Tag:Terrell Suggs
Posted on: November 2, 2011 10:51 am
Edited on: November 4, 2011 9:37 am
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Ravens preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



The greatest rivalry in today’s NFL is renewed Sunday night when Baltimore travels to Pittsburgh. Though both teams have drifted towards being pass-oriented offenses, these smashmouth defenses can still make this game the type of fistfight we’ve all come to love. Here’s a look at two of the league’s meanest, most successful defensive units.

1. Baltimore’s philosophy
The Ravens are not as geared towards Byzantine blitzes as they were during the Rex Ryan years. New coordinator Chuck Pagano is more inclined to use a four-man front in nickel and let pass-rushers Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger use their strength/speed combination on the edges.

This isn’t to say Pagano won’t blitz; he still brings some heat with inside linebackers and slot corners. But he uses stunts and the dominance of Haloti Ngata to generate individual matchups for guys outside. This creates similar end results to what Dick LeBeau does with his zone blitzes.


2. Pittsburgh’s philosophy
The zone blitz’s basic principle is getting pressure on the quarterback without sacrificing bodies in coverage. About half the time a zone blitz is actually a zone exchange, which means four pass-rushers who are coming from untraditional spots (say three rushers on one side and just one on the other, for example).

A lot of Pittsburgh’s blitzes are determined by the offense’s receiver distribution. This is a versatile approach that requires smart, experienced defenders, particularly in the defensive backfield where the coverage is usually a matchup-zone concept. Matchup zones require defenders to pass wide receivers off to one another. The Steelers and Ravens both do this extremely well.

As for Pittsburgh’s blitzes themselves, the goal is not to get pass-rushers in clean – though that’s certainly nice when it happens – but rather, to get LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison in one-on-one matchups against running backs or tight ends. The Steelers do this by overloading their attack to one side of the formation or, sometimes, aligning both Woodley and Harrison on the same side. Doing this can compel an offense to keep its running back in to pass protect, which can be a nice way to nullify a dangerous receiving threat (like, say Ray Rice).

Of course, Woodley and Harrison are likely both out this Sunday. That’s huge, especially if Jason Worilds (an unknown but gifted second-year pro who is potentially the next great Steeler outside linebacker) remains on the shelf with a quad injury. Deepening the damage is that inside linebacker James Farrior is also out. Farrior is great at timing his blitzes in a way that jars blockers and creates one-on-one matchups for others.

3. The safeties
A lot of defensive schemes look good when there’s a future first ballot Hall of Famer at safety. Ed Reed is a ridiculously smart, ridiculously rangy free safety who takes chances that no other players could take. He’s a centerfielder who’s capable of swooping into the box. Troy Polamalu is a ridiculously smart, ridiculously explosive strong safety who also takes chances that no other players could take. Polamalu is a box defender who’s capable of flying back into centerfield.

As a quarterback you obviously have to know where these safeties are at all times. Usually this kind of knowledge can tip you off as to what the defense is running. But Reed’s and Polamalu’s range allows them to disguise and redirect their intentions after the snap. Thus, the main reason a quarterback must focus on them is simply to avoid a turnover.

Something to keep in mind: Reed and Polamalu allow their respective defenses to be great in different ways. But their defenses also allow THEM be great. Neither could freelance as much as they do if not for playing with trustworthy teammates who consistently execute their own assignments.

4. Defensive Lines
On a similar note, great defenses always control the trenches. So much of defensive schemes are built around defending the pass. But effective blitzes or coverage designs are rendered moot if the offense can ram the ball down your throat. The Steelers have a stalwart nose tackle in Casey Hampton flanked by active defensive ends who can occupy two blockers by playing with strong east and west movement.

This is critical because the congestion these players create allows the linebackers to attack the run cleanly. In case there’s any doubt about how important the ends are to Pittsburgh’s scheme, recognize that GM Kevin Colbert spent his ’09 first-round pick on Ziggy Hood and his ’11 first-round pick on Cameron Heyward.

The Ravens linebackers also attack the run cleanly thanks to a potent defensive front. Baltimore’s defensive front goes about things slightly differently, though. While Pittsburgh’s ends are more athletic and aim to create congestion via movement, Baltimore’s ends are more powerful and aim to create congestion via penetration.

