Tag Archives: Ravens

Weekend Games to Watch 1/16/09

Pitt @ Louisville (6pm Saturday-ESPN)

Pitt’s second big test of the season comes against a very different style of play.  Louisville loves to put pressure on you defensively.  They’ll put on a full court press and really pressure you in the half-court to try to generate a lot of turnovers.  The heat will really be on the guards to make quick decisions and handle the ball well.  The Cardinals do a really good job at denying the post, so every time Blair or Biggs can get a touch down low, it’s a win.  On the other end of the court, Louisville’s offense relies heavily on the transition game.  They’re a very athletic team like South Florida where most of the guys on the court won’t hesitate to put the ball on the floor and take you to the tin.  That could spell trouble for Pitt if they haven’t figured some things out.  I think a big bright spot for Pitt, though, is that Louisville is not really the most physical team in the conference.  I think Pitt can rack up a huge advantage on the glass if they want to.  Overall, keep an eye on turnovers and rebounds.  That will tell you how the game is going.

Player to watch: Levance Fields-Pitt

Teams like this are why Levance isn’t paying for college.  He’s not the most athletic guy on the floor, but no one has a better handle and no one makes better decisions with the ball than Levance.  I think if he does a good job breaking the Cardinal press (and there’s no reason to believe he can’t), Pitt will be in a very good position to win.

Prediction: I’m going with the Panthers but I’m not going to make a score projection because that depends on how many turnovers Louisville can create.  Fields can handle the press.  Can Wannamaker?

Eagles @ Cardinals (3pm Sunday-Fox)

I think the best matchup of the weekend is the Arizona offense vs. the Philly defense.  The Cardinals love to throw the ball around the field, and the Eagles defense loves to blitz.  So it’s going to be on Kurt Warner and the Cardinals offensive line to get time and get the ball out as soon as possible.  I think the Eagles secondary is vulnerable, so if Arizona starts getting off some passes, it could be a long day for the Eagles.  On the other side of the ball, I think the Cardinals defense has been much improved towards the tail end of the season.  However, I think they may be a bit slow to the outsides, which plays right into the hands of a versatile back like Brian Westbrook.

Player to watch: Kurt Warner-Arizona

As I said, he needs to deal well with the pressure that’s going to come, and get the balls out quickly.  If he can get the Eagles to respect the pass, it sets up to be a good game for Arizona.

Prediction: I think this will be the antithesis to the AFC Championship, and filled with scoring.  I’d say both teams in the high 20’s at least.  Probably 30’s.  I think it’s a game of stops, and the Eagles get one or two more.

Ravens @ Steelers (6:30pm Sunday-CBS)

I’ve already covered this extensively in previous posts, but to reiterate: I think it’s a low scoring affair.  That means it’s anyone’s game.  This comes down to one key play or two that could go to anyone.  I think turnovers will have a huge impact on the game.  There’s a lot of talk about Raven injuries, but I think most of them will gut it out, and it won’t have a huge impact on the game.

Player to watch: Willie Parker-Pittsburgh

I think the Steelers need to keep it on the ground, because throwing against this Ravens secondary is dangerous.  Really, it’s on the offensive line, but since I can only pick one player I’ll put it on Parker to need a big game.

Prediction: Way to close to call.  Neither team gets to 20 points.  I think Pittsburgh puts themselves in a bit better situations to get a big play.  Baltimore’s been relying on some big passing plays that may not be there on Sunday.

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Special Feature: AFC Championship Stats Breakdown

So since this is sort of a special week here in the ‘burgh, I thought I’d take some extra time to break down some of the stats behind the matchups for Sunday.

Steeler’s Passing vs. Raven’s Secondary

The overall numbers here are Pittsburgh with 206 passing yards/game and 19 passing touchdowns against Baltimore’s 180 passing yards allowed/game and 26 interceptions.  All those interceptions look scary with Big Ben already having 15 picks this year.  An unbelievable 9 of those picks come from Ed Reed.  The guy is insane.  The real scary prospect with the Raven’s ability to intercept, though, is their ability to run them back.  Of those 26 interceptions, the Ravens averaged 18.3 yards on the returns and 5 were returned for touchdowns.  Now, the easy way to deal with this is to take care of the ball.  But, I still think the entire offense needs to be very mindful of the play, and be ready to switch to defense at the drop of a hat.  Playing the percentages, there’s a good chance that Baltimore will get at least one pick and we’re going to need to limit the return.

