Uh-Oh: Time For Steelers To Worry?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are now two games behind the division-leading Ravens after the Tennessee Titans pulled off a major upset, beating Pittsburgh 26-23 Thursday night.
With a 2-3 record, a third place standing in the division, problems on the road and injuries piling up, ESPN's Jamison Hensley says it's time for the Steelers to get concerned.
"As the Steelers packed their bags after another stunning loss on the road, no one was searching for any panic button to push," the AFC North blogger wrote. "But the 26-23 loss to the Titans is a clear indication that they might want to learn where it is.
"It's easy to chalk up Pittsburgh's sloppy play to injuries. The reality is that it's painful to watch the Steelers on the road, especially in the fourth quarter."
While Ravens fans are concerned about their own team's road play, the big difference between the Ravens and Steelers is that Baltimore is at least finding a way to win. The Steelers have lost four in a row on the road.
They couldn't beat a Titans team with a 1-4 record heading into the matchup, and they also couldn't get a victory against the Raiders (1-3), who were winless when the two teams played.
"If the Steelers can't beat the Titans and Raiders, how can they have any confidence in going on the road against the Bengals, Giants and Ravens?" asked Hensley. "Is winning at Cleveland even a lock anymore? You think I'm joking, but the Titans ranked 26th on offense and 29th on defense. They're only the second team in NFL history to give up 30 points in their first five games. The Titans are a bad team. So, what does that make the Steelers at this point? A flawed team any time it steps outside of Heinz Field."
While the Steelers didn't blame a boatload of injuries to key players as the reason for the loss, it is certainly a major problem.
Safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley were out. Pittsburgh lost running backs Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (ankle). Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (right leg) left the game in the first quarter and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (right ankle) left in the second. Right guard David DeCastro (knee) was injured in the offseason.
"[T]he Steelers had better keep that panic button close by," concluded Hensley.
Cowboys' Vickers Not Scared Of Lewis: 'He's Not Houdini'*
*In a conference call with Dallas media Wednesday, linebacker Ray Lewis practically dared the Cowboys to try to run against his defense.
There's wide-spread concern about the rush defense after Baltimore surrendered 179 yards on the ground in the first half alone in the Ravens' win over the Chiefs last week. Lewis hopes that Dallas counts on the run defense being a weakness.
"They can look to do whatever they want to do, but it ain't going to be what they think it's going to be," Lewis said.
Cowboys fullback Lawrence Vickers was told about Lewis' comment and made it clear that he isn't intimidated.
"That's just the way he feels. I don't remember him being a Houdini or anything like that" Vickers said, per the Dallas Morning News. "He's entitled to his own opinion. And if that's how he feels, that's cool, too. Kudos to him. …
"I stay ready, for whoever. Ray. Bernard. Bryant. Whoever it is. Names don't scare me, man. Teams don't scare me, man. I'm a man before anything, so I let other men just talk. See me in between them lines, that's how I get down, like that."
Neither the Ravens defense nor the Cowboys offense has much to brag about when it comes to the run. Dallas is ranked 29th in the league in rushing (67.8 yards per game) while Baltimore is 20th in run defense (118.4).
Vickers is very familiar with the Ravens and their past reputation on defense. He played against Baltimore a dozen times as a member of the division rival Cleveland Browns.
"Let me tell you something, I played them two times a year every year I've been in the NFL, right?" Vickers told Dallas reporters. "And I'm still here standing: still mean, still stiff. They're going to have to jump me, man. You feel me? They're going to have to jump me. That's the way it's going to be."
Prisco: Tape Reveals Why Run Defense 'Stinks'
When asked whether Baltimore's issues against the run can be attributed to Lewis and his weight loss, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees shot down the idea and urged onlookers to watch game tape.
Turns out, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco had done just that.
It also turns out that Prisco came to a similar conclusion that Pees did: the defensive linemen aren't getting off blocks and tackling in general is poor.
"Inside linebacker Ray Lewis is a big part of the problem, but he's not the only part," wrote Prisco. "The down linemen are getting blocked. The linebackers are getting mauled at times, including Lewis. And the safeties aren't tackling like they should on some long runs."
Billick Would Take Flacco Over Romo
When asked which quarterback he'd rather have leading his team, former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick said he would take Joe Flacco over Tony Romo.
Playing in his fifth NFL season, Flacco has thrown for 1,456 yards (61.2 completion percentage) sevens touchdowns and four interceptions in five games this year. Meanwhile, 10-year veteran Romo has churned out 1,148 yards with a 66.9 completion percentage in four games, but has only thrown five touchdowns to a whopping eight interceptions.
