When the Steelers travel to Baltimore Sunday night to face the Ravens on national television, it not only will be a very important game for the AFC North crown, it will be a game to let Steeler Nation know what exactly this 2010 team is or isn\’t and whether or not it is legitimate contender to capture a 7th Lombardi Trophy.
A ton has changed since the week 4 loss to the Ravens as that was the last game starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was forced to miss due to his four game suspension to start the season. Even number two quarterback Byron Leftwich was sidelined with a MCL injury and veteran Charlie Batch was the signal caller under center just 9 weeks ago. Roethlisberger has since returned and is playing at his usual high level ever since.
In addition to the key quarterback position, the offensive line has seen it\’s flux of changes. In week 4, the starting line included Doug Legursky at right guard and veteran Max Starks at left tackle. The Steelers appear to have finally shuffled through enough bodies at right guard now and settled on Ramon Foster, who will likely start his 3rd straight game Sunday night in that spot. Offseason free agent acquisition Jonathan Scott has replaced the injured Starks, who was lost for the season with a neck injury a few weeks back.
Quarterback and offensive line are not the only positions to see some shuffling as rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders has now firmly replaced veteran Antwaan Randle El as the teams #3 wide receiver. Sanders is getting more and more comfortable every week and has indeed upgraded the position with his speed alone.
On the defensive side of the ball, not much has changed except for the loss of Aaron Smith at left defensive end. That one loss though is pretty big in itself though. Right defensive end Brett Keisel looks to make his return this week from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for several games, but the defense that held the Ravens to just 17 points and 70 yards rushing in week 4 should be mostly intact this Sunday night.
Special teams has also had a shake up as veteran kicker Jeff Reed, who missed both his field goal attempts in week 4 against the Ravens, has been replaced with street free agent Shaun Suisham. Suisham is 100% thus far on all of his kicks in the past 2 weeks and had the overtime game winner last Sunday in Buffalo.
As you can see, quite a bit has changed heading into week 13 of the NFL season. At this point, the Steelers are what they are. It is not going to get any better than it is right now on both sides of the ball personnel wise. The team has suffered through several injuries and the lineup changes on offense are likely done and any changes, if any on defense will be minor. The offensive and defensive schemes are ingrained as well. What you see Sunday night in Baltimore, is what it is.
If the Steelers can win Sunday night, the future looks great. They still have a test upcoming against the Jets in a few weeks, but this game against the Ravens is a measuring stick. It can be argued that the Ravens may or may not be the best the AFC has to offer at this very moment. Other teams you could throw in the mix are the Patriots as well as the aforementioned Jets. There is not one clear dominant team this year on the Steelers conference side, but if the Steelers can not beat Baltimore this week with the starters they have right now, you have to start wondering which team, if any, they can beat on the road in week 1 of the playoffs. This assumes they get the final Wild Card spot, which is far from a lead pipe lock right now.
Teams destined for a great playoff run win these types of games. This game is more than just a divisional rivalry game, this game is more than who gets the inside track for the AFC North crown. This game Sunday night will tell us if the 2010 Steelers are capable of making a run for #7.