The emergence of nose tackle Terrence Cody has been critical this season. Cody is a load with some burst. He struggles to hold ground against double teams, but at least he’s drawing the double teams. His doing so gives Chuck Pagano more freedom in the way he uses Haloti Ngata, the most destructive defensive lineman in football.



5. Unheralded superstars
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed command a lot of headlines – and understandably so. And Ngata, deservedly, gets more recognition with each passing week. But the best player on Baltimore’s defense may just be Terrell Suggs. Because the ninth-year pro has never led the league in sacks, people assume he’s merely a good player.

But Suggs’ sack numbers don’t show that he’s the best run-defending outside ‘backer in the league, playside or backside. And they don’t show how he physically wears down an opponent over the course of a game. Suggs moves like a gazelle but, when engaged in a phone booth, has the power of a rhino.

The Steelers also have a first-class star flying under the radar: Ike Taylor. It’s mind-boggling that the 31-year-old cornerback did not draw more interest on the open market this past offseason. Taylor often defends the opposing team’s top receiver man-to-man while the rest of the defense play zone.

Last week he held Wes Welker to six catches for 39 yards, which is remarkable considering Taylor is not too accustom to lining up over the slot. The week before, he held Larry Fitzgerald to four catches for 78 yards. Taylor often shows up on TV for the wrong reasons – penalties and dropped interceptions – but he shows up on film as the key to Pittsburgh’s coverages.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 9 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 10:03 am
 

Everyone on Ravens pointing fingers at offense

Posted by Will Brinson

The Ravens looked downright dreadful on the offensive end of things on Monday in their 12-7 loss in Jacksonville. As such, the critics came calling, with many a pundit ripping Joe Flacco and even Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs questioning the playcalling after the game.

Suggs was baffled about the number of touches that Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice received. That number -- eight! -- apparently didn't sit well with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who said he's on the "same page" with Suggs re: touches.

"I listen to all of our guys and definitely I listen to Terrell Suggs, especially with the way he’s playing," Harbaugh said. "And then, the things he says are right. But, that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s not like we’re not trying to do the things he’s talking about doing. So, I think we’re all on the same page with that."

So that's not good news for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Although our own Mike Freeman reported Wednesday morning that Harbaugh isn't happy about the way Suggs criticized Cameron publicly, so perhaps it's Suggs that should be worried.

Indeed, BaltimoreRavens.com reported late Tuesday that Harbaugh and Cameron huddled up and discussed the offensive problems and determined that everyone's at fault.

"It’s warranted for all of us,” Harbaugh said. "I think we all deserve to have fingers pointed at us when the offense plays like that. That’s tough."

Oh, right, and add Flacco to the list of people that deseve blame, according to Cameron.

"That’s part of our deal," Cameron said. "Heat on me, heat on Joe. The coordinators, quarterbacks, we can all do better. It goes with the territory."

Flacco deserves criticism for making bad throws, of course. But it's not Flacco's fault that the offense is plodding through a late-game situation, or that Rice only got eight carries.

Now, there's an argument that the Ravens weren't moving the ball well on the ground -- Rice averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and Ricky Williams picked up just five yards on three carries.

But the problem with that argument is that 12 total carries for your running backs in a game that doesn't feature more than 19 points is simply illogical. 19 total points means that a game's either a defensive bloodbath or a sloppy offensive game. Either way, mistakes and the other team's opportunities can be mitigated by running the ball and looking to run it more effectively.

Cameron could have worn down the Jaguars defense and limited Flacco's mistakes if he'd simply given Rice the ball more, but for some reason, he didn't feel interested in doing so; when the score of a football game is 6-0 at halftime and still takes two hours to play, something has gone amiss in the respective offensive gameplans.

"Eight carries is never going to be a winning formula for Ray Rice," Harbaugh said. "There is no doubt about it."

Indeed it isn't, and Cameron should probably heed Harbaugh's words and perhaps take a look that the coach had on his face during Baltimore's next-to-last drive of the game. Cameron didn't go with a no-huddle offense initially, and melted nearly 1:30 off the clock with three plays that picked up a whopping 23 yards.

