Earlier this summer, the big debate in Baltimore was who was going to win the starting QB Derby, veteran Kyle Boller or 2nd year pro Troy Smith. Rookie first round draft pick Joe Flacco (Delaware) was not part of the equation and although was thought to be the QB of the future but certainly not the QB of the present. Fast forward to week one and Boller is on IR and Smith is recovering and just starting football related activities after a rare tonsil infection caused him to lose 20 pounds as well as his starting gig.
Now after two wins against poor teams, the Ravens once again turn to their QB of the future, uh,..present, to lead them to victory for a third straight game to start his young career. While both the Browns and Bengals were supposed to be much better than they played, a win is a win in the NFL and most experts certainly never expected the Ravens to win either, much less both of those games. Winning against poor teams at home is one thing, but winning on the road against a tough team, much less on a prime time stage like Monday Night Football is another.
However, Flacco shouldn't be asked to lead this team to victory alone Monday night. Once again, if he can manage the game and limit his mistakes, the Ravens defense will keep them in the game with the offense ready to take over and put enough points on the board for the team to edge out the tough Steelers. While Flacco had two interceptions last week versus the Browns, one was on a trick play and resulted in an end zone interception off of a long pass, which to me is not unlike a punt, for which I give Flacco a pass on that one. The Steelers pass rush will be stronger and more diverse than the Browns or Bengals, which will be a good test for the young Ravens offensive line, which has been a pleasant surprise to this point. Protecting the young QB will help him take his time to find his open receivers for the critical yards to move the chains. While Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams and Todd Heap are not an All Pro set of receivers, they are all solid pass catchers and can beat anyone one-on-one if the o-line gives Flacco time.
The running game has been solid yet unspectacular, and has led the league in carries, with 90 over two games, while the Steelers have 89 carries, albeit over three games. The three headed rushing attack, led by Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain and rookie Ray Rice has banged their way to victory and a huge time of possession advantage that the Ravens are planning on repeating, for which the Steelers are well aware of. It also helps them to have 260 pound fullback Lorenzo Neal leading the way, as he did for so many years in front of the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, if the Ravens have the lead, trying to stop the 260 pound Neal bursting holes open for the 255 pound McClain will be a tall task for the Casey Hampton-less Steelers front line.
However, the game will be decided in the trenches, as it almost always is. If the Ravens young o-line can't slow down the Steelers pass rush and especially keep LB James Harrison out of the Ravens backfield like he was in last year's debacle in Pittsburgh, then the Ravens will have a great chance of upsetting the Steelers on national TV and show the enitre league and country that we are not the flukes that most still believe we are.
Let's continue to hope that ESPN's Chris "Swami" Berman continues to pick against the Ravens, like he has so far this year and we should be okay!