Baltimore Looks to Pull Out All the Stops
Monday, November 5, 2007
Perhaps no game better illustrated the way the Baltimore Ravens ruled the AFC North last year than the one they played against the Pittsburgh Steelers late last November. The Ravens thoroughly dominated the defending Super Bowl champion, throttling its running game, hammering its quarterback and winning, 27-0.
But that, as Coach Brian Billick said last week, was "a lifetime ago."
Baltimore (4-3) is no longer the class of the division; in fact, it is the only AFC North team without a win against a division opponent. The Steelers (5-2), who have won at Cleveland and at Cincinnati, sit atop the standings. But the Ravens have a chance to pull even if they can win tonight at Heinz Field, something they've done only once in their past five regular season visits.
"I think this game sums up, really, the National Football League, and I really think it sums up our division," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "They've got the number one defense; we've got the number two defense. It's going to be one of those classic games. You have to appreciate where you are right now in the season, being able to go into Pittsburgh right now with the possibility of being able to take over the lead [and] control of the division."
Players and coaches on both sides didn't want to dwell on what happened between the teams last year, when the Ravens swept the Steelers for the first time and did so by a resounding 58-7 margin. But the reason for Baltimore's dominance, according to first-year Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, was its defense, the way it pressured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the way it shut down running back Willie Parker.
The Ravens sacked Roethlisberger 14 times in the two games -- including a franchise-record nine times in the November meeting -- and intercepted him four times. Linebacker Bart Scott delivered a vicious hit on Roethlisberger in the first game that was one of the highlights of the season.
Baltimore hasn't been as effective getting to the quarterback this season; the Ravens have 15 sacks in seven games. Defensive end Trevor Pryce, who led Baltimore with 13 sacks in 2006, is expected to play tonight after missing the past five games with a broken wrist and should help with the pass rush.
"He's the energy," Lewis said. "The thing is, when guys do miss time and they do come back, they have a different energy from the guys that have still been going. And right now, he's kind of like our Energizer Bunny. He came back flying around [Thursday] and just had everybody else flying around just to see him out there again."
Parker leads the AFC in rushing with 726 yards (an average of 4.4 yards per carry) and has five 100-yard rushing games this season. He has never had much success against the Ravens, however; last season, he totaled 51 yards on 23 carries in two games. No running back has gained 100 yards against Baltimore this season.
"You just got to know what type of runner he is, and everybody [has to] stay disciplined and not [step] in somebody else's gap," Scott said of Parker. "When you get an opportunity to take a hit on him, [you have to take it]. He's not the biggest guy, but he's very willing; he's willing to run between tackles. So when he does that, you have to make him pay the price."
The Ravens have very little room for error over the next nine weeks. Starting tonight, they play three division games in a row, and then they have a brutal stretch: at San Diego (Nov. 25), against New England (Dec. 3) and against Indianapolis (Dec. 9). They close out their season with a trip to Miami (where they've never won in the regular season), their first visit to Seattle and a home date with Pittsburgh.
"I feel great, and I'm excited," Scott said. "Everybody's said that this will be the difficult part of our schedule. To me, this is the exciting part of our schedule. This is like going and playing a big game. Every week is a big game, but these are the special games. These are the games that you're not supposed to win. These are the opponents you're not supposed to [beat]. What are we, 35-point underdogs? So hopefully we can get off the bus without tripping."
Ravens Notes: Baltimore probably will be without starting cornerback Chris McAlister (knee) and definitely will be without cornerback Samari Rolle, who had a relapse of his undisclosed illness. Veterans Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin could start in place of each. . . . Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) will be a game-time decision.