Defenses hear No. 1 question

Ravens, Steelers squabble over which unit is league's best

`We'll see after this game'

With season series tied 1-1, playoff game will provide answer

Raven - Steelers

Afc Divisional Playoff

January 17, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The argument over the league's best defense is essentially a family feud.

The defenses of the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers share the same roots -- dating back to Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis' coaching days in Pittsburgh -- but the sides are engaged in a bitter squabble over which should sit at the head of the table.

The Ravens' defense set the standard by capturing a Super Bowl title last season and by continuing its vise-like playoff effort in its wild-card masterpiece Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

The Steelers' defense, however, beat out the Ravens for the NFL's top ranking this season and finished atop the league in four different categories.

So, which defense should be crowned the best?

"We'll see after the end of this game," Ravens defensive end Peter Boulware said. "They've got great players and we've got great players. This will be the deciding factor."

The Steelers agreed that Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game will settle this debate.

"This will be the game to allow them to understand that Baltimore is a good defense, but we're the No. 1 defense," Steelers safety Lee Flowers said. "It's not trash talk, it's facts. We finished first."

When asked about Flowers' comments, Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said, "Who is Lee Flowers?"

The ascension of these two defenses can be traced back to Pittsburgh.

Their looks are different (the Steelers use a 3-4 defense as compared to the Ravens' 4-3 alignment), but the mentality and results are the same. The Ravens' aggressive style of stunts and blitzes is patterned after the Steelers, whose linebackers coach from 1992 to 1995 was Lewis.

"The concept is the same," said Ravens safety Rod Woodson, who played 10 seasons in Pittsburgh. "The philosophy is the same."

Now, even the situation is the same.

Before last year's divisional game, the Ravens were drawn into the same argument. The Tennessee Titans had the No. 1 defense, and the Ravens finished No. 2.

This time around, the Ravens were measuring their words more carefully.

"We're not really getting caught up in who is the best defense," Ravens outside linebacker Brad Jackson said. "Obviously, that was proven last year. Tennessee made a big deal about it, and they're still wondering where their Super Bowl ring is."

But Pittsburgh insisted there is no debate.

The Steelers were ranked No. 1 defensively for the final 11 weeks of the regular season. They finished first in the NFL in fewest total yards allowed (258.6), run defense (74.7), first downs allowed (15.9) and yards allowed on first down (4.48).

Meanwhile, the Ravens' defense used a strong run to jump from sixth overall to second in the last three weeks of the regular season. They topped the league in total yards allowed per play (4.4).

"We were the No. 1 defense, so all your questions should be answered," Pittsburgh inside linebacker Earl Holmes said. "You can say what you want to, but stats don't lie."

Of course, it's hard to fight the Ravens' postseason credentials.

The Ravens have given up 26 total points in five playoff games, which includes a dominating, 20-3 win over the Dolphins on Sunday. They have surrendered only one touchdown in 69 postseason drives and none in their past 54.

"I can't tell you that I've seen anything like it," said Ravens owner Art Modell, who is in his 41st season in the NFL.

This season changed for the Ravens after their previous meeting with the Steelers. In a nationally televised game a month ago, the Ravens allowed a season-worst 476 yards of total offense in a 26-21 loss to Pittsburgh.

In their four games since then, the Ravens have not given up more than 281 yards.

"We looked at both of our games against those guys, and we looked like we didn't know what we're doing out there," Woodson said. "In that second game here, we looked like a chicken with its head cut off. But that was then, this is now."

Said Ravens coach Brian Billick: "I imagine there's a certain amount of ego involved. Naturally, you want to go in and show your stuff a little bit."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC divisional playoff game

Site: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Steelers by 5

Inside Siragusa ready for matchup with Faneca. [Page 8e]

Steelers' offense vs. Ravens' defense. [Page 8e]

Tale of the tape

A look at how the defenses of the Ravens and Steelers measured up in the regular season:

NFL rank.......Ravens.......Steelers

Overall...............2...................1

Vs. rush............4...................1

Vs. pass............8...................4

Statistic..............Ravens............Steelers

Pts. per game......16.5...................13.3

Yds. per game......277.9................258.6

Yds. per play......... 4.4.......................4.5

Rush YPG.............88.2.....................74.7

Pass YPG.............189.7..................183.9

Interceptions..........16......................16

Fumbles forced......12.....................12

Sacks........................45......................55

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