Which Ravens team shows up in Pittsburgh Sunday?
I was asked the million-dollar question this morning on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show": which Ravens team is more indicative of what we have here in Baltimore right now.
Is it the team that stumbled on offense in the first half of Sunday's 30-27 win over Arizona, the team with a porous offensive line that couldn't protect Joe Flacco, turned the ball over, picked up stupid penalties and generally looked lost for 30 minutes?
Or is it the team that looked rejuvenated in the second half, the team that finally blocked for Flacco, the team that got its up-tempo offense going and moved the ball downfield with short passes, relying on a great individual performance by Anquan Boldin and tough running by Ray Rice?
I'm going with door No. 2. And that's the team that better show up Sunday night at Heinz Field if the Ravens want to avoid a humiliating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that could seriously affect their hopes of winning the AFC North.
The Ravens will be working all week on ways to avoid getting off to another sluggish start. On the surface, you'd think there would be no need for this.
After all, it's Ravens-Steelers, probably the best rivalry in the NFL, a game that brings its own sense of urgency with two teams that basically can't stand each other.
Then again, look what happened to the Steelers in the 35-7 beat-down they suffered at M&T Bank Stadium in the first game of the season.
Sure, the Ravens obviously played well and delivered the proverbial "punch to the mouth" early. But it was just as obvious that the Steelers came out flat and listless -- in all phases of the game.
How do you do that? How do you come out that uninspired for the season-opening game against your fierce division rivals?
Who knows? The stunned Steelers were asked that very same question in the funereal atmosphere of their locker room after the game. And none of them had any real answers.
Still, I don't expect the Ravens to come out flat for the third game in a row, dating back to that 12-7 debacle in Jacksonville. Again, they'll be working all week on ways to avoid such a start. And one way to do that is to go up-tempo on offense from the beginning, something that Ravens coaches have hinted might be in this week's playbook.
It'll be tough enough for the Ravens to win in the snarling, hostile atmosphere of Heinz Field, even with a good start. With a bad start, it'll be all but impossible.
The Steelers are on a roll. They've won four straight games. And they're coming off a terrific win over the New England Patriots, a win in which Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 365 yards and two touchdowns and the Pats were held to just 213 yards of total offense.
The rap against the Steelers was that they were too old and too slow. And they looked that way when the Ravens smacked them around in the first game.
But they don't look that way any more.
The Ravens better be ready from the get-go Sunday night. Or else they'll be in for a long, painful night.
Baltimore Sun photo of Joe Flacco by Christopher T. Assaf / Sept. 11, 2011