Can the Baltimore Ravens hear those footsteps? It’s the sound of the Pittsburgh Steelers breathing down their neck after the Steelers pulled off a stellar victory over one of the NFC’s best teams, the New York Giants. The two teams appear to be heading in opposite directions. The Steelers have lost versus two lackluster opponents (Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders) by a field goal each, and lost their season opener to the Denver Broncos. On the other hand, the Ravens have one less loss, a humbling thrashing by AFC powerhouse, the Houston Texans, and a one point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Each team has beaten just one team with a current winning record: the Ravens beat the New England Patriots, and the Steelers defeated the aforementioned Giants last night. Taking a closer look at both teams and their schedules going forward, it becomes apparent the Ravens may be the ones fighting for a wildcard spot as the Steelers lock up the division.
The Ravens came into the season with many sports analysts prognosticating that this year would be the year that quarterback Joe Flacco stepped up. Over the first four games of the season, he was showing promise:
Flacco’s Stat Line first four games:
But then, over the last four games, the Ravens’ offense sputtered, and although they matched their record over the initial four games (3-1), there is a troubling downward trend in Flacco’s game:
Flacco’s Stat Line for the last four games:
As they say, numbers don’t lie; there is a significant regression in the Ravens’ passing game. Taking a quick look at star running back Ray Rice’s numbers, his numbers are pretty consistent
over the eight-game span. He is averaging about the same yards per carry, scored three TDs in both sets, and had about the same number of touches. Looking at Rice’s receiving yards from 2011, he is on pace to have about 200 less and 15 less receptions this year. It’s fair to question whether offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s play calling has been one of the reason for the regression. In several key situations, Cameron has chosen to take Rice out of the backfield or off the field completely, with disasterous results. On two occasions, the Ravens failed to convert game-clinching 4th and shorts without Rice in the backfield.
Despite having the second best record in the AFC behind the Texans, the Ravens rank 15th or worse in passing yards (15th), rushing yards (16th), opponent passing yards (22nd), opponent rushing yards (28th), points scored per game (21st), points allowed per game (15th). total offense (21st) and total defense (24th). This should have Ravens fans worried, as the Steelers appear to be getting back on track after a bumpy 2-3 start.
Looking at the Steelers Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers, he has actually been very consistent over the first eight games and studying his stats in the first quarter of the season versus the second quarter show no significant upward or downward trend. What is noticeable is that he is very quietly putting together an All-Pro year:
Roethlisberger’s Stat Line for first eight games:
One of the most underrated acquisitions of this offseason was offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Over the last three games, the Steelers have put up 378 YPG and 25 PPG, good for 8th and 11th, respectively, if only calculating for their last three games. This surging offense has been stellar, but the real reason the Steelers success lies on the other side of the ball.
Watch out, NFL, the Steelers defense is getting back on track. The defensive performances in their wins and losses, respectively, have been significant, with the Black and Gold defense terrorizing the opposing offenses. It is clear to see the difference in defensive dominance in their victories and defeats:
Cumulatively, the Steelers rank 1st in opponents’ passing yards and 7th in opponents’ rushing yards. They also rank 1st in total defense and 9th in points allowed. Indeed, the Steelers’ defense is definitely rounding in to mid-season form right at the midway point.
Going forward, the Ravens have the tougher schedule with the Denver Broncos and New York Giants coming to Baltimore. The Steelers toughest game on the schedule, besides still playing the Ravens twice, is a visit to the Dallas Cowboys. So, while there is still hope for Ravens fans that their team wins the division, the smart money is for the Steelers to continue their upward trend and capture the division title this year.