and the Ravens meet once again in the playoffs. Who is surprised?
Prior to their last meeting, yours truly boldly predicted that the Steelers special teams – the return and coverage units would be the difference in the game.
It did not turn out to be that way. The Steelers had no returnable kick offs, and Antonio Brown only averaged 5.5 yards on two punt returns. (The Ravens, in fact had one 35 yard punt return.)
Undaunted, I forge on in an attempt to define the difference in what Terrell Suggs has described as “Armageddon.”
Primed For Prime Time
Recent Steelers-Ravens history provides ample evidence that the two team’s headliners can, do and will make impact plays.
Think of guys like LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison for the Steelers. Think of guys like Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, and Ron McClain for the Ravens. And of course there is always Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu.
This of course only scratches the surface, because both teams have men who can alter the course of the game in an instant. Saturday’s divisional playoff will present no difference.
Here then is my look at a couple of Pittsburgh Steelers, who although they might not get as much ink, could easily end up being the difference makers.
Can Baltimore’s Underneath Be Hurt by Heath?
Heath Miller suffered one of the most devastating hits in Steelers history in the first half against the Ravens and finished the game with one catch.
Everyone knows what the Ravens defense can do – Terrell Suggs spent more time in the Steelers backfield than did Rashard Mendenhall to prove it.
Yet in spite of that, in spite of a broken foot and broke nose, Ben Roethlisberger managed to hit Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, and yes David Wallace 3 times. He also hit Mike Wallace 5 times.
More impressive yet, 3 of those 4 receivers had yards-per-catch averages in double digits.
If the receivers can repeat that feat and stretch the field, then that will open up things for Heath Miller underneath. Miller might not have the gaudy statistics of 2009, but Health is a player who knows how to make ever catch count.
Expect him to do so if he gets the opportunity against Baltimore.
Can Farrior and Timmons Heap Coverage on the Raven’s Receivers?
Raven’s Pro-Bowl tight end Todd Heap saw limited action against the Steelers last time due to injury. In Kansas City a health Heap decimated the Cheifs with 10 catches 108 yards.
As Behind the Steel Curtain’s Tim Geason, aka MaryRose, pointed out, since the Patriots debacle the Steelers have been intentionally tightening their coverage. This of course exposes the Steelers defense more to the big play, but it also demands that they shut down the short an intermediate routes underneath.
The Steelers did that against the Ravens – Baltimore got the bulk of its passing yards on a few throws, but that was without Todd Heap.
And that is where inside linebackers James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons come in.
Although Troy Polamalu can and will see some time matched up against Heap, the Steelers need Farrior and Timmons to bear the brunt of neutralizing him, as that will open free Polamalu to do the free lancing he does so well.
Heap is of course not the Raven’s only weapon, and Farrior and Timmons will need to do their part shutting the rest of the Raven’s reciving corps on short and medium routes,
You’ve got to figure that Cam Cameron is looking to Heap as his Ace in the Hole for Steelers-Ravens III.
Timmons and Farrior need to call his bluff.
Can Ziggy, Go Under the Hood?
The papers were all a rage when Steelers 2009 first round pick Ziggy Hood began his second training camp back in July. Hood however, failed to press for playing time and their was some concern for his development when Aaron Smith went down.
But Ziggy Hood likes playing Baltimore. He got his first NFL sack last year against the Ravens, and recorded his second NFL sack against the Ravens in December.
Since then, he’s recorded two more (OK, against the Panthers and Browns, but so what?)
Given his performance against them, it is unlikely that the Ravens will overlook Hood, and that would be a good thing. Hood needs to get in and disrupt the Raven’s backfield.
If he does so it will greatly compromise Baltimore’s ability to pick the Steelers apart with their short-yardage game.
Last time against the Ravens, Hood had a sack, a tackle for a loss, and another QB hit.
The Steelers need for Ziggy Hood to be at least that disruptive on Saturday.