Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Will third time be a charm for Ravens?
If John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens are going to reach the AFC Championship game, then they must do something they've yet to accomplish: win a road game in Pittsburgh.
Harbaugh is the second coach in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in each of his first three seasons as a head coach. Barry Switzer is the other, doing it with the Dallas Cowboys from 1994-96.
The Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have met twice in the postseason, with the Steelers winning both times (2001, 2008). In both games, not only did the Ravens never have a lead, but they put themselves in big holes early on the road.
In the 2001 divisional playoffs, Pittsburgh jumped out to a 20-0 lead before winning 27-10. In the 2008 AFC Championship game, the Steelers scored the game’s first 13 points en route to 23-14 victory.
So, what do the Ravens have to do in order to advance to the AFC Championship game?
One area where Baltimore’s offense might try and exploit the Steelers is over the middle. In his first five games against Pittsburgh, quarterback Joe Flacco struggled passing over the middle of the field -- six interceptions and no touchdowns between the numbers. This season, Flacco reversed that trend. The first quarterback in NFL history to start and win a playoff game in each of his first three seasons, Flacco completed 65.6 percent of his throws between the numbers against Pittsburgh this season with two touchdowns, no interceptions and had a passer rating of 113.5.
The Ravens passing game also opened up more this season against the Steelers than in Flacco’s first two years. In 2008-09, Baltimore ran the ball almost half the time against the Steelers. In 2010, that percentage dropped to 37.7 in two games against Pittsburgh.
Flacco’s counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger, has won each of his last six starts against the Ravens, including playoffs. And while it’s widely considered that the Ravens have an aggressive defense, one trend suggests that they might not go after Roethlisberger like they would other quarterbacks. Over the last three seasons, Roethlisberger has posted a 121.0 passer rating against the Ravens when they bring five pass rushers or more. That’s the third-highest rating against the Ravens in that time frame (minimum 10 attempts).
In Super Bowl XLIII, Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds to play. Holmes -- one of the team’s best deep threats -- was traded last offseason, but the Steelers have not missed a beat thanks to second-year wide receiver Mike Wallace.
As a rookie in 2009, Wallace led the NFL in yards per catch (19.4). This season, he averaged 21.0 yards per reception, good for second in the NFL. On passes this season that were more than 20 yards downfield, Wallace was targeted 26 times with 14 receptions and seven touchdowns. The rest of the Steelers had just 10 receptions on such throws and no scores.