Ravens can't take Steelers for granted

September 03, 1996|By John Eisenberg

You are going to tell me about the bad things happening to the Pittsburgh Steelers: Greg Lloyd's knee injury, Kevin Greene's departure to Carolina, the quarterback problems.

I am going to tell you that Vinny Testaverde has never beaten the Steelers.

Ever.

You are going to tell me that the Steelers are in decline from their Super Bowl showing of last season, that injuries and free agency have ripped them apart, that their 15-point loss to Jacksonville in Sunday's season opener was the mark of a fading power.

I am going to tell you that the Ravens are in big trouble going up to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers on Sunday in Three Rivers Stadium.

You are going to tell me that the Ravens have a great chance, that the Steelers haven't been so beatable since their last losing season in 1991.

I am going to tell you that you are kidding yourself if you think the Ravens are walking into anything resembling favorable circumstances.

The Ravens are walking into a trap, that's what they're walking into.

It's not that they can't win, because they can. But the point is that it's foolish to take the Steelers' problems and reshape them into a great chance for the Ravens to win.

The recent history of games between the two franchises warns otherwise.

The Cleveland Browns lost their last seven games in Pittsburgh by a combined score of 157-51.

Only once since 1989 did the Browns score more than one touchdown in a game in Pittsburgh.

Yes, the Steelers clearly are struggling to gather themselves these days after losing Greene and quarterback Neil O'Donnell to free agency, running back Bam Morris to an off-season marijuana bust and now Lloyd to a season-ending injury in the opener.

That's irreparable damage, the loss of four players who carried ,, the team to the Super Bowl.

But how much will it matter come Sunday?

Probably little.

All the emotional factors favor the Steelers.

Coming off an embarrassing loss and playing before their home crowd for the first time in 1996, they'll be so psyched that their eyeballs might pop.

"We would have been better off if they had won, 40-0, on Sunday," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who coached the Steelers linebackers from 1992 to 1995.

The only people who might be more psyched than the Steelers are the Pittsburgh fans, who are furious with the Ravens for ruining the rowdy Browns-Steelers rivalry.

The Ravens won't play in a more hostile environment all season.

As well, the Ravens are bound to struggle to sustain the emotional high that carried them Sunday against the Raiders. A letdown is almost inevitable.

You also can be sure that the Steelers won't be nearly as helpful as the Raiders, who amounted to a 12th man for the Ravens with their endless penalties, poor conditioning and bumbling coaching.

It seemed the Raiders had never seen a no-huddle offense, even though Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda has used one for years.

The Steelers will be much more crisp and intelligent.

And their personnel losses won't matter nearly as much as you think, not at home.

"Trust me, they will be fine," Lewis said. "They will get closer. They're used to this."

Indeed, they are. The Steelers lost running back Barry Foster and tight end Eric Green after the 1994 season and watched cornerback Rod Woodson go down with a knee injury in the opener last season, but still made it to the Super Bowl.

"They're strong, very strong," Lewis said.

All in all, Sunday's game smells a lot like a setup.

"We're going up to face the wounded tiger, no question," Marchibroda said yesterday. "I'm sure the Steelers didn't anticipate losing. They're going to rebound hard and fast."

True, Steelers coach Bill Cowher might not have a competent, winning pro quarterback to choose from among Jim Miller, Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart.

But he made the right choice yesterday in naming Tomczak to start Sunday. Tomczak is a proven pro with a 31-22 record as a starter. Miller was a stretch.

But it wouldn't have mattered if Kent Nix had played quarterback for the Steelers in the last years of the Steelers-Browns rivalry.

And hey, Testaverde's record against the Steelers is hardly an encouraging sign.

He is 0-6 against the Steelers in his career in games he has started and finished.

He lost to them in the last game of the 1989 season with Tampa Bay, then once in 1993, three times in 1994 and once last season with the Browns.

Testaverde's numbers in his five Cleveland starts are as follows: 88 completions in 173 attempts, with three touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

The Steelers separated his shoulder in 1993 and intercepted him four times in a game in 1994.

Lewis said he will take Testaverde to school on the Steelers' defense this week, "but as much as I can help him during the week, I can't help him Sunday."

True. And even without Lloyd and Greene, the Steelers still have Woodson and Carnell Lake in their secondary and a multitude of fine, young players.

"It's not about one player, or two, or even three," Lewis said. "That's a strong, unified team with a lot of depth. The stadium is always a hard place to play, and I'm sure it'll be real hard on Sunday."

No doubt about it.

The Ravens might be ahead of the Steelers in the standings and dealing with far fewer personnel problems, but it will be an upset if they win.

A pretty big upset.

Pub Date: 9/03/96

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