Late for Work 1/11: 5 Questions for Ravens-Steelers III

Plus Harbaugh is glad Ravens broke Big Ben’s nose and could Asomugha land in Baltimore?

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 at 9:19 am | Categories: 2010 Season, Divisional at Steelers, Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

5 Questions for Ravens-Steelers III

After soundly putting the Chiefs away in a 30-7 blowout, most media and fans have already moved on to speculating about the game Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs is calling “Armageddon.”

The Steelers and Ravens split their regular-season contests, each winning one on the road. Both ended with a 12-4 mark and the only way to separate the two was with a division record tiebreaker (Pittsburgh 5-1, Ravens 4-2).

As ESPN’s James Walker said, it’s time to settle the score. Ravens-Steelers III will be the deciding factor.

Here are five questions heading into the matchup:

What’s the injury situation for the two teams? The advantage the Steelers got being the No. 2 seed was an extra week to rest and get healthy. ESPN’s John Clayton says Pittsburgh probably won’t have defensive end Aaron Smith, but banged-up Pro Bowlers safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles) and center Maurkice Pouncey (stinger) should be well-rested and ready to go. The Ravens didn’t report any injuries after the Chiefs game, and all the starters that had bumps and bruises heading into the game (Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, cornerback Josh Wilson, safety Ed Reed, tackle Michael Oher) all seemed to be fine Sunday afternoon. So it looks like both teams should be close to 100 percent for their rematch.

Is the Ravens’ defense playing at a championship level at the right time? Yes, according to Walker, noting the Ravens’ 10 turnovers and 14 total points allowed in their past two games. “The Ravens are very hard to beat when their defense is this dominant,” wrote Walker. “The Ravens’ defense is playing about as well as you could expect over the past eight games,” added Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole.

If Heap weren’t injured, would Ravens have beat Steelers? Tight end Todd Heap injured his hamstring on the first play from scrimmage in the Ravens’ Week 13 loss to the Steelers. After Heap was “seven kinds of awesome” against the Chiefs yesterday, the Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Van Valkenburg believes the Ravens would have been the No. 2 seed had Heap not been knocked out of that game.

Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin credited Heap as the key factor for the Ravens’ Week 4 game-winning touchdown throw to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Heap picked up the blitzing safety Troy Polamalu to buy quarterback Joe Flacco enough time to get the ball off. Yet it was a blitz, sack, and strip from Polamalu that was the deciding play in the Ravens’ loss at home when Heap was on the sideline.

“Don’t forget, Heap missed all but the first play of the Ravens’ home loss to the Steelers last month with a hamstring injury, and his presence in Pittsburgh this weekend will be a big addition,” SI.com’s Don Banks said.

Can the Ravens beat quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? During the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens are 2-5 against Pittsburgh, including one playoff loss in 2008. They’re 0-5 against Roethlisberger during that span. Baltimore’s two wins came with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch under center for Pittsburgh.  "I’ve lost to Ben Roethlisberger seven times,” Suggs told reporters.  “He’s definitely my biggest problem I’m facing."

Can Flacco have a repeat performance? When the Chiefs took away the Ravens’ rushing attack early in the first half, Flacco put the game on his shoulders for the first time in the postseason. It will take a similar outing from the Ravens’ third-year quarterback in order to beat the Steelers. Noting the Ravens’ struggles beating Roethlisberger, Cole wrote, “There is little question Flacco has been the difference in a negative way. While he has statistically gotten better over the years, he also has at least one turnover in every game against the Steelers for a total of 11. … If the Ravens are going to win, Flacco is going to have to eliminate his errors.”

Harbaugh: I’m Glad We Broke [Roethlisberger's] Nose

When Baltimore and Pittsburgh battled on Dec. 5, Roethlisberger suffered a broken nose after catching an inadvertent hand to the face from Ngata. The defensive tackle was not flagged for the play and was later fined $15,000 by the NFL for the hit.

