RAVENS WELL EQUIPPED TO HANDLE PRESSURE OF BEING THE BETTER TEAM
Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Ravens signal caller Joe Flacco have more than the 2008 draft in common when it comes to their teams this season. With a combined record of 15-3, the Falcons and Ravens are both talked about at times as teams on the outside of the playoff picture looking in instead of division leaders, and in the Falcons case, the best team in the NFC with an 8-1 mark.
What is different about the two teams is the amount of pressure each is carrying at this time of the season. The Falcons will not begin to hear the whispers until the playoffs arrive and that’s because during the Mike Smith and Matt Ryan era, Atlanta has yet to win a playoff game and has looked bad in losing them.
The Ravens on the other hand have heard all season long that they simply are not as good as their record indicates. Funny how that works isn’t it. Bill Parcells once said,” you are only as good as your record” but when it comes to the national media and some in the local media in both cities, that only applies when it comes to teams not meeting expectations it seems.
Being 8-1 and 7-2 is simply ho-hum business as usual. NOT!
The Ravens have earned their 7-2 mark this season. They may not have looked perfect in winning at Kansas City, or at home vs. the Dallas Cowboys but both games ended up in the “W” column. Ask tonight’s opponent if they would rather have looked bad in beating the Titans, Raiders and Broncos this season or like a team on the cusp of putting it together once they got healthy in losing to those teams.
I am sure I have heard Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin say, “It wasn’t pretty but at least we got the “W” and that’s all that matters”. Wait-----I heard Tomlin say that Monday night as those same Kansas City Chiefs took his Steelers to overtime in his own house before a Matt Cassel interception and consequent Shaun Suisam field goal ended it setting up tonight’s showdown with the Ravens.
The Ravens got their offense and for that matter everything else on track last week as Joe Flacco threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns for Baltimore, which scored on six of its first seven possessions and recorded two special teams TDs to beat the Raiders 55-20. The 55-points were the most ever scored by a Ravens team in franchise history.
Nothing has changed in this series in terms of respect. The Steeler’s get all of it and the Ravens have to go out and prove to the rest of the football world tonight they deserve it. This despite the fact that Joe Flacco owns Heinz Filed during his last two starts and the Ravens can win their third game in a row both against the Steelers and in Pittsburgh.
The Ravens do carry a ton of pressure on their shoulders entering tonight’s contest and the numbers do not help their cause because as everyone knows streaks are made to be broken and the Ravens are carrying several of them of great importance into the big ketchup bottle tonight.
Baltimore has won 11-consecutive AFC North games, leads the division and hasn’t lost to an AFC North foe since the Steelers Troy Polamalu strip-sacked Joe Flacco on Dec. 5, 2010, when Pittsburgh won at M&T Bank Stadium, 13-10. While this game is not in Baltimore, it is the last time the Ravens lost at home as well, a streak of 15 games.
The rivalry between these two teams is a fierce as in any in all of sports, not just in the NFL. The nation wants to see this game and tonight marks the seventh time in the last eight seasons that a Ravens/Steelers matchup will be featured on primetime TV, with five of those games played in Pittsburgh. And, why not? The games are usually dramatic and significant to AFC North/playoff final standings.
Three points have decided five of the last six games and over the last three seasons, the Ravens have won four of six games, including three of the last four and two in a row.
Baltimore swept Pittsburgh last season, including a 35-7 whipping of the black and gold on Sept 11 at M & T Bank Stadium to open the 2011 season.
The better the numbers are in your favor, the more pressure that comes with being a winner. Since John Harbaugh started coaching the Ravens in 2008, Baltimore has produced a 20-7 record in AFC North play. That ranks as the NFL’s third-best mark by a team vs. its division over the past four-plus seasons. Impressively, the Ravens have won 11-straight division games, ranking as the NFL’s longest such active streak.
Last season for the first time in franchise history (15 years) the Ravens went unbeaten in division play. Games like tonight are almost must wins for the Ravens this season. Sure, a poor AFC and a great head start would allow for one or two more defeats but any game vs. Steelers has to be a must win. Especially when you consider that the team that gets the better of this series during the regular season, usually ends up playing the AFC Championship game and in the case of Steelers, the Super Bowl in 2008 and again in 2010.
