Five things: Ravens and Steelers Wild Card Matchup
1. Joe Flacco will become the first QB in NFL history to start a playoff game in six of his first seven seasons in the league. The last time Joe Flacco was here, the Ravens we’re a 10-6 team, and Flacco threw 11 TDs with zero INTs enroute to four straight wins and hoisting the Lombardi trophy. If he’s going to do that again, it starts Saturday night. Pittsburgh ranks 27th in pass defense, and just like the Ravens, have intercepted 11 passes this year. In the two games with Pittsburgh this year, Joe Flacco is a combined 51 of 76 (67.1%) for 469 yards with four TDs and one INT. He was also sacked four times, all of them in the 43-23 midseason blowout. Joe Flacco is 3-6 all time at Heinz Field.
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2. The return of Haloti Ngata. He returns from a four game suspension for testing positive for use of Adderall, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Rookie Timmy Jernigan played well in his absence, but left Sunday’s game against the Browns with an ankle injury, and his status going forward has yet to be determined. Coach John Harbaugh said, “He’s in good shape. His weight is good. He’s been training really hard from what he told me, and he looks that way. I think he’s really appreciative of the opportunity to come back and make a little statement here in the postseason.”
You also have to wonder with a giant cap number looming over his head next year, could this, or any future playoff game with a Ravens win, be the last game for Ngata in a Ravens uniform? Ngata is worth $16M against the cap for 2015, the last year of his contract. The Ravens would save $8.5M in cap space if Ngata is let go, and there is no guarantee that they would restructure his deal.
3. Speaking of potential final games as a Raven, how about Torrey Smith? Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2010 season. He got progressively better each year, and had a very nice 2013 campaign where he caught 65 balls for 1,128 yards. However in 2014, he caught just 49 balls this year for 765 yards. But he is a major red zone threat accounting for a career best 11 TDs. One shy of his counterpart this week in Antonio Brown. The drop of in production can be in large part the scheme change with Gary Kubiak. The short passing game has seen his yards per catch decrease from 17.4 to 15.7. Smith’s targets has also fallen from 137 last year, to a career low 92. He was targeted 95 times in his rookie year. In eight career games against the Steelers, Torrey has 23 catches for 338 yards and three scores. Smith was the hero helping the Ravens get here with an amazing 53 yard catch, followed up with a TD grab on the very next play. He was also the hero in his rookie year at this very location, catching the game winning TD over the Steelers after dropping the would be game winner a few plays earlier.
Torrey Smith, local guy, Maryland Terp, fan favorite, could become a free agent this offseason if the Ravens can’t resign him after playing out his rookie contract. Could Smith reach down and find that little extra motivation this week, as performances on this stage can lead to bigger pay days?
4. The health of Le’Veon Bell. Bell is the Steelers MVP, accounting for 39% of the team’s offense. That is a major piece of the puzzle that would go missing if Bell can’t play due to a hyperextended knee injury he suffered last week vs. the Bengals. Before leaving that game early, Bell had carried the ball over 20 times in each of Pittsburgh’s last five games. He also caught at least five balls in 12 of 16 games this year. Bell accounted for 2,215 scrimmage yards, and 11 TDs on the year. But believe it or not, he isn’t coming into the playoffs on a high note if he plays. He is averaging just 2.7 YPC in the ground game over his last three games. He can hurt you in the passing game where in that same span he averaged 13.4 YPR.
If Bell is unable to suit up for this Saturdays tilt, Josh Harris and Dri Archer will replace him. Archer received one carry for four yards against the Ravens in week 2. Together they combine for just 19 carries for 56 yards on the season.
5. “Antonio Brown is pretty good,” would be the understatement of the year. Brown leads the league in receptions and receiving yards with 122 for 1,570. 122 catches is tied for third most in a season all time (143 – Marvin Harrison, 2002). He is also a threat on special teams as we saw last week versus the Bengals when he zigged and zagged his way to a punt return TD. The Ravens held Brown to seven catches for 90 yards and kept him out of the endzone in their week two meeting in Baltimore. But back in Pittsburgh in week 9, Brown piled up 11 catches, 144 yards, including a 54 yard TD grab to put the game out of reach early in the 4th quarter. Brown hasn’t caught less than seven balls since week 5 when of all teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars held him to just five receptions. Simply put, Brown is going to get his. You just have to hope to limit his yards after catch, and keep him out of the endzone. If he has a seven or eight catch game for 80-90 yards, that’s a win for the Ravens secondary.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]