Steelers' 3-4 scheme is challenging equation

Ravens' guards ready to face Pittsburgh's athletic linebackers

Ravens - Steelers

Afc Divisional Playoff

January 19, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Film study of the Ravens' first-round playoff win over the Miami Dolphins is pointless for guard Edwin Mulitalo.

Instead, Mulitalo is preparing for tomorrow's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers by subtracting any memories of that day - one on which the Ravens rushed for 226 yards and allowed quarterback Elvis Grbac to get sacked just once - from his mind.

"You have to erase everything that you learned for Miami because they are a totally different team," Mulitalo said.

The Steelers' three-down linemen, four-linebacker defensive scheme distinguishes them from Miami and every other team in the league.

Mulitalo and right guard Bennie Anderson usually have defensive tackles in front of them, but will be uncovered on most downs tomorrow.

That will not mean any less contact for the duo, as the Steelers bring anywhere from one to all four of those linebackers on a given play.

"In Miami, we just had to muscle our way through," Mulitalo said. "This time we have to have our head on a swivel, move our feet, because they are bringing backers from everywhere. That's our responsibility.

"If we are going one way, and we see a backer coming from another way, can we get to that spot? That's our challenge, and we have to do that well."

The Steelers have a fast and athletic linebacker corps led by Pro Bowl pick Jason Gildon, who finished fifth in the AFC with 12 sacks.

Gildon and fellow outside linebacker Joey Porter combined for 21 sacks, while Defensive Rookie of the Year Kendrell Bell added nine. Inside linebacker Earl Holmes led the team with 118 tackles. Productivity comes from everywhere.

"You just have to keep your eyes open. You have to be more mindful of the linebackers," Anderson said. "You can't overlook their defensive line, but you have to be mindful of the linebackers whereas the other teams, you have to focus on the defensive line."

Much of the linebackers' success comes from first-round draft choice Casey Hampton's ability to draw double teams from his nose tackle position.

Ends Aaron Smith and Kimo von Oelhoffen generally occupy the tackles but sometimes slide down to the guards in order to give the linebackers a chance to find a seam in the line.

"It is a giant change from a week ago. This is a defense that is totally based on movement and keeping the linebackers free so they can run," Ravens offensive line coach Jim Colletto said. "All four linebackers are good athletes and run well.

"They force the linemen to block at different angles constantly, and so the footwork of the guards and center has to be really exact. The linemen have to be able to react to things on the move because they are not going to stand there and let you hit them."

The Ravens have allowed five sacks in the two previous games this season against Pittsburgh, three from the linebackers. Mulitalo, though, is battling a hamstring strain suffered in Wednesday's practice and is listed as questionable.

He expects to play. "I plan to be 100 percent by kickoff," Mulitalo said.

Anderson, meanwhile, has come off back-to-back solid games after a roller-coaster rookie season in which he went from a long-shot to make the team in training camp to a starter for 13 games.

His situation is all the more impressive considering this is the 11th straight month in which he's played football. "I have to constantly remind myself how young he is and what he's been through," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Anderson, 24, played for the now-defunct XFL's Chicago Enforcers before signing with the Ravens in June, and if the Ravens reach the Super Bowl, it would come on his one-year professional anniversary.

"If we make it to the Super Bowl, he told me the game would be on the same day he played his first XFL game," Colletto said. "He's been playing for a year straight. And it really is a rags to riches story. Bennie's got a lot of room for improvement, but he does extremely well for the circumstances he's been put into."

Anderson said all that has happened this season has helped him prepare for what the Steelers present. "I'm much more confident because I know the system a lot better," he said.

Anderson could apply that statement to the Steelers' defense too. After the two previous meetings this year, the Ravens know what and whom are coming tomorrow.

"These guys do so much blitzing, linebackers coming, different guys coming in different gaps, their defensive line moving every snap," Colletto said. "It is more recognition. It is not hard to figure out where they are. It's blocking them once they start moving, and that will be the biggest deal."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC divisional playoff game

Site: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

When: Tomorrow, 12:30 p.m.

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

Line: Steelers by 6

Inside Cowher: Kicker Brown can match Stover. [Page 6c]

A look back at Colts-Steelers playoffs in '75, '76. [Page 6c]

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