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Eisenberg: Ravens May Not Miss Boldin After All


When Anquan Boldin caught 13 passes for the San Francisco 49ers in their season opener, it seemed clear beyond all doubt that the Ravens had blundered by parting ways with Joe Flacco's favorite wideout from the Super Bowl run. 

But narratives can change. Now it's mid-October and the situation isn't quite as clear cut. 

In the 49ers' five games since their opener, Boldin has made 16 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown. That's an average of 3.1 catches and 43 receiving yards per game – pretty modest. He had three catches for 28 yards last Sunday against Arizona, and two for 21 yards against Houston the week before. 

Meanwhile, in the same five-game span in Baltimore, Tandon Doss has caught 11 passes for 204 yards and Marlon Brown has caught 13 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Both are in Boldin's neighborhood statistically despite somewhat limited playing time, and combined, they're producing a lot more. 

The Ravens' receivers were under heavy scrutiny when the season opened because Boldin was gone, but the brunt of that attention has now shifted to the team's tepid running game. The wideouts are faring well. In fact, with help from Torrey Smith's big numbers, Flacco has gotten better production from them in the first six games of 2013 than he did in the first six games of 2012, when Boldin was here. 

The Ravens' wideouts caught 63 passes for 1,078 yards in the first six games last year, and this year, they've caught 76 for 1,199 yards. 

Given those surprising figures, it's actually fair to wonder whether Boldin is missed at all. 

Granted, the fact that he is now somewhat quiet in San Francisco doesn't preclude the possibility that he might have put up big numbers if he were still with the Ravens. Boldin and Flacco struggled at times to get on the same page, but they were definitely clicking by the end of last season. 

Of course, we'll never know. The Ravens decided to move on without him. They've taken a lot of heat for it, especially as the 2013 season opened last month. But let's let things play out more before making any judgments. 


It's no secret that Heinz Field, where the Ravens are playing Sunday, provides the Pittsburgh Steelers with one of the NFL's best home-field advantages. Team Terrible Towel is 70-27-1 at home since it opened. 

That makes it all the more astounding that the Ravens have won three straight regular-season games there. 

Not so long ago, when teams tried to estimate where they might win and lose games before a season, a game in Pittsburgh was faithfully treated as a likely loss. But the Ravens haven't lost a regular season game in the Steel City in 47 months. 

Granted, they did lose a playoff game there in 2011. And they've lost two of the last three in Baltimore, so what goes around comes around. 

But that's precisely the most ominous part of trying to predict Sunday's game. Forget stats and strategy. What goes around comes around.  Most things tend to balance out over time in the NFL. The Steelers are struggling, but the percentages say they're due to win one at home against the Ravens. 

If the Ravens do prevail, well, they have piled up many achievements under Head Coach John Harbaugh, but a four-peat in Pittsburgh would rank as one of the best. 

Let's make sure and define things correctly as the Ravens head into Pittsburgh. 

Is it a must-win game? No. Don't misunderstand, the Ravens could really use a win that causes serious harm to the Steelers, but no game in the first half of the season is a must-win. If the Ravens were to lose Sunday and then defeat the Browns and Bengals in their next two games, they would still be in the thick of things in the AFC North.

Is it a crossroads game? Sort of. The Ravens are either going to be pretty optimistic or pretty worried heading into their bye week, depending on what happens. 

But above all, Sunday's game is one that simply will say a lot about the 2013 Ravens. 

The Steelers are tough and proud, but they're down, winners of just one of five games so far. If the Ravens are going to take the higher arc they expected to take this season, they'll find a way to push the Steelers deeper into that hole. A win would say a lot. 

If they don't, leaving them with a 3-4 record, that would say a lot, too.

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