This week I wrote myself into picking the Steelers, my first instinct being that I couldn’t see the Ravens losing their opening two games. However, as I wrote up my pick, I overreacted to the opening games and the swirl of press around the Ravens, so I took the Steelers as the known quantity. I was wrong.
I’m still amazed, that a team that is usually so well run as the Ravens dropped the ball so horrendously in the Ray Rice case. From what the press are saying, Ray Rice didn’t deceive them about what happened, so it was only when the video was leaked and it became a perception issue did the leadership of the team finally taking action. This is just not good enough.
So what did the coach’s tape tell me about this game? My focus for these teams were for the Steelers centre Maurkice Pouncey and rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier; whilst for the Ravens it was their offensive line, Terrell Suggs, and Torrey Smith.
Usually these games are close, but the Ravens came out twenty point winners. On my first watch of the condensed broadcast feed I was impressed with how much better the Ravens offence played, the o-line was good with free agent signings Steve Smith and Owen Daniels looking good. Their defence held up very well, not conceding a touchdown with only Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell catching the eye for the Steelers. The other thing I noticed was the nine penalties for seventy five yards that the Steelers gave away, of which a lot were on defence and whilst I appreciate tough defence, the Steelers are going to have to adapt to the new NFL rules if they’re going to get back to the playoffs.
As far as Maurkice Pouncey went, I am not an expert on line play, but although he looked athletic, he was helped out a lot by the guards as singled up against a tackle he seemed prone to being driven back. However, he was often helped out so this wasn’t a problem and it’ll be interesting to see how this stacks up against other centres as I get to spend more time watching coaching tape. I will say that I was very impressed with left guard Ramon Foster, and it will be nice to be able to vote for Pro Bowl players on the lines with a bit more knowledge.
It is often said that it can take a couple of seasons to bed in a linebacker into Dick LeBeau’s defence, but Ryan Shazier has come in to start straight away. Playing at the weak inside linebacker sport, the Steelers are trying to make the best of his speed and he certainly showcased that several time. He also looks to be a good tackler, making a couple of very solid open field tackles. There were a couple of times where he filled a hole but missed the tackle or made what looked a bad decision to cut through the line, but his is a rookie and I’m only just starting to look at the tape so I don’t know how common this is. I think the Steelers have the making of really good player here, and with Timmons next to him they look set at inside linebacker. My concern for them on defence is that there are still a lot of older players out there and I didn’t see much from their defensive line or outside backers that jumped off the tape.
As a bonus player focus, Antonio Brown really caught my eye on offense, running some very nice routes whilst catching seven balls for ninety yards and was much better than I realised.
For the Ravens, the o-line looked very solid and whilst nothing really leapt out, they did a really good job of protecting Flacco and running the ball. I was meant to be focussing on Torrey Smith, but frankly on this week’s tape he was supplanted by Steve Smith. Torrey managed a good play to draw a pass interference call on the Ravens’ first drive that lead to a touchdown, but he only had one catch for ten yards. However, Steve Smith seems to have become Flaccos new go to receiver catching six balls for seventy one yards, playing with a recognisable fire and finding holes in the coverage.
The final thing I want to mention about the Ravens’ offence is that part of Flacco’s trouble last year was losing Dennis Pitta for much of the season as he is often Flacco’s safety valve. The tight end is becoming a key position in the modern NFL and between Pitta, and Owen Daniels who comes in already knowing new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system, the Raven looks well set for the season barring injuries.
On defence, I was focussing on Terrell Suggs, who can often be identified by his side on stance at outside linebacker. He looked to have a solid game, but was outshined by Elvis Dumervil who had two sacks, first going round right tackle Marcus Gilbert to get the Ravens first sack of the season, and for his second going straight through Gilbert again in a seriously impressive play.
The other play that was pretty amazing, was watching a player of Halot Ngata’s size (six foot four and well over 300 Ibs) leap up in the air to tip a ball, locate it, and then dive to make the interception. It really shouldn’t be possible for someone that big to move like that.
In conclusion, the Ravens played a lot better this week and I think that there’ll be in contention for the AFC North all season as they stand now. I’m worried about how the Steelers are run, between their cap management in recent year, their age, and their adaptation to the modern NFL. I see them as a shade down in standard than the Ravens, but as I can see the Bengals joining these two teams at 1-1 this week, so I wouldn’t count them out yet.