After finally letting Flacco put his foot on the peddle, the offense moved the final 60-plus yards in less than two minutes, scoring their first points of the game.

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Posted on: October 7, 2011 5:45 pm
Edited on: October 7, 2011 5:46 pm
 

FunGraphs: Tom Brady playoff wins per hairstyle


Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets will travel to Gillette Stadium to take on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday. Join Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan as they preview this AFC East showdown. Watch the game on CBS at 4:15 PM ET.

Posted by Ryan Wilson

To quote Uncle Ben in Spider-Man: "With great power comes great responsibility." In Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's case, his power comes in the form of winging touchdown passes, which is responsible for a lot of animosity from around the league, notably from players who have been victimized by skills.

Earlier in the week, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said that he loves hitting Brady "because he always complains." Ngata's teammate, Terrell Suggs, also has a history with the Pats' golden-haired savior.

On Sunday, the Patriots host the Jets and -- you guessed it -- there are players on that defense who aren't particularly fond of Brady. The most vocal critic this week is cornerback Antonio Cromartie who, it turns out, was the most vocal critic prior to last season's matchups, too.

“I’ll never change how I feel about Tom Brady and what I said last year,” Cromartie said in the days leading up to Sunday's AFC East game. “Do I respect him? Yes. He has three football rings. But other than that, when we’re on the football field, I don’t really give a damn.”

Cromartie seemed unconcerned when he was asked if he thought Brady might now go after him. "I hope I'm a target this game. I want to be a target every game.”

New England, as a whole, isn't saying jack.

"You ain't going to hear nothing from us, that's for damn sure," a veteran player told the New York Post under his breath Wednesday. "Boss' orders." More from the Post:
Chad Ochocinco -- one of the most opinionated and flamboyant players in the sport -- hasn't showed his face to the media during the daily media sessions while conveniently claiming a lost bet is keeping him off Twitter for the rest of the month.

Wes Welker, so famously benched in the playoff loss for mocking Rex Ryan's alleged foot fetish, also has been a ghost to reporters this week. The same goes for fellow wide receiver Deion Branch.

But perhaps the best example of the Patriots' steely focus heading into this weekend's matchup at Gillette Stadium was normally light-hearted Tom Brady gritting his teeth through a news conference Wednesday that he stormed out of after just five minutes due to one too many questions about Antonio Cromartie.
Belichick was his usual laconic, expressionless self when asked about facing the Jets, a team that beat New England twice last season, including the playoffs. "We try to focus on what we need to do to beat the Jets," he said when asked if he had issued a gag order. "That's what we're here for. I mean, what else is there to talk about?"

Oh, we don't know, Brady's newly trimmed wig, perhaps? (Wait, what?)

Yep, you heard us. Every other angle has been analyzed heading into this game. We might as well consider the possible ramifications of Brady's hair on the Pats' hopes and dreams in 2011. (You think we're kidding.)

Thanks to David Fung, we have graphical evidence showing the relationship between Brady's coiffure du jour and his postseason record. You're welcome.


Bieber Brady is dead. Long live Buzzed Brady.

You can see more of Fung's work on his blog, FunGraphs, and follow him on Twitter (@CobraDave).

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 5, 2011 10:30 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 11:38 pm
 

Ngata: I love hitting Brady...he always complains

First Terrell Suggs and now Haloti Ngata weighs in on Tom Brady. (Getty Images/US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It's a shame the Ravens and Patriots don't meet in the 2011 regular season because the teams have developed something of a rivalry -- and it's as much about the score as the trash-talking. The latest entry comes courtesy of Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

In an interview with Dan Patrick that will appear in Sports Illustrated, Ngata was asked to name a quarterback he likes to hit.

"I love hitting Tom Brady because he always complains. He thinks he should never be touched," he said.  Patrick then asked if the officials listen to Brady and throw the flag. "No," said Ngata. "My hits are usually clean."

