For six years, Solomon Wilcots terrorized NFL wide receivers as a member the secondaries for the Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Since his playing career ended, he’s been analyzing the game and its players on numerous networks and different television shows, and that was about 20 years ago. The man knows his football and he loves to talk about it.
As an analyst for CBS Sports, Wilcots knows the ins-and-outs of the league like no other and he’s closely affiliated with the AFC North. That makes the Thursday Night Football game between the Steelers and Ravens one of the biggest of week two, and he sat down for a few minutes to give his thoughts on the game.
What two things do you expect to see on Thursday?
Solomon Wilcots: They’re both trying to really get back to prominence. These are the two teams that were not only the class of the AFC North division, but class of the AFC. But if you look back on all the teams that have won the Super Bowl in the AFC over the last decade and a half, last 15 years…Pittsburgh, Baltimore are going to be prominent in that picture. You’ve got the Patriots and you’ve got Peyton Manning’s Colts, but the Ravens are always there and the Steelers are always there.
Now, when you look back and neither team was in the playoffs last year…they know they have to assert themselves over one another if they’re going to be considered for a division title and to have some kind of easier pathway to the Super Bowl in the AFC. These two teams know each other that well. They’re forged in the same mentality. They’re tough. They’re physical. They pride themselves on great defense and they both have Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.
Which player on each team is the wild card for their team to win and why?
SW: Steve Smith is a wild card for Baltimore. He dropped a few balls last week but you know he would hang in there. Come hell or high water, he is going to make a play for his quarterback. You just need to be ready for that and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s the kind of guy that can propel a team to overachieve and provide the spark needed.
The wild card for Pittsburgh is LeVeon Bell. For the first time since Jerome Bettis left, and probably since Jerome was in his prime…he had Willie Parker a little bit, but everyone says the Steelers need to run more. (Rashard) Mendenhall didn’t give them that but this guy (Bell) does…he can really run it and catch it out of the backfield too.
Ben Roethlisberger looked really impressive against Cleveland, especially in the first half, but how do you think he’ll handle throwing against Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith?
SW: I tell people to give me their top five quarterbacks and everyone names their usual (Tom) Brady then (Drew) Brees then (Peyton) Manning obviously and Aaron Rodgers has crept into that conversation, and rightfully so. But as sure as I stand here, Ben Roethlisberger is in that top five…he might be five…but he’s in there, and here’s why. He can make every single throw. There’s not a single throw that Ben can’t make. He can extend plays and keep plays alive.
All he does is win. In the no-huddle, he will shred you. He is the best quarterback in what is a really great division in the AFC North.
On the opposite side, Joe Flacco has to fend off Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor…an aging Steelers’ secondary…do you feel they’ve lost a step?
SW: I’ll give you a nugget and you have fun with this. Did you know that since Vinny Testaverde, in the very first year in Baltimore, no quarterback in Baltimore Ravens’ history has topped 4,000 yards in a single season. Write it down. Testaverde had 4177 in the very first year they were there. So, as good as Joe (Flacco) has been, he can be better.
I gave that question about 4,000 yards to Flacco last week and he said that he could have had it one year, but the team didn’t want to play him in the last game of the season. He’s right. Facts are the facts and he said, …the hell with 4,000. I’m talking 5,000. I liked his response.
These two teams both used to be defensive-strong teams, but that focus has shifted to higher-scoring offenses in recent years. With the Saints, Broncos, Patriots…do you think the NFL is now more about offense than defense?
SW: These teams are trying to build up stronger defenses again. Baltimore wants a better defense. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb can both be Pro Bowl corners. I think Jimmy Smith is one of the best corners in the league. He is that good. They’re going to be fine and they’re fine now. C.J. Mosley is incredible.
Pittsburgh, the front seven I like. At the corner position, I think they’re vulnerable, I really do. Mike Mitchell is a phenomenal safety. That was a huge signing by Pittsburgh. They need to get faster and more athletic on the back-end to match up with people.
What are the keys to a Steelers’ victory on Thursday?
SW: Antonio Brown is phenomenal. I think Antonio Brown is one of the most difficult receivers in this league to cover. I’m just flat telling you. He is a combination of a guy who can go deep, but he can turn a five-yard catch and take it to the house. He’s so good with the ball in his hands. Any os these big-name, tall, lanky receivers…they can’t run like this guy can. My money is that he’s the best receiver in this league…yards after catch. I dare somebody to give me another one.
What are the keys to a Ravens’ victory on Thursday?
SW: They’ve got to be able to run the ball and rarely can anybody run it on Pittsburgh. You can’t just have Joe Flacco throw it 50 or more times every week as they will end up in the hands of Polamalu and some of the Steelers’ linebackers. The Ravens have just got to run it and Joe has to be careful with the ball. Baltimore needs balance in their offense.
You had one season with the Steelers during your career…but still want to know, any prediction for Thursday?
SW: You know I don’t pick winners or losers. I don’t like to pick a game because at the end of the day, it does me no good. Say I pick Pittsburgh and then go call a game next week and Baltimore plays Cleveland and that doesn’t…bode well for me.
Danny Cox knows a little something about the NFL, whether it means letting you know what penalty will come from the flag just thrown on the field or quickly spouting off who the Chicago Bears drafted in the first round of the 1987 draft (Jim Harbaugh). He plans on bringing you the best news, previews, recaps, and anything else that may come along with the exciting world of the National Football League. Danny is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.