Ravens Vs. Steelers

Nfl Week 17

Tonight, 8:30, M&t Bank Stadium, Ch. 13, Espn

December 28, 2003|By JAMISON HENSLEY


Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense -- EVEN

Jamal Lewis needs 154 yards to set the NFL's single-season rushing record. The Steelers have given up more than 122 yards to just one running back this season. They allow 3.9 yards per carry, which is eighth best in the league. In his past three starts against Pittsburgh, Lewis has averaged 63 yards rushing on 14 carries per game, breaking no run longer than 24 yards. Most of Lewis' success this season has come up the middle (averaging 6.8 yards per carry), where the Steelers rely on Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton.

Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense -- STEELERS

In his past three starts, Anthony Wright has struggled, connecting on 47 percent of his throws and averaging 10 completions. Last Sunday, he threw for 90 yards, the fourth-lowest total in franchise history. The Ravens have failed on 20 of their past 27 third-down conversion attempts. After a strong three-game run, receiver Marcus Robinson has disappeared with three catches for 27 yards in consecutive weeks. The Steelers' pass defense, which has ranked no lower than 13th all season, has held seven teams under 200 yards passing. Over the past three games, Pittsburgh has made four interceptions and given up one passing touchdown. Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has given up three sacks this season, has a key matchup with Steelers linebacker Joey Porter (five sacks).

Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense -- RAVENS

Although Jerome Bettis has the Steelers' only 100-yard games this season (both this month), his power running game has sputtered against the Ravens. He has been healthy enough to play in only two of the past six meetings, rushing for 105 yards on 27 carries (3.9-yard average). Pittsburgh has tried to recommit to the running game, averaging 36 carries in December. The Ravens have locked down on the run and have held five of their past seven opponents under 3.5 yards per carry. No running back has cracked 73 yards against the Ravens in the past five games.

Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense -- EVEN

Quarterback Tommy Maddox has picked apart the Ravens in three starts, completing 71 percent of his passes for 626 yards, with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. But the Ravens are confident that cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter can match up with Pittsburgh's physical receivers, Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, who have combined for 36 catches, 457 yards and five touchdowns in the past three meetings. The Ravens have the fourth-ranked pass defense and have recorded the most sacks in the NFL (42). But Peter Boulware (8 1/2 sacks in his past 10 games) is a game-time decision with a sprained knee. Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed has no interceptions in five games after making six in his first 10 games this season.

Special teams -- EVEN

The Ravens have the edge in kicking, with Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed missing on three of 12 tries inside of 30 yards. The Steelers have the edge in punting, with Josh Miller placing 24 kicks inside the 20 (fourth best in the AFC). Ravens kickoff returner Lamont Brightful is fifth in the conference with a 25.4-yard average. Steelers punt returner Antwaan Randle El is third in the AFC with a 11.7-yard average and two touchdowns.

Intangibles -- RAVENS

With the division title on the line, the Ravens have an overriding incentive. With no postseason hopes, Pittsburgh players got three days off last week. The Steelers have won six straight in Baltimore, but they don't have the same confidence on the road as in previous seasons. Pittsburgh has lost four of its past five games on the road. The Ravens, who are 6-1 at M&T Bank Stadium this season, have been dominant in winning by an average margin of three touchdowns here.

Prediction -- RAVENS

Defense wins championships, or division titles in this case. On a night when the spotlight is expected to fall on Jamal Lewis, look for the other Lewis -- Ray -- to lead a strong defensive effort. Jamal Lewis will have a solid but unspectacular game and will not threaten the NFL single-season rushing record. Ravens, 17-10.



Steelers 6-9 Ravens 9-6


Ravens by 7 1/2

Vs. spread

Steelers 7-8 Ravens 9-5-1


Steelers lead 12-4

Last meeting

Steelers won, 34-15, on Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh.

NFL rankings

Steelers offense: Overall (22), rush (30), pass (13).

Steelers defense: Overall (9), rush (11), pass (12).

Ravens offense: Overall (21), rush (1), pass (32).

Ravens defense: Overall (5), rush (8), pass (4).

Quick hits

Under coach Bill Cowher, the Steelers are 41-16 (.719) against division opponents.

Steelers RB Jerome Bettis has 444 rushing yards in his past five games after getting 313 in the first 10 games.

The Ravens have scored 166 points in their past five games (33.2 per game).

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs leads NFL rookies with 12 sacks and needs three to break Jevon Kearse's record of 14 1/2 , set in 1999.


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