I mentioned when doing my weekly write-ups on the Player Pick 'Em game that I was out of town on an unreliable internet connection. I'm now finally back but still haven't had time to watch any of the game film on last week's games. But I didn't want to cop out, I signed up for this weekly article and late or not I'm gonna stick to it, so here goes...
Last week I was at least able to predict the winners correctly in both games, giving me a 3-1 record so far for the season. I wasn't all that close on the scores though. I knew Tampa wasn't as good as their record looked, but I didn't think they were as bad as the Steelers made them look. Who knew Tanard Jackson was such a critical piece of their secondary? I didn't, at least. I expected his loss to hurt, but cripple seemed a touch overdone. I figured Mendenhall would benefit more than Batch. And did anybody truly expect the Browns to lead at any point of their game against the Ravens?
Well this week with us facing the Browns and the Ravens visiting the Steelers I only have one game to predict. At least that makes catching up from my trip a bit easier on me. But what a game to try to figure out!
Seriously, how do I call this game? We have a team that has been wildly inconsistent (the Ravens) facing a team that has been consistently decent-but-not-great on offense and consistently good on defense. Even against the Bucs it was more that the Bucs couldn't accomplish anything than that the Steelers offense was an unstoppable juggernaut.
On the net, the "experts" are fairly consistently picking the Ravens to win. Between three sites I see 5 experts picking the Steelers against 15 for the Ravens. And this seems a logical choice. After all, the Ravens offense is ranked higher and so is their defense. And no doubt it's the result I want to happen. After all if we win and the Ravens win, we have a share of first with most of the tiebreakers in our favor. But will it happen?
I look at the rankings and what do I see? I see a Ravens defense that is ranked #1 overall, which isn't terribly surprising. We knew their defense was good. But it's ranked #22 against the run and #1 against the pass. What? Surely I must have those reversed, right? Makes you wonder, are the passing teams they've faced just that bad, or is their front seven just absolutely kicking butt, or is their corner situation immensely better than we thought? Given their putrid rank against the run, there's a lot of room for debate here. Offensively the Ravens rank #23 overall (17 pass / 23 rush). This is far less surprising. Though they've faced some good defenses which hurts a bit, we also didn't expect their offense to be nearly as good as the pundits did. Joe Flacco isn't Ryan Leaf, not by a long shot, but he's not Tom Brady either. Yet, at least, and probably never.
On the other side of the coin, I see a Steelers defense that is ranked #3 against the run and #17 against the pass, for a #6 overall ranking. This again is not much of a surprise, Troy Polamalu is back and we knew he'd help, and they also have Aaron Smith back as well, and though he's far less of a stat monster his presence is no doubt welcome as well. And without a major infusion of talent at the CB position over the offseason and at least two decent QBs to face I didn't expect a terribly awesome ranking for their pass defense. Still, it's odd to see them out of the top 5, especially considering that they are winning their games more with defense than anything else. Offensively they have the #26 overall offense, but part of that is their passing game is tied for dead last. Their running game, surprisingly enough, is #3 overall in yards per game, but they are also doing that on the 5th most attempts per game and a 4.7 average. Still, a 4.7 is good enough for 6th best in the league, so they are obviously doing something at least decent here.
Add it all up, and I look at these rankings and the teams they have played (two good teams and one poor team each) and I have to say that the rankings are likely relatively accurate. I see the apparent current strength of the Steelers (rush offense) matching up against what currently appears to be the glaring weakness for the Ravens (rush defense). And with the Steelers at home, while I rather hope to be wrong, I'm going to have to make my guess here as Steelers 24, Ravens 17.