"Wow. Because I like Tony Romo, I think Tony's got everything it takes ... his ability to make plays outside the design of the offense," Billick said on the Galloway & Company radio show.
"But I think Joe Flacco is emerging ... right on that edge of maybe becoming an elite quarterback. He's got everything going for him and obviously he's younger and stronger ... but right now, depends on what kind of offense I want to run but right now I think Joe Flacco ... I think he's playing a more complete game."
Week 6 Picks: Cowboys vs. Ravens
It isn't unanimous, but Baltimore is the overwhelming favorite in the Ravens-Cowboys showdown among expert picks below.
Outsiders weren't particularly inspired by the Ravens' style of wins the last two weeks, but they know it's difficult to win at M&T Bank Stadium, which was recently rated by ESPN as the NFL's toughest venue for opposing teams to win in.
ESPN.com: 10 of 12 pick Ravens
Yahoo! Sports: 3 of 3 pick Ravens
ESPNDallas.com: 10 of 12 pick Ravens
The Baltimore Sun: 6 of 7 pick Ravens
Jeff Zrebiec: The Cowboys are well-rested, have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and a ton to prove after their turnover fest against the Chicago Bears in their last game. But until proven otherwise, it's nearly impossible to pick against the Ravens at home.
Sportingnews.com (Vinnie Iyer): Ravens 24, Cowboys 14
The Cowboys probably found some solutions for Tony Romo and the offense during their bye, but that won't be enough to win at Baltimore. Expect a tight, physical defensive game until either Joe Flacco or Ray Rice (or both together) provide a big play to put it away in the second half.
FoxSports.com (Peter Schrager): Ravens 27, Cowboys 17
The Ravens have won 13 straight home games and get back on a somewhat normal schedule with their first 1 p.m. start at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday. There's magic in the air in Baltimore this season. The Orioles were good for the first time in 15 years, Baltimore native Julie Bowen won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress last week, and Michael Phelps is living the good life after winning his millionth gold medal this summer. The Ravens haven't played a complete game this season and are still 4-1, alone atop the AFC North. And I've looked it up — there are seven different Victoria's Secret shops in the greater Baltimore area, just in case Jerry gets homesick during this Cowboys loss.
CBSSports.com (Pete Prisco): Ravens 27, Cowboys 26
The Cowboys are coming off a bye with a lot of questions. The Ravens are coming off an unimpressive victory against the Chiefs. Baltimore is struggling on defense. That could be what the Cowboys need to get the offense going. I think Dallas keeps it close, but Baltimore finds a way late.
SI.com (Peter King): Ravens 27, Cowboys 23
In the inexorable battle with the .500 plateau – the Cowboys are 98-98 in the regular season in this century -- the Ravens push Dallas back on the wrong side. The Ravens take a 13-game home win streak into this one, and if I had a little more faith in Romo-to-Bryant, I'd pick Dallas to break that.
PFT.com (Mike Florio): Ravens 28, Cowboys 17
The team that closed down Texas Stadium by spanking the Cowboys will welcome them to a slightly more hostile environment with a similar result, thanks to superior talent on both sides of the ball.
PFT.com (Michael David Smith): Ravens 24, Cowboys 17
The Ravens' offense was surprisingly flaccid (that's what she said) against the Chiefs, but at home against the Cowboys, the Ravens should move the ball effectively. Ray Rice will have a big day as the Ravens win.
- The Orioles tied the series with Yankees, getting two games apiece. Many Ravens players stayed up past midnight rooting for the O's …@ torreysmithwr: I shouldn't be up but this game is crazy!!! Lets get 1 … @ginograd56: Alright O's put em away so I can go to sleep … @bryanhall95: Ballgame! Goodnight! [Twitter]
- With both Cowboys punters Chris Jones and Brian Moorman battling injuries, Dallas doesn't have an experienced holder field goals and extra points. Turns out quarterback Tony Romo may take over the holding duties. Uh-oh, remember the last time that happened? [ProFootballTalk.com]
- Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan is the identical twin brother of former Ravens d-coordinator Rex Ryan, which means Baltimore will see a familiar defense Sunday. [The Baltimore Sun]
- The Ravens are wary of Dez Bryant on punt returns. [The Baltimore Sun]
- After suffering a concussion on a Haloti Ngata hit last week, Chiefs quarterback Matt Caseel has been ruled out for Week 6. [CBSSports.com]
- Outside linebacker Paul Kruger is starting to play up to expectations. [CSNBaltimore.com]