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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Who I like, Baltimore-Steelers playoff version

First, let's touch on the weather. It's expected to be chilly and wet, with as much as a 1/2-inch of rain expected.

That has changed somewhat from earlier in the week, when it was expected to get into the 30s with rain turning to snow. That forms ice, which isn't exactly good for football. Rain, the players can deal with.

The Steelers will likely be without the services of running back Le'Veon Bell, who has accounted for 34 percent of their offense this season. That's the bad news.

The good news is that Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger will play. And unless the Ravens somehow went out and signed Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders in their respective primes, Baltimore has no answer for either one.

The Ravens have allowed 278 receptions this season by opposing wide receivers, which is the most in the NFL, for 3,568 yards, which is the second-highest total permitted.

And they were a team that faced Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Connor Shaw over the final three weeks - losing to Keenum.

Bell will certainly be missed in the passing game, but he had just 79 rushing yards on 21 carries against the Ravens this season.

The Steelers weren't going to win this game based on their rushing attack.

It's all about the passing game, and even without Bell, the Steelers still have four guys on their roster who had 500 or more receiving yards this season, led by Brown, the NFL leader in both receptions and receiving yardage.

Baltimore had three - barely, as tight end Owen Daniels went over that mark in the final game of the regular season.

With Bell out, the Ravens figure to play the Steelers to throw the ball a lot. But that could help the running game. Josh Harris is unlikely to face any eight or nine-man fronts.

If the Steelers can control Baltimore's pass rush, which was second in the league with 49 sacks, they should have success.

Defensively, the Steelers have to limit the running of Justin Forsett. After giving up 157 yards on ther ground in their 26-6 loss at Baltimore - which much of the damage being done in the fourth quarter - the Steelers limited the Ravens to 63 yards on 18 carries in the rematch in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won that game, 43-23.

The idea should be to force Joe Flacco to win this game and make him go pass for pass with Roethlisberger.

The Steelers are 3-point favorites to win this game. If Bell were playing, I'd favor the Steelers, who went 5-1 vs. playoff teams this season, to win by 10 or more.

Troy Polamalu will be back in the lineup for the Steelers. This could be his final game at Heinz Field. I expect the crowd, and he, will be pumped up accordingly.

I'll take the Steelers, 27-23.


Tom said...

Obligatory "Uh-oh Dale picked us to win so we are definitely losing" comment...

All kidding aside I take Steelers 31-24 with the Ravens scoring late to make it look closer than it really was.

I think Heyward/Harrison/Worilds/Tuitt have a big game frustrating Flacco. 2 TD's for Antonio, 2 TD between Wheaton/Bryant/Heath.

I also think the Steelers can lose this game if they can't keep Ben upright or if we see a Pitt RB cough up a costly fumble.

Andrew said...

While everything you mentioned is true, I think the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. To that end I sure hope Harris protects the ball, because that kind of weather can make a football pretty slick.

Dale Lolley said...

Fumbles by the young backs is something to be concerned about.

Anonymous said...

Capt Checkdown has been promoted to General Junkball. Nobody chucks up more prayers hoping for a penalty than Flacco. Balt leads the league in drawing DPIs with 16. For nearly 300 yards. Doesn't even account for defensive holding or contact. It is a real part of their offense. The Steelers D has only earned 4 flags this season for DPI, which is second best in the league. So if you can say one thing positive about this unit, it's that they don't draw too many flags. But 2 of their 4 DPIs came against Balt.

This game was assigned to Clete Blakeman's crew. Potentially good news for the Steelers. Blakeman seems to be the league's go-to guy for divisional matchups. 10 of his 15 games were of that variety. Now 11 of 16. Can't be a coincidence. That crew is about average across crews in terms of flags thrown, slightly less officious than league averages. And that includes the DPIs, DHs, DC penalties. Not a flag-happy crew, but they aren't afraid to throw a OPI. As Raven fans are painfully aware. That was the crew that flagged Steve Smith on the 80yard would-be game-winning-TD with less than a minute left in the Cincy game. And this is the same crew that threw two OPIs against ATL in the Steelers 27-20 win.

Henigin said...

Are we also watching Jason Worilds' final home game? I really hope not. While he hasn't turned in high sack totals, he has finally looked really comfortable in the defensive scheme and seems to come up with big plays at the right time a lot

Dale Lolley said...

I think the Steelers will try to keep Worilds, who, in my opinion, has had a good season - better than most think. He's dropped into coverage more because he's had James Harrison opposite him and they don't want Harrison dropping.

ibygeorge said...

"It's expected to be chilly and wet, with as much as a 1/2-inch of rain expected."
I hope the kickoffs don't stick & sink in the turf.

