The Baltimore Ravens looked at their inability to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the key games, losing in the post-season two of the past three years, and decided they need to re-tool their offense. In close games either with the lead or trailing, the Ravens were not able to hold their lead nor come fro behind when it mattered most. Sure, they pulled out a week four victory at Pittsburgh last year, but once again, that was without a Ben Roethlisberger, who has never lost to the Ravens.
Looking back, as we did in yesterday's story titled, 'Three Ravens Plays vs. Steelers Defined 2010 Season,' saw that the difference could have been a result of just one big play at a key point in the game. So what did the Ravens do in the off-season to poise themselves to get over the top and win those games instead of losing them? They went out and got running back Ray Rice some protection in the form of the best blocking fullback in the NFL in Vonta Leach.
They worked out a steal of a deal in trading a fourth round draft pick for WR Lee Evans. Evans is a much more legitimate option opposite Anquan Boldin to keep defenses honest and stop them from doubling Boldin or creeping up to the line of scrimmage to stuff the run.
They brought in a huge left tackle in Bryant McKinney, moving Michael Oher back to the right side where he was much more effective, allowing Marshal Yanda to move back inside to his natural right guard position. Then, as insurance for an ailing Matt Birk at center, all they did was sign a five-year All-Pro center in former Dallas Cowboys Andre Gurode.
So are these moves enough to get the job done, to prime the Ravens to hold onto the lead and put the dagger in the Steelers when they have them down, or is it enough to bring them back from the brink of defeat as Pittsburgh has done to break the hearts of Baltimore and their fans way too many times to warrant regurgitating the details?
The easy answer is yes, of course these moves are enough to help the Ravens finally beat the Steelers and claim the AFC North division title, a rare home playoff game and perhaps even a first round bye. In fact, they already had the pieces of the puzzle in place before they signed these guys in the off-season. The Ravens always had the ability to win those games, but always found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the final moments.
The roster additions plus another year of experience for the Ravens QB are a huge benefit. The change of defensive coordinator should return the defense to a more aggressive version, similar to Rex Ryan's "Organized Chaos" group of the past. Combined all these things should be more than enough to make the the division brides instead f the bridesmaids.
However, this is where the line should be drawn in the sand for the Ravens to understand what the big picture has to be. The Ravens were on their way to victories in the two games they lost last year to the Steelers and should have won both of them, to not only take the AFC North but represent the conference in the Super Bowl. If the Ravens think they need to go all postal and throw the offensive playbook at the Steelers in order to win they will be sadly confused and mistaken.
Pittsburgh will force turnovers and the Baltimore will open themselves up by committing mistakes because the offense was trying to do too much. Fans will complain that the team didn't play more conservatively just like they have complained that they were offensive enough. Major changes are just not needed to win these tough close games Minor game-plan adjustments, more specifically in-game adjustments could be more than enough to either show the killer-instinct when it is needed most, or force the Steelers into making mistakes themselves to allow us to come back or put the game away.
Some of the Ravens moves will make a huge difference regardless of the play-calling. For example, the mere presence of Lee Evans on the opposite side of the field from Anquan Boldin will keep defenses honest even if Evans does not see the ball as much as he may like to. No way that the rookie Torrey Smith would invoke that fear and respect in opposing defenses.
The change from a fullback that publicly campaigned to carry the ball to one that said "all I wanted to do since high school was punch linebackers in the mouth" will make Ray Rice an All-Pro and perhaps the best running back in the league in 2011.
Stay true to your roots, Baltimore Ravens, and play the type of smash-mouth football that has been successful year-after-year against pretty much everybody else and almost good enough against the Steelers. No way this team needs to try to become the next "Greatest Show on Turf" and open themselves up to silly turnovers by going away from their strength.
Keep It Simple Stupid, call a good game and don't try to be cute and out-hink the other team, much less yourself, and you will see the results that will vault the Ravens over the Steelers to the AFC North title and beyond, starting this Sunday afternoon.