Earlier in the week, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III said that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a ‘that dude’ defense, in that they have ‘that dude and that dude and that dude and that dude’. They do have three dudes in the Pro Bowl this year, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Bud Dupree were down as an alternate.
Later in the week, Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made sure to send the message that his unit is not going to overlook the Steelers’ offense this week, even if it is a battered and bruised shell of its ideal self. There’s no Ben Roethlisberger, for one thing, and James Conner is out as well, in addition to Maurkice Pouncey. Nevertheless, his communications with his group were clear.
“I told the defense today, this is going to be a ‘test your manhood’ game”, he said, via the team’s website. “They’re going to run the ball, try to run the ball 50 times. It’s a great rivalry. And like I said before, it’s a rivalry out of respect. That’s the thing that’s most enjoyable about it”.
The Steelers have seemingly cycled through rivalries of a heated nature, long present with the Ravens themselves. It then lay with the Cincinnati Bengals for a few years, and is now potentially emerging when they play the Cleveland Browns. An on-field assault tends to fire things up, after all.
But a lot of that hostility and unnecessary aggression seems to have been lost between the Steelers and Ravens. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s almost as though it’s two old soldiers who were opposite sides of a conflict. They still don’t like each other, but they know what one another has gone through, and what they’re made of, and hold that mutual respect that makes it a privilege to be their adversary.
Of course, it would also be a privilege for the Ravens to knock the Steelers out of the postseason, though in actually neither a win nor a loss would guarantee anything for Pittsburgh either way, as it remains in the hands of the outcomes of potentially several other games before everything gets sorted out in the end. Even the strength of victory can come into play.
Martindale said that he has “the utmost respect” for head coach Mike Tomlin “and the entire organization”, adding that “we respect each other, but we don’t like each other. That doesn’t matter if it’s Week 1 or Week 17.
This one is Week 17, and the incentives for the two sides could hardly be more different. The Ravens have nothing to gain by winning, the Steelers, potentially everything. But don’t think for a second that Baltimore is about to play down in any way, regardless of who is ultimately on the field.