(In related news: we talked to Ravens running back Ray Rice Wednesday and asked him about Ngata. "You know what? I got a rule with Haloti: Do not touch me in practice. I gotta play on Sundays. Do not touch me in practice. We are friends, alright?" We'll have the full interview on the site Thursday.)

This brings us to Ngata's teammate, Terrell Suggs, who thought his hits were clean, too.

Much of the animosity between the Pats and Ravens can be traced back to Suggs, Brady, and their interpretations of what constitutes a personal foul.

Specifically, what constitutes a personal foul when Brady's the guy getting hit. After all, the NFL changed the rules on bringing down quarterbacks after then-Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard went low on Brady during Week 1 of the 2008 season and promptly blew out Brady's knee.

When the Ravens and Pats met in 2009, Suggs was on the receiving end of a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty, and after the game teammate Ray Lewis went off. (Brady's former teammate and NBC analyst Rodney Harrison agreed with Lewis.)


And then last October, Suggs and Brady were seen jawing at each other in a game the Patriots would eventually win in overtime, 23-20. Suggs later told the Boston Herald about their on-field discussion.  

“He was trying to tell me how to bag a Hollywood actress. 'If you want to get a Hollywood actress, take my seminar on Saturday.’ … He was going over the Dow and the economy and politics. He doesn’t really talk football that much."

Well played, T-Sizzle.  Brady, however, wasn't amused.

“Well, [Suggs] had his chance so maybe if he gets another chance he can try to back those words up,” Brady said the next day during an appearance on Boston's WEEI. “We play those guys a lot and they’ve only beat us once . . . they talk a lot for only beating us once in nine years.”

Suggs called out Brady several more times last season, and even suggesting that his three Super Bowl wins were "questionable."

Brady, for his part, seemed unconcerned.


We suspect Brady might feel differently if Ngata gets a hold of him.

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Posted on: September 28, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 11:49 am
 

Film Room: Ravens vs. Jets preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Ever since Rex Ryan left Baltimore to become New York’s head coach, we’ve viewed these two teams as mirror images of one another – and understandably so. Both have young quarterbacks. Both have running backs entering their primes who are backed up by a sage veteran. Both feature an aggressive and deceptive 3-4 defensive scheme. And both talk abundant trash even though their respective rivals – the Patriots and Steelers – have all the rings.

Let’s take a closer look at these teams’ similarities.

1. Young quarterbacks
Something that stood out in Week 3 was how the Ravens and Jets heavily utilized play-action early on, but for different reasons.

The Ravens referred to it to allow time for downfield routes to unfold. They wanted to take advantage of a depleted Rams secondary that was starting undrafted second-year nobody Darian Stewart at safety and disintegrating Al Harris at nickel corner outside. (They succeeded, by the way).

The Jets referred to play action because they wanted to prolong the time that Raiders’ defensive backs had to hold up in man coverage. They also wanted to coax the Raider linebackers into running out of position. (They succeeded, but only in the first half.)

Same offensive tactic, but with vastly different inspirations. The Ravens were trying to showcase their young quarterback, while the Jets were trying to simply make life easier for theirs (nothing wrong with that). This makes sense. Flacco has been around a year longer than Sanchez and is clearly a year ahead of him development-wise. He has a stronger arm and, as of late, more refined tools. He has really improved his pocket movement, becoming more consistent in resetting his feet before he throws.

The Jets are working with Sanchez in this realm. Entering this season, the USC star had a habit of bringing the ball down while eluding rushers in the pocket. This compelled him to reset both his feet AND throwing mechanics, which is too slow of a motion for the NFL.

For what it’s worth, don’t expect such a heavy dose of play-action in this game. Both defenses have savvy linebackers and are too likely to blitz. Instead, the key will be which young quarterback does the best job at diagnosing coverages and pass-rushing attacks prior to the snap.


2. The running backs
Let’s get one thing clear: Ray Rice is a better football player than Shonn Greene. It’s not even close. If Rice were a Friday night, Greene would be, at best, a Wednesday afternoon. Rice runs with superb balance and strength, and his lateral agility is second to none (especially when he gets to the second level). What’s more, he’s a demon in the passing game, both as a receiver and blocker.

