Ravens-Steelers III Depends On Flacco

By PFC Writer Martin Steger

The third meeting between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers will have all the brutal intensity of the first two games plus the added urgency of a playoff atmosphere. Nobody is calling this matchup between two blue-collar, defense-driven teams the “real Super Bowl” like in recent, more glamorous AFC championships, but it will be an epic match nonetheless.

Given the close nature of the first two games—Pittsburgh won both by a total of 7 points—one has to wonder how those contests would have gone if Flacco had more experience under his belt. (Flacco had a costly fumble in the first meeting and took a devastating sack in the second.) Well, now he has that experience: not only has Flacco completed his rookie regular season, but he has also guided his team to two playoffs victories behind a semi-conservative offense and a stout defense.

His numbers aren’t astounding, but he has kept his team in position to win, particularly during the grinding slugfest against Tennessee. Flacco has only one touchdown pass this postseason, but that happens to be one more than turnovers he has committed and sacks he has taken.

Given the worrisome injuries to Baltimore’s defense—Samari Rolle left the Tennessee game with a groin injury while Terrell Suggs did the same with a sprained shoulder—Flacco may need to put up more points than he is accustomed to. As we have seen all season, however, he has the tools to do just that.

Derrick Mason has dealt with his shoulder injury admirably while Todd Heap recovered from an earlier drop to make a critical catch late in the Tennessee game. Despite what some analysts say, the cupboard isn’t completely bare for Flacco: He has two dependable targets in Mason and Heap along with Mark Clayton, who is an excellent deep threat when he’s on his game.

Flacco also benefits from a strong running game, though Pittsburgh will do everything it can—and their defense can do a lot—to take that away. On the other hand, extra attention to the run would still benefit Flacco’s passing attack. The Ravens’ offensive line has been solid in the postseason, having surrendered zero sacks and doing their jobs in the ground game, especially in the Miami contest.

All in all, Flacco has the pieces around him to deliver, and if he wants to cement his rookie season as truly one for the ages he’ll need to make plays against Pittsburgh. To do that, however, Flacco will need excellent play calling from offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

This postseason, we have seen very little of the trickery that made Cameron’s offense so exciting during the regular season—there have been no Mark Clayton passes and the Suggs package has all but disappeared. Though it could be dangerous to pull out a bunch of cute plays against Pittsburgh’s defense, many Ravens fans are hoping that Cameron has been saving something special for this game.

The Ravens may need that special play or package, given their 29 total points in the previous two meetings. What they will definitely need, though, is another strong outing from Flacco.