But Head Coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t have changed his defense’s physical play.

"I was glad we broke his nose," Harbaugh said, smiling and drawing laughter from reporters, "and then I was very impressed that he played through it. Obviously, you can throw very effectively with a broken nose. He proved that."

Roethlisberger played through the injury, throwing for 253 yards and the game-winning touchdown. 

Harbaugh explained that his defense will continue to use the same aggressive approach against Big Ben, who was sacked three times in Week 13.

The 6-foot-5, 241-pound quarterback is big enough to play tight end and the Ravens’ tactic is to be physical enough to bring him to the turf.

"We’re going to try and get after him like we always do," Harbaugh said. "That’s the key to stopping him; you’ve got to get him down.”

Where Could Asomugha Land?

The Ravens are still competing for a Super Bowl ring and the 2011 free agency period is cloudy with the impending CBA negotiations, but with most teams already knocked out of the tournament, one hot free agent is already making headlines.

Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has unexpectedly become an unrestricted free agent. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, his contract has voided because a little-known clause stated his contract would void if he didn’t achieve his not-likely-to-be-earned incentives in 2010. He didn’t achieve it.

So the speculation about where Asomugha could land has already begun and is in full force. Just like a dozen other teams, Baltimore has been named as one possible destination for Asomugha.

Schefter believes Asomugha will leave Oakland and Bill Williamson sees Baltimore making a run at the free agent.

The Oakland Tribune envisions Baltimore as a candidate city too.

“Asomugha has heard of the brutal Baltimore practices as detailed by former teammate Chris Carr, but speaks of linebacker Ray Lewis as if in awe,” Jerry McDonald wrote. “The question is how much longer will Lewis play?”

Dilfer: It’d be a Shame if Refs Decide Game

The Ravens and Steelers are so similar and so evenly-matched that over the last 17 meetings the two teams have scored the exact same number of points.

ESPN’s Trent Dilfer said the two are familiar enough with each other that neither team will be taken off guard by any scheme or tactic its opponent implements for the Divisional Round.

So, what can decide this game?  Dilfer believes it could be the officials.

“This is the year where so much emphasis has been put on these catastrophic hits,” Dilfer explained. “All of a sudden the league and the refs are interjecting themselves into games, especially tight games. It wouldn’t surprise me, in a game that is about physicality and bruising hits, creating as many sloberknockers as you possibly can, that a ref’s gonna throw a flag that’s going to determine the outcome of this game.

“I think that would be a great shame.”
 
How Much is a Home Game Worth to Steelers?

Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin feels fortunate to be playing a divisional playoff game at Heinz field, but Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette wonders how much that is really worth.

Bouchette points out that the Steelers are 5-3 at home (including a loss to Baltimore) and 7-1 on the road. The Ravens have the exact opposite record, 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road.

"I wouldn’t read too much into [our home record]. Those road teams that won were very good teams," Tomlin told reporters. "I think everyone understands that, and I don’t think anyone’s particularly shocked by those things."

No, but one of those teams is returning and SI.com’s Peter King wrote the Ravens are one of the best road teams he’s ever seen.

“Six playoff games in the past three years, all on the road,” wrote King. “Four wins, three by double digits. Baltimore’s success is more than hit-or-miss.”

The Steelers are 4-4 at home in their past eight postseason games.

Quick Hits

  • Joe Flacco became the first quarterback in NFL history to start and win a postseason game in each of his first three seasons in the league. Only four other quarterbacks even started a playoff game in each of their first three NFL seasons, regardless of the results: Otto Graham, Pat Haden, Dan Marino, and Bernie Kosar. [Elias Sports Bureau]
  • With Sunday’s victory over the Chiefs, the Ravens improved their all-time record in postseason games to 9-5 (.643) and passed the Steelers (31-19, .620) for the highest postseason winning percentage in NFL history. Pittsburgh can reclaim the record with a victory over Baltimore next Saturday. [Elias Sports Bureau]

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