By Christina Rivers
Despite personnel change on the roster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens aren’t making any huge changes in their game plan. The Steelers (6-3) will start Byron Leftwich at quarterback for the first time in nearly two years, but the Ravens (7-2) don’t feel the change will be of much consequence.
“We don’t really concern ourselves with injuries,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said in reference to Ben Roethlisberger being unable to play Sunday. “We haven’t concerned ourselves with our own team’s injuries. Why are we going to concern ourselves with somebody else’s injuries?” The Ravens plan on playing Pittsburgh the same way they have in the past despite who starts at Heinz Field Sunday. Harbaugh loves playing the Steelers. “It’s just a great game, great rivalry, and it’s always really hard-fought. I think if you’re in this business as a coach, as a player, in any capacity…you probably enjoy these kinds of games, right?”
Linebacker Terrell Suggs said, “This is the game the whole NFL is waiting to see, the most heated rivalry in sports.” Whether or not the fans of all 32 teams in the league are sitting on pins and needles to watch the game, it is sure that fans of these two teams will be watching every play. Sports bars across the country usually fill up with dedicated fans who hate each others’ team, and the Pittsburgh/Baltimore rivalry always gets a ton of attention. This season, the Steelers and Ravens will face each other twice in three weeks, making the push for the top of the AFC North Division that much more heated. “When it comes to these two teams, there are no two other teams that are more physical,” Suggs added. “There’s a similarity between the two…this matchup sends shockwaves through the NFL and no matter who other teams play, the can’t wait to watch this game.”
The Ravens have respect for Leftwich. In 2003, General Manager Ozzie Newsom tried to snag him in the NFL Draft, only to see the Jacksonville Jaguars get him. “Personally, I’ve always been impressed with his competitiveness,” Harbaugh said. “At one time, with Jacksonville, he was one of the premier quarterbacks in football. He’s still got those skills.” “He’s a really good guy, he’s shown he can win in this league,” said Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. “He’s still playing in this league and we can’t take him for granted. This guy is very capable of going out there and shredding us.”
The Ravens also have a healthy respect for Pittsburgh’s running game. With Rashard Mendenhall active in practice, he may return to the field as early as Sunday. That sets Baltimore up with a possible rush issue defensively. Jonathan Dwyer, nicknamed ‘The Minivan’ in honor of Jerome ‘The Bus’ Bettis for his running style, had 100-plus rushing yard games in weeks seven and eight. Isaac Redman rushed 26 times for 147 yards and a touchdown against the New York Giants. Harbaugh said that the Ravens will need to gang-tackle and wrap up the Steelers’ backs in order to shut down the rushing game.
The Ravens’ rush defense was exposed by the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14 and are ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (132.0). The Ravens gave up a franchise-high 227 rushing yards to Dallas. Pittsburgh is ranked 21st in the league in rushing offense per game (103.8), but have the ability to use their quick offensive scheme to hurt the Ravens by pushing the run in order to open the passing game. “Dallas came in here and ran four [running backs], said Pollard. “We’ve got to tackle, let our front seven go eat.”
That may be difficult to do as the Steelers have a powerful offensive line going into Week 11. The Ravens will be without Ray Lewis, and some Ravens fans are worried about how the team will match up against Pouncey and company. The Ravens are ranked 26th on defense, but Suggs said, “We’ve been ranked higher before and still don’t have a championship to show for it…we just have to get better each week and work on executing.” The Ravens are counting on the 11 players that are on the field defensively.
The Ravens haven’t done well this season away from M&T Stadium. In Week 2, they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 24-23, a game in which the Ravens had to come back and then failed. When they traveled to Kansas City to face the Chiefs, the Ravens were held to just a three-point win. At Reliant Stadium, the Houston Texans snuffed every chance Baltimore had, handing the Ravens a 43-13 loss. In Cleveland, the Ravens saw Joe Flacco held to just 153 yards passing, Ray Rice to 98 yards rushing and Anquan Boldin to 57 yards receiving. They beat the Browns by ten points.
“I’ve got to tell you, we’ve played some big games on the road every year we’ve been here and we’ve won a lot of them,” Flacco said. “Obviously, for whatever reason, we’re not as successful on a consistent basis.”
Baltimore is averaging 36.8 points at home and 17.5 points on the road. Entering the hostile environment of Heinz Field is never easy for any team, but the Ravens know how powerful the Steelers’ home crowd is at being disruptive.
The Steelers lead the regular season series, 17-15. In 2011, the Ravens were able to sweep the series. At home, the Ravens won 35-7 (Sept.11) but the game was closer when they traveled to Heinz Field, winning 23-20.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.