Getting the better of a split means winning the second game in the series that season. Luckily or unfortunately and that depends how you see the schedule, the second game between these two is in two weeks.
A Ravens win tonight would likely bury the Steelers but the only if Baltimore can take care of business next week in San Diego. Last year following the Ravens big win in Pittsburgh, they laid an egg in Seattle letting Pittsburgh right back into the North race.
You know the Steelers will likely win at home vs. Cleveland. So a Ravens win followed by a loss out west would only put additional pressure on the Ravens to compete another sweep of the black and gold. I hate the Steelers as much as the next Baltimore native but do you know how hard it is to sweep the Steelers once in a season, much less two seasons in a row.
The Ravens have only done it twice and it is no coincidence that both times meant a division title (2006 & 2011). The Ravens have only beaten Pittsburgh three in a row one other time in franchise history. However, it appears that sweeping the Ravens is no easy task either. The Steelers have only done it twice over the previous 13 seasons.
When you look at the NFL’s most successful franchise during the past 10 seasons, the Ravens and the Steelers are both in the top 5 in terms of winning seasons and top 10 in total defense.
Baltimore has finished in the Top 10 in total defense (yards allowed) nine-straight seasons. Since the 1970 merger, only six teams have produced at least eight-consecutive seasons with a Top 10 defense. Baltimore (9) and Pittsburgh (12) boast the NFL’s longest active streaks of ranking in the Top 10.
However, the Ravens also own two current NFL streaks that used to reside with guys like Manning and Brady. Currently the Ravens are seeking their fifth straight post season appearance, which is tops in the NFL. The Ravens have played 68 consecutive games without having a losing record, the NFL’s longest such active streak. Baltimore has not been below .500 since starting 2-3 in 2008. Houston & San Francisco own the next best active streak at 25 games of being at .500 or above.
That mark is guaranteed to at least extend to 74 games but that would only happen if Baltimore lost their next six games in a row. Earlier this season, the Ravens snapped the Patriots streak of 68 straight games of having a winning record.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco is a microcosm of his team. Flacco has many question marks thrown on him by media members despite the fact that his 44 regular season wins in his first four years are the most ever by a QB in the first four seasons (2008-11) of a career. Now in his fifth season, he has 51 wins and 56 including playoffs.
He is the first starting QB in NFL history (since 1970 merger) to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. Flacco has helped the Ravens earn five playoff wins since ‘08, tied (Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner) for the second-most victories by a QB over the first four years of a career (Tom Brady - 6).
Success breeds pressure and when Roethlisberger went down on Monday night, the Ravens became the favorites in the game and now must shoulder the pressure of winning the game. If history tells us anything about what we can expect tonight, Joe Cool will do his job.
The Ravens won the last two regular season games at Heinz Field, with Flacco throwing game-winning TDs in the final minute of play: 26 yards to WR Torrey Smith on 11/6/11 with 18 seconds left (23-20) and 18 yards to WR T.J.Houshmandzadeh on 10/3/10 with 32 seconds remaining (17-14).
Even with Byron Leftwhich at QB, it wont be easy. The 6-3 Steelers, winners of four straight, have won seven consecutive contests at home (4-0 this season).
I am an honest guy and didn’t like the Ravens chances in Pittsburgh with Big Ben under center, but I like them a lot more now with Leftwich in the game. Head Coach John Harbaugh always has his guys prepared, especially this time of the year in the NFL.
Since the Harbaugh Era began in 2008, Baltimore has compiled a stellar record in the combined months of November, December and January, going 29-10 overall (.744). While I won’t give you my prediction, that you can get on my Baltimore Ravens pre-game show at 6 on Blog Talk Radio. I will tell you that I believe the Ravens are a lot better under pressure than many give them credit for and will once again show tonight why they are one of the best teams in the AFC despite injuries, their inconsistencies on the road and a fragile defense.
The Ravens are not strangers when it comes to pressure and handling it well. They are also not strangers when it comes to winning in Heinz Field.