Ravens steeled for Pittsburgh Road win today vital as tough games loom

October 18, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- One of the Ravens' biggest rivalry games will take on added importance today. In NFL vernacular, it's called a sense of urgency.

The Ravens' game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) at Three Rivers Stadium is not just an AFC Central matchup, but a contest that will have ramifications for the rest of the season. After the Steelers, the Ravens (2-3) face Green Bay on the road and Jacksonville at home.

"It's a game that you have to win to reach the next level," said Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster. "If you're going to be successful, you have to beat the champs, and they are still the division champs. They take advantage of playing at home. Not too many teams have gone up there and beat them."

Ravens left guard Wally Williams said: "I'm tired of hearing about their stadium and all that. Those guys just come to play at home. It's premature to say that if we lose, our season is over, but it's one thing to be one game back and another thing to be 2-4 or 2-5. You don't want to dig a deeper hole when you have to play Green Bay and Jacksonville next."

The Browns/Ravens haven't won in Pittsburgh since 1989,

when the Browns pitched a 51-0 shutout over the Steelers, and the Ravens are 1-4 against the Steelers since moving to Baltimore three years ago.

But this may be the Ravens' best opportunity for a victory.

Two Pittsburgh starters -- defensive end Nolan Harrison (hamstring) and linebacker Earl Holmes (hand) -- are out, running back Jerome Bettis (knee) is questionable, and guard Will Wolford (pectoral) is doubtful.

Advantage, Ravens.

"They have a couple of guys nicked up," Williams said. "What we have to do is keep pounding and pounding and hopefully something will open up and go our way."

The Ravens also have their share of injuries. Starting tight end Eric Green will miss the game with a ruptured air sac in his lung, and starting receiver Michael Jackson is questionable with a strained groin. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is expected to start his first game in three weeks but he isn't sure how his dislocated left elbow will hold up. Lewis isn't expected to wear a brace.

"I'm not 100 percent and I still don't have full motion. It's still sore. I've prayed about it, so has my mom," said Lewis, the Ravens' top tackler the past two seasons. "I'll go out there and give it a try. I don't care if I feel a twinge here or a twist there. I can play with pain but I can't play with an injury."

The Ravens need Lewis to slow down an offense that has been bothered by inconsistency. The Steelers are no longer intimidating teams, but they still have the No. 2 running game in the league, averaging 164 yards a game.

The problem is their passing game. Kordell Stewart has completed only 71 of 139 passes for 651 yards, and his longest throw has been 36 yards. The Ravens aren't concerned about his arm, but his legs. Stewart is roaming more out of the pocket these days.

"He is the hardest quarterback to play against because of his scrambling and speed," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary. "Some quarterbacks can scramble, but they don't have speed. Kordell looks like he wants to run more now. Before, he wanted to stay in the pocket."

Said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda: "It comes down to making plays. It comes down to stopping Jerome Bettis. It comes down to keeping Kordell Stewart in check. You have to slow down their blitz schemes. You have to make big plays on offense."

Ravens quarterback Eric Zeier has to make excellent reads. The Steelers like to blitz, especially inside their own 20-yard line. Zeier seems to have trouble with pressure, so don't be surprised if the Ravens often use the shotgun formation. Also, the Ravens might get outside receiver Jermaine Lewis in the slot more to get him some mismatches as well as more touches on the ball.

The Steelers have dominated the Ravens in their two trips to Pittsburgh, including a 37-0 shutout last year on national television. The Ravens outplayed the Steelers in the opener this season, but Pittsburgh managed a 20-13 win.

"We saw last year how it can get out of hand in a hurry over there," Marchibroda said. "The Steelers know we can play with them. The next step is to beat them; this is an opportunity for us."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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