Steelers' rush may bring fast trouble Steelers' pass rush could give Ravens big trouble in a hurry

On the Ravens

September 18, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

RAVENS CENTER Casey Rabach was sitting on a stool in front of his locker unwrapping knee braces with his head down when someone asked him about tomorrow's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when Rabach will have to direct as much traffic as a downtown New York City cop at rush hour.

"We're not changing our game plan, but you've got to be more aware because they have guys coming from anywhere and everywhere," said Rabach, who calls out blocking assignments. "They bring safeties, they bring corners. They do it all."

Controlling the Pittsburgh blitz, where five or more players rush the quarterback, will be a major key. The Ravens didn't do it well in the preseason as teams found holes in the middle. They didn't do it well last week in the season opener when Cleveland sacked quarterback Kyle Boller three times, and tossed him around numerous others.

Now, here comes the Steelers, who have the "Blitzburgh" swagger back. Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher fired defensive coordinator Tim Lewis during the offseason and replaced him with Dick LeBeau, architect of the great Pittsburgh defenses in the 1990s.

Last week, the Steelers gave up 358 yards, including 297 passing in a 24-21 win against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders had touchdown passes of 58 and 38 yards, but Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon took a worse beating than Boller.

The Ravens know they can get some big passing plays against Pittsburgh. Both safeties, Chris Hope and Troy Polamalu, are new starters and Polamalu often is out of position. Teams have been toasting the Pittsburgh cornerbacks for years, particularly Chad Scott.

But if the Steelers get to Boller early, he has a tendency to get nervous and run around without a clue. The Steelers sacked Gannon three times last week.

"Oh yeah, I'm concerned," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "I'm worrying about us physically because it's always a physical game with Pittsburgh, and we're not at where we want to be. Mentally, the blitzes they bring are not particularly complex, but they are good at them because they are physical. It's not like what they do causes a lot of confusion."

But they do cause confusion. Just ask Ravens running back Jamal Lewis. In a split second he has to decide whether to pass block an oncoming linebacker or jump into a pass route in the flat.

"You're antennae always has to be up," said Lewis.

NFL defenses attack offenses as opposed to the 1970s and '80s, when defenses were built more around read and reacting. The Steelers blitz for run support just as much as they do for pressuring the quarterback. Like the Ravens, they blitz more than most teams in the league. They'll bring linebackers and safeties up the middle, or corners and safeties off the perimeter.

"You basically have to trust what you have been looking at on film, and stick with your keys," said Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. "They don't hide anything. They show you what's coming and say try to stop it.

"The good thing about Pittsburgh is that we play them twice a year. It's not like we're playing a team from the NFC. We know them and they know us."

There might be more guessing this time around. LeBeau often used the zone blitz scheme when he was previously with the Steelers and then as a head coach for nearly three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. The zone blitz, compared to a standard blitz, provides more coverage security. In a zone blitz, a defensive lineman or a linebacker might drop into the coverage area vacated by the blitzing linebacker or secondary player.

The Steelers haven't used a lot of zone blitzes yet.

"With LeBeau coming back, I was wondering, `Was he going to morph to what they do, or go back to what he did in Cincy,' " said Billick. "Dick is a zone blitz guy, but he is staying true to the Pittsburgh system even though it's only been through preseason and one game."

Billick thinks Boller can handle whatever the Steelers throw at him. He played against Pittsburgh in the 2003 season opener and has practiced for two years against the Ravens' defense. He should be able to make the proper reads as far as going quickly to the running backs in the flats, hitting a couple of quick slants, running draws and screens and knowing the protections.

But, so far, he has been erratic and inconsistent in throwing the ball as well as going through his progression in a pre-programmed offense.

"Kyle has been there, he knows what to expect," said Billick. "He has taken about 800 snaps against our defense, so he has seen everything he will see Sunday. He knows where he is vulnerable in protections. I'm not as concerned about some guy coming in free as I am about our guys getting beat physically."

Unlike last Sunday, the Ravens will have Ogden back, even though he won't be at 100 percent because of a strained knee. Starting center Mike Flynn will be sidelined for a few more weeks because of a broken clavicle. Guards Bennie Anderson, Edwin Mulitalo and right tackle Orlando Brown are powerful, straight-ahead run-blockers, but all three have problems using their hands and getting over-extended in pass protection.

That could be the difference in tomorrow's game, just a few more seconds for Boller to throw.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) vs. Ravens (0-1)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 4

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