If you were coaching a team that was ranked 28th in total defense, 18th in total offense, and 11th in points allowed, what do you think your record would be? Bet you wouldn't guess 7-2 and yet, that's exactly what the Baltimore Ravens are just past the halfway point of the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers come into this contest with the top statistical defense and 18th ranked offense, tied with Baltimore. They are 6-3.
The rivalry of the Steelers and Ravens is the best in football today. But, its starting to lose its luster as both teams get older and some of the marquee players retire.
Hines Ward and James Farrior retired last year while Ed Reed and Ray Lewis -not playing because of torn triceps- look to be well on their way out of Baltimore. To make matters worse, Ben Roethlisberger will be out for this game forcing the Steelers to use Byron Leftwich.
While both teams have a winning record and look to be well on their way to a playoff berth, the fact is, they aren't as good as they have been in year's past. The Ravens have zero secondary. Already feeling the pain of missing Ladarius Webb, the Ravens will be without Jimmy Smith after undergoing groin surgery earlier in the week. So, despite missing Troy Polamalu, the Steelers will still have a better secondary heading into this game.
The Steelers, as mentioned earlier, will not have Ben Roethlisberger. Going into a divisional matchup without your top player could spell disaster but, they have a solid backup in Byron Leftwich and an offensive coordinator whose game plan shifts depending on the personnel. Surprisingly, I do not think it will be difficult for the Steelers to put up points. Their struggles lie with stopping the Ravens from doing the same.
The Steelers may have the fifth ranked rushing defense, but they have struggled to stop the run at times this season. Darren Mcfadden ran over the Steelers for 113 yards and a touchdown in week 3 while Jamaal Charles went for 100 last week. Ray Rice is one of the top running backs in the league with a big offensive line in front of him; a line that can easily plow over Ziggy Hood as teams have done all season.
The Ravens also have a deep threat in Torrey Smith to keep the Steelers from crowding the line of scrimmage. There's a case to be made that Smith's production has been the biggest catalyst for the Ravens this season. So far, Smith has 31 receptions for a team high 548 yards. His seven touchdowns are more than all the other Ravens' receivers combined.
And then there's Joe Flacco, self-proclaimed elite quarterback whose 88.3 passer rating is 14th best in the league. Despite having nearly 25 less completions than Ben Roethlisberger, Flacco has racked up more yards meaning bigger plays. It will be interesting to see how Flacco plays in this game. While the Ravens typically struggle on the road, their quarterback has won two of the last three games at Heinz Field.
This should be a great game. It may not feature two dominant defenses like it use to but it is still the best rivalry in professional football. The Ravens have a chance to land a potential knockout blow at the Steelers' chances to win the division, while the Steelers could take a giant step forward without their quarterback if they can beat the Ravens. If you're looking for a low scoring, strong defensive game, look elsewhere. This could be a shootout.
Sunday night can't come soon enough.