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Thursday, 1 January 2015

Steelers Host Ravens in Saturday Night Wild Card Match

As football fans, we spend the majority of our fall Sundays scheduling around our team’s three hour slug match against another alarmingly large-bodied, physical NFL team.  When all goes according to plan, the motions are fluid and the pieces fall into place like a Joe Flacco thirty-two yard September fourth quarter loft to Steve Smith, capitalizing on man to man coverage and setting up Justin Tucker for the game winning field goal over the Browns in Cleveland.  

The vinegar-barbeque marinade is just right, the grill’s heat where it needs to be.   Cold beer rests on colder ice.

Some days we feel untouchable, like Flacco’s first twelve minutes against Tampa Bay in week six, when he threw a record-fastest five touchdowns before many had even turned on their televisions. 

We move seamlessly from kitchen to couch, maneuvering cutlery with the swiftness of ancient ninja masters.  We don’t miss a snap.  Our minds are clear.  We resemble CJ Mosley on October 5th against the Colts, seeing every play before it happens, tackling everyone in sight, coming up with an interception in the red zone, singlehandedly slowing the offense of Andrew Luck.

Some days we rise energized, with barreling onslaughts on the mind, ready to run through walls, like Justin Forsett’s 182 yard rushing show against the Saints on Monday night, his paths paved all season by cratering lane-makers Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda and co. 

Some days we rip chicken wings down to bone.  We know no formidable foe.  We’re Haloti Ngata tossing Andy Dalton like a scarecrow for a fourth quarter sack-fumble in week eight, or ripping the ball from the Titans on the goal line two games later.  We’re like Terrence Brooks sending Delanie Walker to the showers when faced with a plate of brisket nachos.

We have Elvis sightings, not caused by sugar in our desserts, but from Dumervil’s three and a half sack performance in Miami in week fourteen, and team best seventeen for the season.  We’re like Terrell Suggs on an inside stunt, sacking a futile Matt Ryan for a safety in week seven.  We’re relentless Pernell McPhee, submitting his best season at the right time, or versatile Timmy Jernigan, flashing potential for future stardom.  We’re tight-knit, like a neighborhood lined with houses, yet still dwarf the scale of Brandon Williams. 

Some days we’re resilient, able to bounce back and score, like Torrey Smith’s eleven touchdown catches, including one last week to help seal the win over Cleveland, a scoring play preceded by the Ravens catch-of-the-year also made by Torrey, a fingertip grab that brought on tear-filled memories citywide of fans pulling one-handed beverage catches across crowded living rooms. 

Each day we get older, but our reliability improves… like Owen Daniels and Daryl Smith.  We overcome injuries, hurt backs from lifting coolers and rib trays, reminiscent of Lardarius Webb’s potential return to prominence.         

Some days things don’t go our way.  Some days, like a nagging in-law scheduling a toddler’s birthday party at game-time, we’re hit with offensive pass interference, like Steve Smith in week eight, negating a game winning eighty yard play.

Some days Big Ben finds his playmakers in space, and we forget how to tackle, and lose by twenty, like forgettable week nine.  Some days we stay in bed until dusk, and fail to show up at all, like week sixteen in Houston.  Some days we watch AJ Green… well you get the idea. 

The path to success in this league is founded on accumulating as many good plays as possible as compared to the inevitable bad, and maintaining a short memory in the aftermath of losses.  In the age of league parity, no team is perfect and by following this playmaking measure, you give yourself the best chance of having a winning record and making the postseason. 

The 2014 Baltimore Ravens have earned their berth to playoff football, and this Saturday night’s wild card matchup with archrival Pittsburgh arrives amidst a cloud of unknowns to be settled by late in the cold, rainy evening.

Can the Ravens’ offensive line pick up the zone blitz schemes that banged up Flacco in their last Steelers game?  How effective will Haloti Ngata be returning from a month away from the team facility?  Does Justin Forsett have enough juice left in the tank?  How about Steve Smith?  Can Dumervil, Suggs and crew collapse the pocket?  Has the secondary improved or just benefited recently from playing bad quarterbacks?  Can Jacoby Jones make another big play under the bright lights after a subpar regular season?  Who on either side will create a game changing turnover?  Mosley?  Will Le’Veon Bell play? Can anyone account for Antonio Brown?

Which quarterback will make the most plays?    

Ravens at Steelers.  Saturday night, 8:15 PM.  When all the preparation ends, elimination begins.



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