Greene, on the other hand, has been somewhat disappointing. He sits out most passing downs and has 1,440 yards rushing…in 32 career games. One issue is Greene’s more of a momentum runner than explosive runner. He excels on sweeps because those runs naturally allow him to hit the line of scrimmage going downhill. But sweeps don’t work against elite outside linebackers (like, say, Terrell Suggs).

Between the tackles, Greene’s vision and timing are very average. That’s why the Jets made LaDainian Tomlinson a prominent part of their offense last season. Tomlinson is off to a fantastic start as a receiving back this season (12 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown), but that’s in part because he knows how to outwit pass defending linebackers. On film, it’s clear L.T. has lost a lot of his speed and quickness. If the Jets are to go anywhere in 2011, they’ll have to ride Greene.

Same goes for the Ravens and Rice. Rice’s production is not a problem, though the Ravens were wise to bring in a supporting No. 2 back like Ricky Williams.

3. The receivers
Derrick Mason is the X-factor. He was Baltimore’s possession target last year and is now filling that role from the slot in New York. The crafty 15-year veteran is one of the few players in the league who does not need to get separation in order to be open.

Plaxico Burress is another one of those players. He’s been, for the most part, his same old self this season (which is remarkable when you really think about it). His matchup Sunday night against Carry Williams will be worth watching. If you asked God to make a cornerback specifically for defending Burress, you might get Williams. He’s only 6’1”, 185, but long and upright, he plays much bigger than that. He has an intriguing combination of physicality and change-of-direction ability, and if asked to play man coverage, he won’t be shy about using trail position technique (which will compel Burress to use his “speed” more than his strength).

It will be interesting to see what the Jets do with Darrelle Revis. The likely assignment will be Anquan Boldin, though last week, rookie Torrey Smith turned in a jaw-dropping three-touchdown first quarter that had the Rams redirecting their safety help concepts. Smith gets faster at the end of his routes, which is something all great deep threats do. Antonio Cromartie has the speed to run with him, so expect the Jets to trust that matchup. But expect the Ravens to readily go after it.

The weak link of both cornerbacking groups happens to be an ex-Boise State Bronco: Chris Carr for the Ravens and Kyle Wilson for the Jets. If it comes down to these ancillary matchups, the Jets have the overall advantage. Mason, their No. 3, is as reliable as they come. For the Ravens, newcomer Lee Evans (who now figures to be the No. 3 receiver) has not established any sort of a rhythm with Flacco.

4. The defensive lines
The Jets have a unique run-stopping approach with their three-man defensive line. Instead of asking their downlinemen to occupy blockers and fill two gaps, the Jets ask them to focus on physically manhandling the guy in front of them. The idea is this creates congestion through penetration and also defines the inside linebackers’ path to the ball (David Harris and Bart Scott are tasked with reading the defensive linemen’s action and attacking in the opposite direction that it’s drifting. More on that in the next section.)

The Jets are the only 3-4 team in the NFL that plays the run this way.

This unique approach is why general manager Mike Tannenbaum drafted a fist-fighter like Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round. Tannenbaum would probably give his right eye for a chance to have a guy like Haloti Ngata. The Ravens 335-pound defensive end/nose tackle is the most destructive front line force in the NFL today.

Ngata has the power of a tug boat and mobility of a clipper. Truly, he moves like a linebacker. Expect him to spend most of his time at defensive end this season, as last year’s second-round pick, Terrence Cody, has looked great at nose tackle.



5. The inside linebackers
These are the entertainers – the guys NBC cameras will fixate on Sunday night. The sagacious Ray Lewis and loquacious Bart Scott. Both back up their personas. Lewis no longer has elite sideline-to-sideline speed, but he compensates with instincts, ferocity and fundamentals.

He was a demon attacking Rams lead-blockers last week. The Ravens’ defensive style will always allow Lewis to be productive, as so much of their run approach is predicated on his teammates occupying blockers.

Scott, who is as aggressive downhill as any linebacker in the league, has both an easier and tougher job than Lewis. It’s easier in that he has a stellar running mate in David Harris. It’s tougher in that, as mentioned earlier, he must read the defensive linemen’s battles in front of him and pursue the ball accordingly.

