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Steelers-Ravens pregame stretch

November 30, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) vs. Baltimore Ravens (9-2)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Weather – or not?: Partly cloudy, 58. December weather doesn’t get much better in Bawlmer, hon. True story: We went to the first regular season game ever played at M&T Bank Stadium (back in 1998 when it was just Ravens Stadium), which the Steelers won, of course, 20-13. Four of us went, but only two had tickets, so two of us (yours truly included) bought two off the street on the walk from the marina at Inner Harbor to the stadium. We got there early and got right in (remember, this is pre-911 and pre- bar codes on tickets) and found our seats and my friend started chatting up the usher. Pretty soon, the usher comes running up and asks to see our tickets. He looks confused and, sure enough, two people at the bottom of the steps have the same tickets as us. And five minutes later, two more show up with tickets for the same two seats. You get the picture. Within 30 minutes, the group had grown to about 30 people and we were all being escorted to the concourse to meet a stadium official when the benevolent usher my friend chatted up says, “Disappear.” So we turned left while the rest of the group went right and we heard them being told as we walked away that they were being escorted out of the stadium and that buying tickets off the street was buyer beware. So we watched the game from various standing room only locales in the stadium and the next day we read in the paper that more than 70 pairs of people eventually showed up with the same two tickets we had. Just a tale.

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Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

Annoyance factor: If there’s one thing worse than listening to Nantz and Simms, it’s listening to Nantz and Simms while losing to the Ravens so it could be an ugly Sunday afternoon.

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Referee: Alberto Riveron

Competence factor: Riveron, the first Hispanic NFL white hat, has rapidly risen to the upper echelon of his profession, getting the AFC Championship game in 2011, his fourth year as a crew chief. A big officiating question any time these two teams meet is how much grabbing will be allowed in the secondary. (Torrey Smith’s meager output in the first game lets you know a lot of grabbing was allowed!) This crew is on the high end, having called 12 pass interference penalties in six games and that’s something you’d think would definitely benefit the Ravens in the rematch.

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Note: FoxSports’ web site has sortable officiating stats available! The link is at right -------->

The line: No line

Smarts say: Even Vegas won’t bet against Ben Roethlisberger playing so there is no line on this game (and we’re guessing there might not be one until Sunday). So, of course, we’ll set our own and establish the Ravens a 8-point favorites (dropping that to -4 if Ben goes).

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+ Some in the media already are trying to rewrite history but it’s seems fairly apparent to us that Roethlisberger’s injury is not as serious as it was initially made out to be by said media. Roethlisberger had the sling off in seven days, began throwing again in practice 16 days after the injury and, although it’s unlikely he’ll play this weekend as a precaution, he certainly would be playing, 20 days after the injury, if it were a playoff game. We are not necessarily trying to make any comment here about Ben being a “drama queen” (we’ll leave that to you all in the privacy of your living rooms). Rather, we’re pointing out that this played out exactly as we said it would, with one insider’s anonymous sources saying something radically different than another’s (although Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports clearly had the most accurate information on this situation) and tons of stories being written talking to doctors NOT involved with the case but NO stories being written talking to doctors who ARE involved (topped by the absurdity of Peter King using a random doctor from the west coast to discuss the injury). It’s gotten to the point that when it comes to injuries, an educated fan sitting at home with Internet access often can make a more rational judgment about these kind of things than today’s media can.

Key matchup: Ravens DE Paul Kruger vs. Whoever the Steelers Stick at Right Tackle

Because: When the Steelers put Marcus Gilbert on injured reserve (just seven days after Mike Tomlin said he was “close” to returning), the offensive line officially went into the “chaos” mode it knows so well. That’s because Mike Adams, the backup right tackle, left the Browns game with a high ankle sprain that we’re guessing will shelve him for the rest of the regular season. That leaves rookie seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum to start at RT with the possibility of Ramon Foster or Willie Colon as emergency backups if Beachum is injured or self destructs in 60 seconds. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out against the Ravens. All of that makes this the most important matchup of this game, largely because Kruger beat Adams repeatedly a few weeks ago, forcing Heath Miller to stay in and chip on at least a dozen plays where he might otherwise have been in a pass pattern. If that happens again, you’ve got one injury essentially benching two players.

Quick hits:

+ If you were holding onto hope that Mike Wallace would be a member of the Steelers next year, you can let it go now. (You could have let it go a year ago if you’d have listened to us.) Mike Tomlin has finally but subtlely confirmed that he’s seen the same thing we’ve all seen, namely, Wallace not giving full effort (although Tomlin will only say Wallace is “failing to produce). The Steelers rarely place the franchise tag on players to begin with and if Wallace is going to half a$$ his way through a contract year, what would he do if he got tagged? The only question now is if Tomlin and/or Ben Roethlisberger can coax any kind of effort out of Wallace for the rest of this season and then who will be dumb enough to give him $50 million before next season. (Note: As we are writing this we see a question posted in the chat of a well-known Pittsburgh scribe that essentially says: Since Wallace is playing so poorly, does that increase the chance no one else will want him and the Steelers can re-sign him? Yinzers, you gotta love them/us.)

+ If we’d have told you on the day we last saw Troy Polamalu limping off the Heinz Field turf that the Steelers would have the No. 1 defense in the NFL and top-rated pass defense in his absence, you’d have told us we were insane. But it happened and now it appears Polamalu is ready to return and we have to ask an insane question: Is he going to screw it up? Polamalu certainly brings “splash play” potential back to a defense that sorely needs it, but all the other defensive backs, especially Ryan Clark, have to adjust how they play to mesh with Polamalu’s gambling, high-flying style. Also, Will Allen has done an admirable job of being where he’s supposed to be in pass coverage in recent weeks and one of Polamalu’s weaknesses has always been that he can be faked out of position. We’re not saying Polamalu’s return is a bad thing. We’re just suggesting we watch very closely how the rest of the defense adapts.

+ The mathematicians who calculate such things say that Pittsburgh has a 23 percent chance of making the playoffs right now as a #6 seed. That's just a tick below the chances of the Dolphins and the Bengals, who are the "favorites" for the final spot with a 25 percent probability.

The pick: There’s a popular school of thought that goes like this: Charlie Batch and the Steelers would have been just fine last week if it weren’t for THE TURNOVERS. We’re not exactly buying that. We think THE TURNOVERS were a symptom, not a cause, of the Steelers problems. And those problems were that the team knew they had a QB who doesn’t have an NFL arm any more, had the wrong guy starting at RB and had a star WR sulking through his contract year. Mike Tomlin has taken steps to address two of those three issues, but that leaves Batch and his arm going into Baltimore where Joe Flacco tends to display his…Ravens 24-10.

Last week: Unfortunately, we saw that Browns win coming three weeks away (we did, look it up!) to go 8-3 on the year against the spread (that’s Vegas insider stuff, btw).

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