With Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger a no-go due to his recent concussion, the Baltimore Ravens should have an additional edge going into Sunday night's prime time AFC North matchup. The Steelers are already in the midst of a two game losing streak and another loss will put them in 3rd place in the division with the playoffs beginning to look dimmer and dimmer. The same goes for the Baltimore Ravens if they lose this game as well, as each team comes into the contest at a mediocre record, Pittsburgh at 6-4 and Baltimore at 5-5.
The Ravens may be in a more desperate mode of survival as another loss will surely eliminate any chances of a post season berth. The Steelers surely can't just give up this game and expect the season to be a success. Instead, they seem to have a lot of confidence in their third string QB, Dennis Dixon, such that they only signed Tyler Palko off their Practice Squad to back him up rather than bring a proven veteran, such as Jeff Garcia into the mix Roethlisberger will actually be considered the 3rd string QB for the game, and only in the event that both others are out of action could he see playing time.
This should absolutely play to the Ravens advantage Sunday night.
Dixon has taken most of the first team snaps and has been a part of the system for two years now so he should be familiar with the game plan and the opponent. However, seeing it from the sidelines with a clipboard in hand versus seeing the Ravens defense throwing all kinds of stunts and blitzes at him will be totally different. Expect the Ravens to throw the entire defensive playbook at Dixon, hoping he gets flustered and turns the ball over for the Ravens offense to have in good field position. This is almost a necessity for the team to put points up, especially in the first half.
The Steelers defense may be without the services of safety Troy Polamalu, but this is still basically the same Pittsburgh defense that shut down the Ravens offense three times last season and is currently still rated #1 overall in the NFL. The Ravens will have to get something going offensively if they want to win, regardless of who is the signal caller for Pittsburgh. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco had better improve his play in the Red Zone where he has thrown three interceptions that have either cost the team the game or certainly contributed to those losses.
The passing game needs to utilize more players like it did the first part of the season and those receivers need to get open in he middle of the field rather than just the sidelines. Flacco needs to not check down so fast to Ray Rice, although his game breaking abilities warrant a lot of touches. Red Zone opportunities need not to result in field goals but touchdowns instead in order to not keep Pittsburgh one big play from taking the lead or even, gasp, winning the game at the end.
Sixty minutes of football will be needed to prove to the national TV audience that the Baltimore Ravens are still a team to be feared and if they make the post season, one that other teams will not want to face, just like last year. A win and we're on our way to a streak that could carry the team late into January. A loss and our season ends after playing Oakland in the final regular season game. I'm betting on the former and even would have done so had Big Ben been a go for Sunday night. Now that he's out, I'm even more confident that the Ravens will turn around their season and break the Steelers hex that plagued us all last year.
(NOTE: Remember to keep it here all day long and throughout the game to post your comments in the 'Open Thread.' I will be at the game and put up a final story on the game later Sunday night.)