Ravens driven to put 'Bus' in neutral Defense couldn't stop Bettis in 1st meeting

November 07, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Last month's loss to the Steelers was even more heartbreaking for the Ravens because Pittsburgh dented what was supposed to be the team's most impenetrable armor.

The Ravens' defensive line got run over by "The Bus" at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 5, when the Steelers' Jerome Bettis rushed for 137 yards in a 42-34 victory.

And the Steelers did it, oh, so slowly.

Trailing 21-0 with 12: 53 left in the first half, Pittsburgh stayed with its running game into the second half, mounting scoring drives of 90, 89 and 80 yards, most of them led by Bettis.

Two weeks later, Miami's Karim Abdul-Jabbar rushed for 108 yards in a 24-13 Dolphins victory, and a lot of teams thought they had discovered something new in attacking the Ravens' defense.

"The last time we played Pittsburgh, I guess you could say that was the beginning of our little slump. The second half of that game was, well, embarrassing," said Ravens defensive tackle James Jones. "Everybody has one, you just have to play out of them. But our attitude is better, we're being aggressive and we're knocking people off the ball again."

In case the Ravens are feeling too good about themselves after strong back-to-back defensive efforts against the Washington Redskins and New York Jets, here's a slap back to reality: Pittsburgh is back, this time on Sunday night before a national television audience at Three Rivers Stadium.

And the Steelers are certain to keep running the ball. They have the No. 2-ranked rushing attack in the league, averaging 160.6 yards.

"They make you stop the run completely. They pound you, pound you and pound you," said Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster. "This is a nice chance for us to redeem ourselves."

The Ravens still have fresh memories of the big lead, but also of Pittsburgh's offensive line, which has a blue-collar approach to the game. Tackles John Jackson and Justin Strelczyk, guards Will Wolford and Brenden Stai and center Dermontti Dawson aren't overly big, but they believe they can outwork most teams.

Pittsburgh uses straight-ahead and schematic blocking to keep teams off balance.

"They give you a combination of physical and finesse schemes, which is why they have pretty good success," Webster said.

Jones said: "If they run something against you once and it's successful, they'll run it again to the other side. If you shut it down, then they don't run it again. But if they're moving the ball, that's when you really have problems because they do a lot of things well.

"Their whole attitude is, 'As long as we keep coming at you, we will eventually wear you down.' They stick with their strength better than anybody in the game."

The strength is not just in the offensive line, but in the system as well. It has basically been a fill-in-the-blank guy for the Steelers at running back over the years, going from Barry Foster to Bam Morris to Erric Pegram and now Bettis.

Bettis has rushed for 1,023 yards on 218 carries. He is not flashy or graceful, but he combines power with underrated speed and has the ability to follow a blockbuster fullback named Tim Lester.

Lester, who weighs 233 pounds, may lead the NFL in KO blocks.

"Bettis knows how to follow Lester's yellow pants," Jones said. "It's almost uncanny. Even if there is a hole somewhere else, he stays right on Lester. Our goal is to make sure there is a black helmet in between that space of Lester and Bettis."

Basically, the Ravens want to force Bettis to cut before he wants to. Bettis is mostly a north-south runner who does most of his damage after he squares his shoulders once getting through the line of scrimmage.

He is a nightmare for lightweight cornerbacks and safeties.

"We've got to push him east and west," Webster said.

The Ravens also will need discipline. In the October meeting, the Steelers went off tackle at defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary and rookie outside linebackers Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware. Sharper and Boulware have made significant progress, but Boulware still has problems with recognition.

"We'll see what happens this time out," said Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who was in for just five plays against the Steelers because of an ankle injury. "We're going to watch film, see what they did to us last time.

"I'm not concerned about what Pittsburgh does, but what our front seven is doing. I'm concerned about James Jones, Peter Boulware and Rob Burnett. We have to take care of our own business."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers

Site: Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh

When: Sunday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 2, ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Steelers by 6 1/2

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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