Ravens-Steelers: Always something

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

The one and only Jerry Glanville once said that NFL stands for Not for Long, and no matter how you cut it, no matter who is involved, nothing stands for very long anymore, particularly in this day’s version of #NFLTheTVShow. It’s no longer a matter of years in this program, it’s a matter of week to week, which, of course, is an absolute must for any successful television series. See “Dallas” from the 1980s.

Take this Sunday’s Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game, the resumption of the league’s best rivalry, which the Steelers lead 33-25 with wins in five of the last six meetings.

Two weeks ago the Ravens, coming off an impressive win on the road against the Bengals, laid a big, fat horseshoe-shaped egg (if it sounds painful, it was) in a dreadful home loss to the hated Indianapolis Colts. Quarterback Lamar Jackson played terribly down the stretch and the Ravens exhibited poor clock management and showed basic dysfunction in every capacity.

So what happens last week? The Ravens go into Cleveland and completely dominate the league’s top defense, hammering the Browns, 28-3, and suddenly they’re saying the Ravens are clearly the team to beat in the AFC North; which, of course, is what they were saying at this time last year. And, oh, yes, Lamar Jackson was sensational. Who said he couldn’t throw the ball outside the numbers?

As for the Steelers, they opened the season by taking a thorough 30-7 whipping to the 49ers, and the wagons circled again on head coach Mike Tomlin and beleaguered offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

The Steelers, though, bounced back with a 26-22 win over the Browns (thank God they’re in this division) and then a 23-18 win over the Raiders. Life was good again, and suddenly the Steelers were showing signs of actually having an offense.

That, of course, went out the window last Sunday when they took an even more thorough 30-6 whipping to the Houston Texans as the faint pulse of the Pittsburgh offense completely flat-lined, with the defense looking just as bad, prompting Canada to offer that the offense “wasn’t quite built” to come back from large deficits.

Um, Matt, everybody had already come to that conclusion, and with further validation of that conclusion came even more calls for Canada’s head. A terse, but composed, Tomlin said after the game, “Hell yeah, we gotta make some changes,” which gave Yinzers everywhere hope that a Matt Canada platter was about to be served.

On Wednesday, we found the changes to be pads and more physical practices, with Tomlin making a point to say there would be no change in the offensive coordinator.

“I was talking about the physicality component, or the lack thereof,” Tomlin said about his comments after the game. “It didn’t take long for me to realize practice attire early in the year, but also, some matchup related things. We’re open to dividing the labor up more finely in an effort to get better play. To put people in circumstances that are advantageous to their skillset.”

So, there you have it. Canada, who was an errant 99 mph Tyrrell Pigrome fastball on a failed two-point conversion away from being the Maryland head coach, remains secure as the Steelers offensive coordinator. At least for now. But do the Steelers ever make in-season coaching changes? It doesn’t seem to be their style.

None of which seems to bode well for the Ravens, as they don’t have a recent history of being able to harness the momentum of a big win the following week; and they’ll be going into an even more hostile environment than usual because Steelers fans are going to be extra chippy because Canada’s still up in the booth calling imaginary plays.

Look for the Steelers to play to the changes Tomlin did put in place. Look for them to play even more physically and with far more efficiency than they’ve shown they can play with so far this season.

The Ravens, who opened as 4.5-point favorites, are certainly qualified to be the favorite, but are they capable of playing like the favorite two weeks in a row? That will be determined by the quarterback, who was certainly up to the challenge last week in Cleveland.

Conversely, are the Steelers capable of bouncing back with a performance that will get the best of their biggest rival? That appears to be on the head coach, which, at the professional level is extremely rare once game day is at hand.

Pittsburgh has turned in two horrible performances so far in just the first four weeks of the season. One in four weeks happens, ask the Buffalo Bills. Two clunkers don’t often happen to a contending team in such a short period of time.

There is always a lot riding on a Steelers-Ravens game. That’s what makes it the best rivalry going. This time around, though, there seems to be a lot more of the big-picture stuff in play for the Steelers, even though a 2-3 start would not break the season.

The manner in which the Steelers would or wouldn’t fall to 2-3, though, just might.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT