-- This has been a quiet week for the Baltimore Ravens' defensive backs, a rather unusual circumstance considering that the despised Pittsburgh Steelers are coming to town, and that the secondary is home to some of the team's most engaging personalities, such as cornerbacks Gary Baxter, Chris McAlister and Deion Sanders, and safety Ed Reed.
But after communication breakdowns in the secondary led to two big pass plays that turned into points in the Ravens' 20-3 season-opening loss to AFC North Division rival Cleveland, the Ravens have focused on making sure that doesn't happen again.
"We're just looking to get back on track. We made some mistakes, and we're looking forward to having corrected them," McAlister said. "The nature of this team [Pittsburgh] is to take shots downfield, more so than Cleveland's main objective was, so it's something that we're preparing for and geared up for, to shut down."
The Ravens will have to be better against Pittsburgh, another division rival. The Steelers have an elite group of wide receivers in three-time Pro Bowler Hines Ward, explosive 6-foot-6 Plaxico Burress, and Antwaan Randle-El. Ward and Burress, in particular, have caused problems for the Ravens in the past.
The Ravens' secondary held Burress and Ward to a combined three catches for 24 yards in last year's season finale, and Baltimore won, 13-10, in overtime. But in the five previous meetings, all Pittsburgh victories, Burress burned the Ravens for 471 yards and two touchdowns on 27 catches. Ward had 26 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns in that same stretch.
"There's just so many of them," Coach Brian Billick said. "They can hit you a lot of ways. You've got size with Plaxico. You've got great route-running, high intensity, great burst in Hines Ward. And you've got Randle-El that just has incredible quickness. It's just the number of options they have in the passing game that makes it so tough."
With the offseason signing of running back Duce Staley, the Steelers appear to have the running game to balance out the passing game, directed by quarterback Tommy Maddox. Staley, the former Philadelphia Eagle, ran for 91 yards on 24 carries in the Steelers' 24-21 season-opening win over Oakland. Thirty-three of 57 offensive plays against the Raiders were rushes, and all three touchdowns came on one-yard runs from Jerome Bettis.
"They're getting back to the running game now, but their cornerstone is the wide receivers," Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said. "It's going to be a great matchup, once again, to see [Ward], Chris, Baxter and Plaxico go at it. When you see it on the film, there are some classic battles going on."
The Steelers are the Ravens' biggest rivals, and the week leading up to the game is usually marked with a crackling intensity. But Baltimore's locker room seemed relatively subdued this week, and the jawing between the Ravens' and Steelers' receivers was nonexistent, compared with the sniping that has gone on in the past. Former Baltimore tight end Shannon Sharpe once referred to Burress as "Plexiglas" and Burress once dismissed McAlister as "cocky" and Baxter as "terrible."
This week, McAlister called Burress and Ward a "great tandem." There was plenty of praise for Ward, who had 95 catches for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2003.
Baxter described Ward as the Steelers' tone-setter and as one of the reasons for Pittsburgh's swagger. Both Lewis and Billick said that they would love to have Ward on their team, though Billick offered a somewhat backhanded compliment by saying, "Yeah, Hines Ward [angers me] all the time, but I'd take him in a New York second."
Ravens Notes: Wide receiver Travis Taylor is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game. Taylor has a groin pull and has been told by trainer Bill Tessendorf that he needs three to four weeks to recover. "But I'm trying to get back early," said Taylor, who was initially injured during training camp, and aggravated the injury in a preseason game and against Cleveland on Sunday. "At the same time, that kind of screwed me up the first time." Taylor said that all he can do now is rest and allow the injury to heal; surgery has not been discussed. He is undergoing acupuncture treatments at Tessendorf's suggestion. . . .
The Ravens re-signed veteran fullback Harold Morrow and waived second-year safety Gerome Sapp. Sapp was a sixth-round pick in 2003 and played in 15 games, primarily on special teams, as a rookie. . . .
Steelers linebacker Joey Porter took a shot at Billick on Wednesday, telling reporters in Pittsburgh that "a smart coach, you don't play your players that long in a regular season game that has no meaning," a reference to the Ravens' 13-10 overtime win in the 2003 season finale.
Billick was asked about Porter's comments during his news briefing Thursday and responded: "These are passionate times and everybody's got an opinion. One thing he doesn't have to worry about is ever playing for this stupid coach."