After 15 days of rest, relaxation and preparation, the Baltimore Ravens get to hit someone in earnest tonight as they face the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football. The big question is how ready are they? They hopefully will line up on offense with most, if not all of their original opening day starters back on the field. Todd Heap is still a gametime decision and his return would be huge to this struggling offense. His presence would vertainly open up things for the rest of the offense, as the Steelers would have to keep a keen eye on him in the middle of the secondary. Having Jon Ogden protecting Steve McNair's blind side would also be a huge sign of relief as well. With a healthy and rested offensive line, perhaps Willis McGahee can crack the only defense in the NFL better than the Ravens.
The usually consistent defense has big issues coming into tonight's game. Both starting cornerbacks look to be out for the game. Chris McAlister's injured knee must be more serious than originally reported, and Samari Rolle has had a return of the undisclosed illness that sidelined him for a few games earlier this season. Having to put two backups (four counting the nickle and dime backs) against the receiving corps of Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and TE Heath Miller will be a daunting task for these replacements.
Look for the Ravens to try to establish the run behind the renewed offensive line. Of course we know he'll be mixing in a variety of short underneath passes, mostly to Derrick Mason, as well as a long shot to Demetrius Williams. Hopefully, the Ravens will put together a drive or two and come away with points and who know, maybe even a touchdown in the Red Zone (what!?) as a novel idea.
Defensively, the Ravens will probably play a lot of packages with an extra DB to compensate for the loss of McAlister and Rolle. At the same time, if they give Big Ben too much time in the pocket, he'll pick the Ravens apart no matter how many players drop into pass coverage. The return to the lineup of Trevor Pryce will fuel the pass rush that has so sorely miss him thus far. If Pryce, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott can put pressure on Roethlisberger and force him to throw into coverage, who knows what could happen? Perhaps the Steelers will be overconfident seeing those replacements in the secondary and irresponsibly just toss the ball up, expecting their excellent receivers to get it. This could lead to the turnovers necessary to give the Ravens the short field and the "cheap" points that they will desperately need if they expect to make this game a contest.
I've regurgitated the Ravens horrible past results on national TV (see the Cincinnati game in week 1), and fully expect them to continue tonight. If the Steelers just put a beatdown on Baltimore from the opening kickoff (a la Patriots/Redskins), I'd probably just accept that this team is just a middle of the pack team with a .500 record playing out the year. However, don't expect that to happen, as the Ravens defense, with Ray Lewis in the middle, will always make a game out of it. ESPN's
Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser and Ron Jaworski will make their usual comments on how Ray has lost a step, blah, blah, blah. However, there aren't too many other MLB's in the NFL that any team would rather have than Lewis in the middle of their defense.
Unfortunately, the Ravens will tear my heart out as they play up to the level of the Steelers all game long. They'll move the ball effectively between the 20's and bog down in the Red Zone. They'll get their points (most likely via FG) and will be in it deep into the 4th quarter. However, as fate will have it, once again the turnovers will add up and they will create just another way to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!"