As difficult as opponents found it to run against Pittsburgh this season, the Steelers weren't exactly slouches against the pass.
The Steelers allowed 206.8 yards a game through the air, the fourth-stingiest figure in the NFL. The Ravens threw for a middle-of- the-road 207.1 yards a game, and though they kept the ball on the ground in must-win situations against Minnesota and Miami, the ways in which the Ravens employed a variety of weapons in the wild-card win should concern Pittsburgh.
Not counting a mop-up appearance by Chris Redman, 12 different Ravens had rushes or receptions against the Dolphins. Travis Taylor didn't have a catch when he hauled in a 45-yarder from Elvis Grbac on third-and-one from the Ravens' 10, a strike that demoralized the Dolphins.
"This is a team that's going to lay everything on the line," Grbac said. "We're not going to hold anything back. I've been on teams where they've been conservative, and the conservative approach really bites you in the [butt] sometimes."
Grbac was resting bruised ribs when the Ravens won, 13-10, at Heinz Field Nov. 4. Randall Cunningham, who hasn't played since, threw 22 times for 14 completions and 158 yards. Grbac had 159 yards passing in the Dec. 16 rematch won, 26-21, by the Steelers, but he connected on just 20 of 38 and had a season-low 4.18 yards per attempt. Against Dewayne Washington, Qadry Ismail was the only real receiving threat, with four catches for 53 yards.
Pittsburgh only got to Grbac twice at PSINet Stadium, but the Steelers led the NFL in sacks with 55, which tied their franchise record. Jason Gildon had a team-high 12. Joey Porter, the other outside linebacker, and inside linebacker Kendrell Bell had nine apiece, and end Aaron Smith had eight.
In their 3-4 formation, the Steelers seem to send a linebacker on every passing play. That kind of pressure affected Grbac earlier in the season, but he has thrown no interceptions in his past 64 attempts and five halves.
"You have to be able to run in the postseason," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "If we have no success at that, we have no option but to ask Elvis to go back there and wing it. We feel very confident with the way Elvis has played the last two weeks. He can throw with confidence and make sure we can make plays."