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Know Thy Enemy: Baltimore Ravens

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No, you haven’t been sipping too much spiked eggnog, it’s Thursday. I’ve traditionally posted Know Thy Enemy on Friday going all the way back to my NicePickCowher days but tomorrow’s a small little holiday some of you may be celebrating with friends/family. While I’d like to think your first stop with your new iPads and smarty phones would be this site, I realize you may have other interests. Besides, posting something titled “Know They Enemy” on Christmas just feels all kinds of wrong.

As you can tell from that long preamble, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this week’s game. The Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Baltimore Ravens as they continue to fight for a berth in the NFL playoffs. If things fall into place – meaning a Steeler victory and a Jets loss to the Patriots – the Black and Gold will find a playoff spot under their tree. There’s also a scenario where they win the AFC North but that’s a bit more remote.

The Ravens are currently mired in their worst season in recent memory. Although I detest when teams use injuries as an excuse for poor performance – everybody suffers injuries, the good teams find a way to play through them – Baltimore’s struggles are certainly understandable. The Steelers may have lost key players left and right but the Ratbirds have been absolutely decimated. Which makes the fact we lost to them way back in week four all the more galling.

Of course, Baltimore still had Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, and Steve Smith back then. And we had Josh Scobee, the most useless kicker of all time. They’re all gone and we have the Boz, Chris Boswell. So there’s a pretty good chance things will be different this time around.

Jimmy Clausen is in line to make his third straight start after a less than inspiring performance in a blow out loss to the Chiefs last weekend. Matt Schaub initially took over but he has some sort of rib injury and it’s likely the Ravens just as soon throw Clausen out there to play out the string. Way back in 2010, Clausen was actually the starting QB of the Carolina Panthers but he was horrific, leading to a two year exile in Chicago before winding up in Baltimore. He’s a third string quarterback so even our often scary secondary should be able to keep a lid on him.

If Baltimore has one playmaker, it’s receiver Kamar Aiken. Aiken has stepped up in Smith’s absence and has 800 yards and 5 TDs on the season. Running back is currently the domain of Javorius “Buck” Allen, who has never rushed for 100 yards in a game. He had a couple decent showing against bottom feeders but against quality teams the past two weeks he’s put up totals of 14 and 18 yards, respectively.

The Ravens defense has some strange rankings. They’re not abjectly terrible at anything, ranking 15th against the pass and 11th against the rush. However, they’re 25th in points allowed per game with teams averaging about 26 against them. Of course as I’ve said, they’ve played some lousy teams plus when your offense is as bad as Baltimore’s, teams have a tendency to get out to a lead and just kill time.

Which if we’ve seen anything is not Todd Haley‘s philosophy. Haley and Ben Roethlisberger love to go pedal to the metal at all times. Against a secondary starting a bunch of second stringers, they should have no problem putting points on the board. KC hung 34 on them last week and considering what this juggernaut offense has done to quality defenses like Denver and Seattle, I would take the over.

As long as the Steelers play near up to their abilities, don’t make a bunch of stupid mistakes, and don’t suffer any crippling setbacks, they should come out of Charm City with a win. Of  course rivalry games are always dicey. We’ve seen time after time where a team with nothing left to play for is sometimes the most dangerous.

If Mike Tomlin has had one glaring weakness during his tenure, it’s been his teams’ tendency to lose games they have no business losing. After two big wins over playoff teams in consecutive weeks, there’s always a danger of a letdown. As long as the Steelers keep their eye on the prize and treat this game with the appropriate level of attention, everything should be fine. But if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, then every day would be Christmas.

Speaking of, I hope everybody has a very Merry Christmas!