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Ravens-Steelers pregame stretch...

October 2, 2010 - Ray Eckenrode

Too hot too soon?

If you’d have told us in August that three games into the NFL season the Steelers would find themselves someplace they didn’t want to be, we’d have assumed that meant 0-3 and two games back in the AFC North. But as it (unbelievably) turns out, the Steelers are in the OTHER place you don’t want to be three games into the season: Unbeaten and generally considered to be the best team in football and a Super Bowl favorite.

Huh, you ask? How can that be a bad thing?

The NFL season is a long and winding road. History tells us it’s nearly impossible to maintain an elite level of play from beginning to end. Except in very rare occasions, the team that wins the Super Bowl is a team that gets hot late in the season and not a team that started hot and maintained that level of play. For that reason, even though it goes against every instinct we have as a football fan, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the Steelers struggled a little (just a little) over the next month.

Don’t plan your trip to Dallas just yet

And while we’re at it, let’s get this straight: The Steelers are certainly among the best teams in the NFL, but they are not THE elite team as the national media has made them out to be this week. YOU, US, WE watch more Steelers games more closely than those national pundits (with the exception of guys like Merrill Hoge and Ron Jaworski who are tape junkies). Trust what you see, not what you hear. And in the same way those pundits usually underestimate how good Pittsburgh is, they are now overestimating it. While the Steelers defense has played at an amazing level, you could argue the team is two plays away from being 1-2 and that one easy win came against a Tampa Bay team that will likely win five games.

Good luck Chuck?

The same dynamic applies to the play of Charlie Batch, who threw four really bad balls last week, with two going for interceptions and two going for touchdowns. But Batch’s age and hometown philanthropy make for a good story so the fact that he truly did not play that well gets swept under the rug. If Batch throws four more like that against the Ravens, the Steelers will be 3-1 Sunday evening. If he keeps a ‘0’ in the interception column, it should be another fourth-quarter nailbiter.

Right on the nose

From the "We Can't Believe We Didn't Think of This Sooner" file: Brother John mentioned early this week that he can't wait to see how Maurkice Pouncey fares against "the beast that is Haloti Ngata." And that got us thinking that the specific reason the Steelers might have chosen Pouncey (a once-a-decade elite center prospect) over cornerback Kyle Wilson (who started from Day 1 for the Jets) is the twice-yearly battles with Ngata (and to a lesser extent, Shaun Rodgers in Cleveland and Damato Peko in Cincinnati). The Ravens have a very good football team, but when you break it down there are only four truly ELITE players to deal with: Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, Terrell Suggs and Ngata. (What’s that? Ray Lewis? Child please! He hasn’t been an elite player for four or five years, although he’s still a very good one.) If Pouncey can hold his own against Ngata, it could go a long way toward securing a Steelers victory.

Not fans of some fans

We saw some national stories Friday about Steelers fans being upset when they learned that Ben Roethlisberger and Ray Lewis texted each other during the season. While we didn’t notice such an uproar, we have to assume that if it did occur the fans involved are the same “diehards” who get so lubricated on Sundays at Heinz Field that they pass out in their seats after slobbering all over themselves.

The pick

Assuming Joe Flacco plays better than he has in the past in Pittsburgh, the Steelers will need to figure out how to stop Ray Rice (the only man to gain 100 rushing against them in their modern Super Bowl years) and Anquan Boldin (the fastest receiver to 600 catches ever … EVER). With everyone healthy and with the same effort we’ve seen in the first three weeks, that’s doable, but it leaves one big question mark in our minds: T.J. Houshmanzadeh. You’ll remember when the Bengals were an elite offense that the Steelers were regularly able to shut down Chad Johnson (remember him?) but were tortured by Housh. Right now, it doesn’t appear that Flacco and Houshmanzadeh have yet developed the kind of chemistry required to make them dangerous, but it’s probably getting better each week so keep an eye out early for whether that pair seems connected. Assuming the Steelers can hold the Ravens to 13 or fewer, they still need 14 or 16 points to win. And that’s going to require two things: A good day from Rashard Mendenhall and no turnovers from Charlie Batch. Peyton Hillis gouged Baltimore last week and a similar performance from Mendenhall would go a long way to tilting this one toward the Steelers. It’s going to be a more interesting situation with Batch because the Ravens secondary is very vulnerable IF a quarterback gets enough time to make his reads. If the Steelers can keep Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs off Batch Sunday you’ll likely see him taking some shots downfield again. Enough of all this talk about what should and could happen. What usually does happen is something totally unexpected. In this case, we’re guessing a defensive touchdown swings this game (and we’re even guessing Lawrence Timmons in scoring it) … Steelers (-1.5) 17, Ravens 13.

Prediction record

Last week: Steelers (-2.5) CORRECT

Season overall: 2-1, .667

Against spread: 2-1, .667

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