There is something transcendent, almost medieval, about the Steelers and the Ravens going at it. It's football the way purists love, from the hard hitting of the defenses to slinging throws. As it stands today, this is the best rivalry in football. Someday that will change. Until then, enjoy this one."
– Jason Cole, YahooSports.com
Ravens and Steelers I. Ravens and Steelers II in two weeks at our place.
Two elite teams. One 7-2, the good guys. The other, 6-3.
First place in the AFC North is on the line.
Both teams wounded.
Both barely acknowledge those missing. It's next man up. Strap up, grit your teeth, the collisions are about to begin.
Football is a tough, physical sport played by the bravest and valiant. At times, it's brutal. It's never soft.
Magnify all that nastiness.
Welcome to the THE RIVALRY.
The Whole World Is Watching
Cue the cameras, say hello to Al and Cris. There's Michele on the sidelines.
"Heck, the hitting in this game makes me cringe, and I'm up in the booth," former Pro Bowl receiver and NBC-TV analyst Cris Collinsworth said.
Heinz Field. It's Thunderdome. When men get to fighting, it happens here. Two teams enter, one team leaves.
Leaves in first place with a huge psychological advantage.
Will it be Terrell Suggs yelling at the tormentors in the stands behind the Ravens' bench? "This is our house. That's three in a row at what used to be your house?" Or, will it be the Steelers celebrating with the song "Renegade" pulsing in the background?
(Check this video of Styx's "Renegade" being played at Heinz Field. The Steelers use this song either when they need a big defensive stand or are celebrating a game-changing event. It's a wild scene, even intimidating to some teams. Those yellow towels are twirling. The speakers are at their peak. The bass pounds on your chest. If you're on the sideline, you can feel the vibration in your feet. If you're in the stands or press box, the building shakes. It has made me think about the architects and engineers who built Heinz: "I hope they knew what they were doing.")
"Baltimore swept the series last year, is riding a winning streak within the division (11) and has won four of the past six over Pittsburgh after struggling to get over the Steelers' curse for the early part of Joe Flacco's career. These games are always epic, generally coming down to the final play. There is real dislike between the teams – though plenty of grudging respect. Why wouldn't you watch this game?"
– Jason La Canfora, CBS-TV
Well, Jason, lots will be watching. Nationally, this game will be the most-watched show in all of TV next week. The numbers in Baltimore and Pittsburgh will be staggering. What better way to start a Thanksgiving week?
What About Big Ben?
I'll say it. It's better to play the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger isn't playing. (Sorry Coach Harbaugh.)
Ben is a difference maker. There is no quarterback in the NFL like him. He keeps plays alive with his strength, size and mobility – especially on third downs. You have to play him differently than any other QB. We've all seen him make the unbelievable play, with Ravens draped over him, escaping and firing a bullet 30 yards downfield to guys like Mike Wallace.
I'm happy we don't have to defend that.
But good NFL teams survive and find ways to win when they lose starters. Last Sunday against the Raiders, we were without five starters on defense – Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb, Pernell McPhee and Jimmy Smith. No whimper. No excuses. Next men up. Offense had to play better, and it did. (Nice game Joe: three touchdown passes, and you rushed for one, too.) Special teams had to step up. They did. (Two touchdowns – Jacoby Jones and then Sam Koch on the fake field goal – plus a fumble recovery.)
You find a way, and Pittsburgh will. That's what teams like the Ravens and Steelers do.
"This is not his first rodeo," Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said on Wednesday. "He can make all the throws on the field. He's got good, charismatic leadership. We expect winning football from him."
Kurt Warner, a Super Bowl MVP quarterback, has studied Leftwich and offered this assessment: "They'll be more controlled in their passing game with Byron, and he can take those shots down the field. The Steelers are going to run the ball. They are going to establish the run. I think this is a good week to do that with the way Baltimore has struggled against it."
It's clear the Steelers believe in Leftwich, who will be starting his 50th-career game on Sunday night. Mike Lombardi, a former personnel executive for the Browns, Raiders and Eagles, warned: "There is a sense of confidence Byron brings to their locker room. He is extremely well liked. He has the team's confidence. He's going to have to rely on their running game more than Ben does." But Lombardi also noted that the Steelers defense will have to be on the field for more plays than normal on Sunday night. "They averaged 34 minutes of offense per game with Ben. I don't think they can do that with Byron. Ben keeps drives alive because of his uncanny ability on third downs," Lombardi said.
Look, in five of the last six games we played the Steelers, the contest has been decided by three points.
This game is likely to be close and decided in the final minutes of the game.
That's the way it should be. That's why it is THE RIVALRY.
Now, we have won those tight games the last two times we visited Heinz Field – when Big Ben was playing. How about last season (Nov. 6, 2011) when Flacco hit WR Torrey Smith for a 26-yard game-winner (23-20) with 18 seconds left in the battle. Two years ago (Oct. 3, 2010), it was Joe to T.J. Houshmandzadeh for an 18-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left.
Get ready to stay up late Sunday night.
It's almost here. Ravens vs. Steelers. The meek will not inherit this confrontation. Let's beat Pittsburgh.
Talk with you next week,