Does not sound like a good passing day. Could be low scoring. 13 -10 either way.

adamg said...

The Steelers could easily spread Balt's defense out and run.

I know Ngata is back, but he hasn't played or practiced in a month.

Dale Lolley said...

Yeah, I don't expect Ngata to be a full-time guy in this one, though Jernigan is out. The Steelers will likely spread Baltimore out as much as possible, though when you do that, you open the QB up to some hits if guys get beat up front - and Baltimore has the guys to do that.

Sportsbook Online said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
marc said...

this is a game where the steelers need to break some tendencies. run their staple plays in the first quarter then start using those to setup something else. third time seeing these guys, they will need to do some things differently, imo.

I worry about #43 playing. seemed to me will allen was doing a decent job. we all love the guy, but facts are facts and he is nowhere near the player he used to be. a serious question - what is better for the team at this point, #43 or will allen starting?

at the end of the day, I think the steelers are the better overall team and should win by a touchdown. but, I agree with a previous poster that the team who wins the turnover battle will win the game.

Anonymous said...

Dale, first of all LOVE your blog.

I've read some "what-ifs" about Blount not being allowed to leave in the context of Bell getting hurt and playing this weekend.

In your opinion, if we didn't let him go, are we in a better situation this weekend? Or would the locker room effect have made it moot?

We are 5-1 since he left.

Qwikdoc said...

unfortunately they do have an answer for Ben. Their front seven. The offensive line will have to play exceptional like they did in their second meeting for Ben to be effective passing the ball.
I'm very worried about Ngata. No he hasn't practiced or played in four weeks. To me that means he's that much more rested and healthy. I've seen him manhandle Foster too many times. Haley and Ben better have a game plan that is heavy on the quick passes and screens (not bubble) to exploit the aggressiveness of Baltimore's front seven.

Theosa said...

If Steelers can keep Ben upright they will likely pull the game away in 4th quarter in a close contest. I think Bell will be missed more than people think but Steelers have the edge in receivers and also the home turf advantage. Steelers win an ugly game 20 - 16.

marc said...

the more I think about it, the more concerned I get with the steelers not having bell. he's not just your leading rusher, but your second leading receiver by completions, targets and yards. he's leading the group with yards after catch. more importantly, he has been #7's safety valve as well which is one of the reasons #7 has only been sacked 33 times this year.

I think this game is more even than we realize. while #7 torched the ravens last time, that may have been helped by the ravens focusing so much attention on bell who was held to 10 rushes for 20 yards and 5 receptions for 38 yards. without a realistic threat in the backfield, the ravens can pay more attention to rushing the passer and their coverage schemes. not good.

Easley said...

OK, so meanwhile the Ravens will be without their left tackle Eugene Monroe, meaning an undrafted free agent will be lining up against James Harrison. In other words, both teams have significant challenges on Saturday night. We'll see who overcomes.

adamg said...

For those worried about Ngata, how effective were Harrison and Kiesel after returning from not playing? You don't just be away from the NFL for weeks and come back and be in shape to play at a high level.

I think the Steelers might have kept Blount except the media, led by Bouchette and 93.7, raised such a storm that option was pretty much foreclosed.

Theosa said...

I share the same worries :(

I think Blount must have burnt some bridges, I don’t think Steelers are the kind of organization that listens to experts and media much unless it becomes a serious PR issue.

Qwikdoc said...

@Adamg - Are you serious? You're comparing someone who retired and hadn't played football in a year (Harrison), and an aging journeyman defensive lineman who hadn't played in months and had no offers until the Steelers called, to Ngata, who had been playing at a high level all year and had to sit for four weeks not because of injury but because of a bogus adderall test? You are a moron.

kyle said...


I know you were responding to adamg but a few things you said weren't factual so...

James Harrison was not away from football for a year. He played for the Bengals last year, retired, then came back to the Steelers in September.

Keisel is not a "journeyman" anything. And he did have offers. Or at least one. That's why he flew to Arizona.

As for Ngata, he was not playing at a high level this year. Ravens fans were almost uniformly disappointed in his play. He had two sacks and 19 tackles in 12 games. And there is nothing "bogus" about his adderall test. He didn't even dispute it. He just apologized.

As to whether or not he'll be game-ready, I think he'll be fine. They might limit his snaps but with Jernigan out, they don't have many options.

Qwikdoc said...

Keisel has never been the disruptive force Ngata is. Harrison didn't play every down for Cincinnati and was out of football for 10 months. Not quite a year but would another two months have made a difference? He was retired in his mind and didn't keep himself in football shape.
My comment about Adderall being bogus wasn't in reference to whether Ngata used it or not, it is bogus because Adderall isn't a performance enhancing drug. There is nothing in it that will make an athlete faster or stronger. Ngata is an all-pro that abuses our offensive line regularly and I don't think Foster is taking much consolation in the fact he hasn't played in four weeks.

marc said...