The reason other 3-4 defenses don’t take this type of approach is it requires great intelligence and pursuit skills from both inside linebackers. Most defenses don’t have an inside combination like Scott and Harris.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 4 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:49 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 8:24 pm
 

Former NFL lineman Orlando Brown dies at 40

                                                                            (Getty Images)
Posted by Ryan Wilson

Former Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Orlando Brown died Friday at the age of 40. Police told Baltimore's WJZ that Brown was found dead inside his home and there were no signs of foul play.

"Our heartfelt condolences to the family of Orlando Brown, his three sons," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday. "I think everybody knows what he meant to this organization. He's still a big part of us. He's been coming around a lot, working with some of our young players. We're forever grateful just for what he did for the Ravens organization and what he did for the present team. We just can't express our sorrow enough."

Former teammate Terrell Suggs added that "He was a beast on the field but a gentle giant off. It's unfortunate he had to leave us so young." 

Brown played for 11 NFL seasons, though he's probably best remembered for an incident that took place during a December 1999 Jaguars-Browns game. Referee Jeff Triplette accidentally hit Brown in the eye with a weighted penalty flag. Triplette apologized, although the injury forced Brown from the game. As he made his way to the locker room, Brown ran back on the field and shoved Triplette to the ground.

Brown was ejected from the game and and the NFL later suspended him for his actions. A year later and still suffering from the injury, Cleveland released Brown two years into a six-year, $27 million contract. He ended up suing the league for damages.

But CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman warns that we shouldn't let one play define Brown's career.

"Brown wasn't without flaws just like the rest of us but he shouldn't be remembered for that one incident," Freeman writes. "Remember him in total context. A great offensive lineman who never quit, who never stopped, had the unending loyalty of his teammates, long after he left football, and was one of the NFL's great fighters."

Brown returned to the NFL in 2003 with the Ravens. He retired following the 2005 season.

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Posted on: September 10, 2011 10:38 am
 

7-Point Preview: Steelers vs. Ravens



Posted by Ryan Wilson


1. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
The Ravens will begin the 2011 season the same way they ended 2010: facing the Steelers. Not only are they AFC North rivals, but there's a good argument that this matchup is annually the NFL's fiercest. At least in terms of physicality; as for the results, Pittsburgh has the edge, especially when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is under center. In fact, Big Ben is undefeated against the Ravens in his last seven starts, something that leaves defensive end Terrell Suggs a little queasy.

"They spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for the last two out of three years," Suggs said. "We have to switch that, you know? It's sickening. It ends our season every year we lose to our division rival. I'm sick of it. I'm disgusted. I'm tired of having a sick feeling in my stomach for a whole year."

But the Ravens have their own franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco, who has helped his team to the postseason his first three years in the league, and has yet to miss a start during that time. Still, the playoff wins on the road against the Patriots in '09, or the '08 AFC Championship Game appearance don't mean much unless the conversation ends with "and the Ravens won the Super Bowl." Exacerbating matters: Flacco is 2-6 against the Steelers in his career and he has yet to beat Roethlisberger. (The two wins came against a Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh team -- Dennis Dixon started late in the '09 season, and Charlie Batch was under center during Week 4 of the 2010 campaign.)

The Rivalry

2. What the Degenerate Gamblers and Eggheads Are Saying:
"You can throw the records out the window" is a cliche, yes, but in this case it's also fitting. While the Steelers hold the win-loss edge, these matchup are invariably close, usually coming down to a huge fourth-quarter play. That, their similarly bruising styles, and the game being in Baltimore means the Steelers are just one-point favorites, according to Bodog.com.

As for the pocket-protector set, our good friends at Football Outsiders have the Steelers atop their preseason rankings (2nd in defense, 5th in offense, 5th in special teams), and the Ravens are sixth (9th in defense, 8th in offense, 3rd in special teams).

The CBSSports.com experts are split: three like the Steelers, two favor the Ravens.

