5:42 AM PST, November 13, 2012
Buried in the leftover rubble and next to the carcass of the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium is a concern that won't go away.
The Ravens' pass coverage still scares me. They blew out the Raiders 55-20 Sunday in their most impressive game of the past two or three years, but they still surrendered 368 passing yards.
It might not be a concern if the Ravens played the Cleveland Browns or Kansas City Chiefs next, but they have a big game against the Steelers on Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers are better than the Raiders and Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is much better than Oakland counterpart Carson Palmer. Although it remains to be seen if the Steelers will be without Roethlisberger after he left Monday night’s game against Kansas City with a shoulder injury. Raiders receivers Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey are fast, but Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown might be faster. And they catch the ball.
Pittsburgh's scheme is certainly better and that could mean big and fast trouble.
Even on a good day, when the Ravens are at 100 percent, there are still major concerns about the secondary. But now there are issues with starting cornerback Jimmy Smith's groin and safety Ed Reed has a "stinger" on his shoulder.
The Ravens limped into the Oakland game Sunday and the Raiders could have thrown for more than 400 if receivers didn't drop several passes. Some of those guys weren't just open, but wide open long enough to have a smoke and coffee break.
After the first quarter Sunday, Oakland quit. That won't happen with the Steelers. They hate the Ravens as much as the Ravens hate the Steelers.
Despite playing without Smith and Reed for nearly a half, starting cornerback Cary Williams and backups Corey Graham and Chykie Brown played reasonably well.
Actually, Graham and Brown's approach was better than Smith's and Williams'. They attacked the Raiders receivers and pounded on them enough so they couldn't get off the line of scrimmage cleanly.
They came up hard in run support and did as well as expected, but here's the rub — they are only backups and they haven't seen receivers like Brown, Wallace, Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders.
"Chykie is a very talented guy, and he really has been determined," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of his second-year player. "He has been focused, his concentration has been tremendous. He has really done a great job learning the defense. The difference between a year with him is just incredible."
"Of course, Corey has done well since Lardarius [Webb] got hurt," Harbaugh said of Graham, in his sixth season. "I'm sure glad we signed him. We said he wasn't just a special teams player. The 'just' there probably would not be a good label for a guy like me. It says a lot to be a great special teams player, but he is also a heck of a defensive player. He knew that, and I think that's a big reason why he came here. Now, he gets the chance to prove it."
Some concern might be eliminated if Smith plays, but then there is the Reed issue. When he is on his game, he covers as much ground as any safety in the NFL. The problem is that you never know when the A-game will appear.
Right now, and for most of this season, he has been average at best. Forget about tackling, that has been out of the question for years. The scary part is that he is no longer roaming centerfield. He might be anywhere except there.
That will work against the Raiders and quarterbacks like Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, but not against Peyton or Eli Manning, and certainly not against Roethlisberger. Reed is at his best when he plays with discipline and provides insurance for his cornerbacks.
The Steelers have a new offensive coordinator this season in Todd Haley. He likes to throw the short passes to take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger and he runs a lot of bunches and rubs with his receivers. But with their speed, the Steelers are going to take their share of deep shots, especially with Roethlisberger, who had completed 200 of 298 passes for 2,203 yards and 16 touchdowns before Monday night's game with Kansas City.
Against Oakland, the Ravens had three sacks and they knocked down six passes. That will be hard to duplicate against the Steelers.
The Ravens also dropped and covered well with their linebackers, maybe the best coverage from this unit all season. But in a game that was nearly perfect for the Ravens, they still couldn't cover downfield and the Raiders racked up big yards.
The Steelers could do the same Sunday.
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