Steeler’s Rushing vs. Raven’s Rush Defense

Once again the hard stats: Pittsburgh is averaging a 106 yards rushing/game while Baltimore only gives up 81.  The turnovers are pretty average.  The Ravens have 13 forced fumbles on the season.  Not bad, but certainly not setting the world on fire.  Steeler’s running backs have only 4 fumbles on the season (man I hope I didn’t just jinx them).  I don’t think fumbles will be an issue.  It’s all about whether or not we can consistently get positive yards.  The Steelers definitely have the momentum here, coming off a 165 yard rushing game against San Diego.  I think this will be a major key to the game.  The Raven’s secondary is dangerous (as previously mentioned).  Being able to keep the number of times you have to put it in the air against them is a big plus.  But, as you can see, the Ravens can stop the run.  An average of 81 yards/game is ridiculous.  I’ll put it this way: our offensive line sees this game as an opportunity to have a good game against a really good defense and gain back some respect.  We’ll they’ll sure gain some respect if they have a big game against these guys.

Raven’s Passing vs. Steeler’s Secondary

Ravens are averaging 176 passing yards/game with 16 touchdowns and 12 INTs.  Steelrs are giving up 157 yards/game in the air and have 20 picks.  The Raven’s attack has been much more balanced than the Steeler’s this year.  176 yards/per game isn’t too good, but the 16 touchdowns tells me that when their passing game is successful, it can make big plays.  Once again, the odds favor an INT for the defense.  The good news for Ravens fans is that Pittsburgh’s secondary has been much less productive with those picks, only returning 2 of them for 6 points.  Look at Flacco’s numbers.  2 of his 6 worst games in terms of completion percentages have come against the Steelers and he has 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.  I think he’ll struggle to break 150 yards passing, and that will put some pressure on Baltimore’s rushing game.

Raven’s Rushing vs. Steeler’s Rush Defense

The Raven’s are averaging 149 rushing yards/game with 20 TD’s against the Steeler’s 80 rushing yards/game given up.  The Ravens 81 yards/game allowed would be amazing and a runaway for tops in the league…were it not for the Steelers just beating them out.  I think a very underrated part of the Raven’s rushing attack is their versatility.  They’ve gotten significant production from 3 different backs (Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice).  McClain is definitely the feature back, but they all got significant touches.   Now, I know  Steeler fans out there will be commenting on how we used a lot of backs this year (Parker, Moore, Russell, Mendenhall, etc.), but there’s a big difference in how the teams handle them.  The Steelers used Parker and Moore differently than the Ravens used their 3.  Parker had 46% of the Steeler’s carries this year, and it would have been higher if not for injury.  McClain had 39% of the Raven’s carries with McGahee second with 29% and Rice getting 18%.  The point is that the Steelers rely heavily on one back and use the other one just to spell him.  The Ravens, on the other hand, give a lot of touches to McClain and McGahee every game and use Rice as a change of pace.  That means that the Steelers can stop the Raven’s backs, but they can’t wear them down.

So, that’s it.  I’ll keep the prediction until tomorrow.  I hope this gave you some ammunition for the upcoming arguments and discussions with your friends.

All stats from espn.com and are regular season stats only

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State of the Team: Steelers 1/13/09

So, the Steelers have made it to another AFC championship game.  It seems like an annual occurrence, or at least biannual at worst.  Make sure you Steeler fans out there appreciate that.  It’s exceedingly difficult to reach this level of success year in and year out.  However, it’s exceedingly frustrating to get tripped up by it as much as the Steelers have.

As for the matchup this week: its a mystery.  The way these two teams play defense, there is a very good chance that neither team will break the 20 point barrier.  That means one fluke play can be the difference.  One key play here and there are all that decided the first two, after all.  So this basically comes down to a coin flip, and anyone that tells you different is thinking at too much of a detailed level and missing the big picture.

