By Samuel Njoku
With the loss of Big Ben due to injury, the always intense Ravens/Steelers rivalry has lost some of its luster. But with the division lead on the line, both of these teams plan on bringing their A-game in this matchup. The Ravens will have to hope that their road woes have been solved when going up against the #1 defense in the Pittsburgh Steelers.We are looking for a chance to – No. 1 – control the division, but it just so happens to be the Steelers,” said Rice on Wednesday. “You can’t take anything away from them. Even without Ben Roethlisberger, they’re still going to play great football. That’s how much confidence coach [Mike] Tomlin has in that group. We know our challenges ahead.”
The challenge offensively rests in containing the front 7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The offensive line has struggled against edge rushers in the past. Their jobs don’t get any easier with this group. The Ravens have played pretty well against them in the past. Their offense becomes a lot more explosive if they only need 5 or 6 men blocking during passing plays. If the Ravens struggle, look for them to use chip blocks and screens to keep the rush contained.
Defensively, the Ravens look to have an easier time getting things accomplished. Ben Roethlisberger has always given the Ravens fits with his ability to extend plays. They won’t have to worry about that as much with Byron Leftwich. The former Jaguars quarterback is more of a statue in the pocket that relies on his strong arm to make big plays. The Ravens aren’t going to underestimate him or anyone else in the Steelers locker room.
“We’re going to prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers,” stated Terrell Suggs. “I don’t think the game plan is pretty much going to change [regardless of] who’s under center. They’re going to be who they are. They’re going to do what Pittsburgh does, and they’re going to play Pittsburgh football. We’re going to show up and we’re going to prepare all week, and we’re going to prepare to play Raven football.”
That’s the mindset both teams have heading towards this game in Pittsburgh. Mike Tomlin told reporters earlier that the men under the helmets will change over the years, but the spirit of the rivalry will never change. Suggs went on to reiterate those words.
“No, no. It’s never going to change,” said Suggs. “As long as there’s an NFL, as long as these two teams have to play each other, the rivalry is always going to be what it is. So, like I said, it’s not going to change. Yeah, we would like to have 52 [Ray Lewis] here, we would like to have 21 [Lardarius Webb]. Yeah, they would like to have 43 [Troy Polamalu. They would like to have 86 [Hines Ward], but they don’t. So, it’s two teams; it’s business as usual. And like I said, we’re both going to prepare to win the game.”
It will be business as usual for the Ravens and Steelers. Baltimore will have success if they can get pressure on Leftwich. The corners for Baltimore will need to contain the fastest receiving corps in the league as Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders will look for separation. With Jimmy Smith not practicing, it will be interesting to see if he is able to play on Sunday. If not, that makes this secondary a very vulnerable unit.
Both teams hit the meeting rooms, as they do each Wednesday, in preparations for the upcoming opponent. There is a different feeling this week for both teams. The level of anticipation is kicked up a couple of notches for a game with so much at stake.
“This is the week that Ravens fans and Steelers fans always look forward to,” stated Rice. “It’s one of the most old-fashioned rivalries in football. In my five years, it’s been one of the most fun games to play in.”
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.