The following quotes are from Gary Wadler, past chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List Committee

"There's no question it's a performance-enhancing drug," says Dr. Gary Wadler, a past chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List Committee."

"It increases alertness, aggressiveness, attention and concentration. It improves reaction time, especially when fatigued. Some think it enhances hand-eye coordination. Some believe it increases the mental aspects of performance."

"That's not to mention possible increases in acceleration, speed, strength and power that accrue to Adderall users."

adamg said...

Adderall is an amphetamine and does all those things that type of drug does. Amphetamines do enhance performance albeit until they wear off.

I doubt Foster or anyone else on the OL is losing sleep over facing Ngata.

kyle said...


Ngata has been a very good player. There is no disputing that. I'll put Keisel's motor up against his any day though. And Ngata was not having a good year before the suspension, that's just how it is.

Harrison was in no worse shape in September than he was in January. OTAs and training camp wouldn't have affected that, I'm pretty sure. He's a workout freak.

As marc pointed out, aderrall is a stimulant. Do you think Ngata was taking it to help him study for finals?

There is no way of knowing how the month suspension will affect Ngata's play. adamg is mistaken in assuming it will have a detrimental effect and you are mistaken in assuming it will have no effect. Short of parallel universes, it is entirely impossible to know how he would have played otherwise. I was just pointing out that slagging Harrison and Keisel was inaccurate.

Dale Lolley said...

C'mon, those doctors surely don't know as much about Adderall as some random poster on a message board.

Adderall is a stimulant. It's banned by every sports organization because their doctors say it helps athletes perform. But what the hell do they know?

As for Blount, that's tough to say. Since the Steelers were intent on using Bell more, he might have grown more frustrated by his lack of use and become an even bigger problem.

Is he better than who they will put out there this weekend? Sure. But that wouldn't have mattered if he had quit on this team completely and become a distraction.

The Steelers will use Will Johnson on some passing downs to slow the pass rush.

Anonymous said...

I think the Raven's O line is much more worried about us than our O-line is worried about them.

They have two rookies playing on that line, one will be over deebo.

I know Dale that you wrote that our D is better off with Troy in the game, I know it's his last game at home and is a shoe in first ballot HOF... But, the young guys have been able to practice together and seems like communication is starting to gel. Do you sit what's been working?


ibygeorge said...

100% chance of rain tomorrow through the night. Remember the 3-0 rainfest win over the Dolphins when a punt stuck in the turf.
Wonder who is the better rain team? I don't like the idea of rookies running with a wet football.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure they have been dipping the balls in a 5 gal bucket all week. Trying to get the guys use to wet balls... LOL ok that didn't come out right.. But you know what I mean..


Anonymous said...

Weather will be huge in this one from all reports. It will slow down the pass rush for both teams..I expect BEn will throw a better ball than Flacco in the rain. Monroe is out at LT for the B's..James Hurst starts there. Yanda goes over to RT.5th round rookie John Urschel will start at right guard. This could potentially be huge even with the conditions..Harrison must have a big game for us to win, IMO..along with Ben and Brown..Should be a classic..they almost always are!

Anonymous Brian said...

Baltimore's pass rush and Steve Smith scare me. (Smith did nothing in week 9. Would expect he'd make some big plays, always loved his game, he's got just as much late-in-career motivation as anyone out there...)


I'll go with...overall the Steelers have the healthier team, are at home, I think Roethlisberger will get it done, not pretty, but get it done.

Also the Steelers are due to win a playoff game because I would feel really bad if they didn't.

Steelers - 20 Ravens - 18

Mike said...

Weeks ago Baltimore got destroyed by Pittsburgh. In all homesty, the team that takes the field for Baltimore tomorrow is not playing nearly as well as that one did. I see a lot of chicken poop predictions, but here's mine: PIT 33 - BAL 13. I'm not even sure where those 13 will come from. They can't remotely stop what Pittsburgh does best. That is a recipe for blow out.

Anonymous said...

The wind will be the equalizer in this one along with Bell being out. Ravens 16 Steelers 13

Dale Lolley said...

It's not supposed to be windy. It's supposed to get warmer as the day goes on. I don't think weather will be the factor that it looked like it would be earlier in the week

Patrick said...

i really thought this might go ravens way with the weather. If field is messy, I am concerned about Steelers winning a low scoring game without Bell. Don't trust the back up RBs to carry the day.

If the weather holds, I'll go Steelers 20-17. If the field is a mess, Ravens 17-13 with a few costly turnovers.