However, there are some interesting things to watch for.  The offensive line was, well, not offensive against San Diego (as opposed to the rest of the year).  Now there is a HUGE gap between the defensive lines from Cleveland and what the Chargers put out there on Sunday, and what Baltimore will bring next weekend.  Can the O-line carry the momentum?  I’m thinking no, but I’d love to be proved wrong.  Another story is Ben.  He wasn’t forced into scrambling last weekend, so we didn’t get to really answer the question of how tentative he would be.  With the Raven’s blitzing schemes, that will change.  Will he actually throw the ball away more?  (fat chance) Will he make some ill-advised passes to get rid of the ball quickly and not get hit? (getting warmer) Will he go back to being the same old risk/reward Ben? (I hope so)

Should be an interesting week in the ‘Burgh.  I shudder to think what would happen if our Black ‘n Gold blow another championship game in Heinz Field.  I would think that you would put a watch on the bridges for jumpers, but there’s just way to many of them in Pittsburgh.  I happen to have worked for a summer in Ballimer and lived to tell about it, so I can assure you I will watch this game with a lot of interest and I’ll have a full report next week.

Side Note: I just got done watching the Pens beat the Flyers 4-2.  Moving the cookie monster to the first line was genius.  I’ve been complaining for awhile now that we need more scrappers.  Well, Therrien didn’t have any coming, so he moved one to a place where he can be more productive and it’s already paid off in a goal.  I wish I would have thought of that, but that’s why Therrien gets paid to be a coach and I don’t I guess.

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Weekend Games to Watch 1/2/08

Pitt @ Georgetown (Noon Saturday-ESPN)

Two evenly matched teams with similar styles here. Should be a terrific match up. The way both these teams play defense, you can guarantee a close game throughout. One that’s sure to give me a heart attack. All the hype is going to be on Greg Monroe vs. Dejuan Blair inside and rightfully so. For those Pitt fans out there who don’t follow other teams, Monroe is the real deal as a freshman. He’s long, very athletic, and is a terrific passer for a big man. I think the name of the game here is going to be rebounding and second chance points. I don’t think there will be many possessions, so maximizing your own possessions and limiting your opponent to one shot will be key. Right now, Pitt has a little bit of an edge in rebounding, but Pitt’s rebounding is more focused around one person (Blair). If Dejuan gets in some foul trouble, Pitt will find it very difficult to win.

Player to watch: Jessie Sapp-Georgetown

Monroe and DaJuan Summers are the easy pick for this, but I’ll go a little obscure. Sapp made himself a 3 point shooting threat last year shooting 40% from beyond the arc. He started this year strong but has struggled the past 4 or 5 games. Pitt’s perimeter defense has some holes. This may be a slump breaking game for him.

Prediction: Assuming Blair stays out of foul trouble, Pitt eeks out a game in the 60’s.

Tennessee @ Kansas (2pm Saturday-ESPN)

Good early conference season match up on a slow day. Should be a battle of tempos here. Tennessee will try to push the tempo to warp speed and Kansas, though athletic enough to run the floor, will most likely try to slow things down to take the Vols out of their comfort zone. Kansas favors a 2-3 zone which is an excellent choice against a team that loves to drive the lane like Tennessee. The downfall for Kansas could be their youth. They have little experience after graduating most of the national championship team from last year. They have a lot of talent, but if they get down early it could get ugly.

Player to watch: Cole Aldrich-Kansas

Cole is a huge physical center for the Jayhawks and a terrific rebounder. He’s a bit slow which may come back to bite him against Tennessee’s very long and fast front line. But in a half court game, he’ll eat up Brian Williams.

Prediction: Kansas has the talent if they can stay in front of the Vols in transition.

Ravens @ Dolphins (1pm Sunday-CBS)

Should be an interesting game. Miami was one of the leaders of the pack with taking the wildcat offense to the NFL. But the Ravens defense, especially against the run, is solid. I think they totally take the wildcat away from the dolphins. I think the pressure will be on Chad Pennington’s arm, and that’s very scary for fins fans.

Player to watch: Lousaka Polite-Miami

He should only be used sparingly, but I couldn’t resist being a homer for a Pitt grad. If you want someone who will have a huge game, look for the obvious choice of Ray Lewis. The Dolphins are a tricky team, but Ray’s been around for awhile. I don’t think he’ll get fooled much.

Prediction: Ravens by however many points Joe Flacco can put up.

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