3. Key Matchup to Watch
For the first time in his career, Flacco finally has a legitimate deep threat. The Ravens traded for wide receiver Lee Evans after rookie Torrey Smith's unimpressive showing during the first week of the preseason. (To be fair, Smith didn't have a chance; the second-round pick out of Maryland missed OTAs and minicamp because of the lockout, and had just a few weeks to transition to NFL.)

Evans will play opposite Anquan Boldin, but Flacco's two go-to targets -- Derrick Mason and Todd Heap -- are no longer with the team. Mason signed with the Jets and Baltimore released Heap, who is now in Arizona. Second-year players Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will replace Heap although it may take time for Flacco to develop a rapport with them that he shared with Heap.

The Steelers will try to stop the Ravens' passing attack with what many experts consider its weakest link: the cornerbacks. Ike Taylor broke a finger during the preseason but will be on the field Sunday. And, frankly, the cast he'll be wearing won't have much bearing on his performance. He's a solid cover cornerback who's been known to drop an interception or 12. As long as his legs work, he'll be fine. The other corner, Bryant McFadden, is another story. He's battled a hamstring injury for all of training camp and if 2011 is anything like 2010, offenses will target him all day.

Safety Troy Polamalu, the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, can mitigate many of the secondary's shortcomings, particularly when he's at full strength. And to hear him tell it, his Achilles injury, which bothered him late last season all the way through the Super Bowl, is healed and he feels as good as ever.

The Steelers' defensive backs might have more critics but the Ravens' secondary is young and inexperienced, the two things you absolutely don't want to be when facing the likes of Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, and with Roethlisberger throwing them the ball.

Rookie first-rounder, cornerback Jimmy Smith, will start, as will Cary Williams, who spent much of his NFL career on the practice squad. But future Hall of Famer Ed Reed will be on the field, too, which means that a turnover is always just a play away. Still, Reed understands what his guys are up against.

“We have to do our job, and that job is to slow those guys down, keep them out of the end zone, and cover them," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun. We’ve got fast guys around here, too. The only disadvantage for the defense is, for the secondary guys, we’re moving backwards at the start. But it’s part of the game. We knew that. We signed up for it. And we’re definitely ready for the mission.”

Whether Baltimore's offensive line, currently held together by duct tape, feels the same way is another story. Recent free-agent additions Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode join a group that has been reshuffled due to injuries and inconsistencies. It's one thing to make these changes months before the season; it's something else entirely to try to pull it off in just a few weeks after a lockout against a front seven that led the NFL in sacks a season ago.

And this is where the most important cog in Baltimore's offense comes in. Ray Rice is one of the most dangerous players in the league, a sure-handed running back who is both powerful and elusive and also serves as a genuine pass-catching threat. If he's running the ball effectively, Flacco's job is made markedly easier. The problem, of course, is that the Steelers stop the run better than any defense in the league.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube
Apparently, these two teams play a physical brand of football.


5. The Steelers win if…
The defensive front seven creates confusion for the Ravens offensive line and forces Flacco into mistakes. If Big Ben and his stable of big-play pass-catchers take advantage of a young Baltimore secondary, the game might not be close.

6. The Ravens win if…
The offensive line holds up and gives Flacco an opportunity to exploit McFadden (particularly if he's covering Evans), which should also allow Rice more room to make plays. Defensively, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Suggs will have to help their young secondary by getting consistent pressure on Roethlisberger.

7. Prediction: Steelers 24 Ravens 20

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Posted on: July 28, 2011 11:59 pm
 

Nearly a dozen Ravens felled by minor injuries

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Oh, so this is what happens when a lockout ruins all of your offseason workout plans and you have to start compressing an entire pre-2011 schedule into late July and early August. You get hurt and you get cramps, and you can certainly expect to hear more about this.

According to the Baltimore Sun, 11 Ravens players suffered minor injuries at practice today during the first day of training camp.

At least seven players went down with cramps, including rookie WR Torrey Smith, while OT Eric Vanden Heuval and LB Jason Phillips had to be carted off the field.

Meanwhile, LB Terrell Suggs, who wore a wrap around his right hamstring, did not practice. Neither did S Ed Reed, who is dealing with a family situation and could report to camp by Saturday.

So yeah, not a great start to the actual NFL season for the Ravens.

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