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Ravens Vs. Steelers

M&t Bank Stadium, 1 P.m., Ch. 13

September 19, 2004|By Jamison Hensley

Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense: The Steelers have held Jamal Lewis in check better than any other team in the league. Lewis averaged 70.5 yards in his first four starts against them before breaking out for 114 in last season's finale. Even in that game, he was held to 41 yards on his last 20 attempts. But Lewis showed a more determined attitude last week and has publicly called for more carries. In last year's home opener, Lewis broke out for an NFL-record 295 yards after not getting as many attempts as he wanted the previous week. The return of All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden significantly upgrades the offensive line. Getting Lewis the ball is essential since the Ravens are 2-10 the past three seasons when he is limited to 20 or fewer carries.


Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense: Both teams are at their most vulnerable here, but the Ravens have a poorer track record. Quarterback Kyle Boller has yet to make teams pay for using single coverage on the receivers. In 10 career starts, he has thrown for more than 200 yards just once and completed more than 55 percent of his passes five times. The Steelers are back to their blitzing ways, which will put pressure on Boller but leaves them susceptible to the deep pass. Strong safety Troy Polamalu has made it a habit to let receivers get behind him. There could also be a void at cornerback, where Chad Scott is questionable with a groin injury. He could be replaced by rookie Ricardo Colclough. Look for the Ravens to capitalize on Randy Hymes' athleticism deep along the sidelines.


Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense: Pittsburgh has gone back to its run-first philosophy with new running back Duce Staley, but the Ravens haven't changed their run-stopping tradition. Dating to last season, the Ravens have held nine of their past 12 opponents under 4 yards a carry. The biggest adjustment for the Ravens is at nose tackle, where Maake Kemoeatu will start for the injured Kelly Gregg and match up against stout center Jeff Hartings. The Steelers are one of the few teams not afraid to run at Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis, who has averaged 14 tackles in the past six meetings with the Steelers. Pittsburgh established its tone early last week, rushing Staley eight times on the opening drive.


Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: The Ravens were hit or miss against quarterback Tommy Maddox last season. He was nearly flawless in last year's season opener (134.3 quarterback rating) and mostly horrid in the season finale (22.4). The always-physical matchup between the Steelers' receivers (Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward) and the Ravens' cornerbacks (Gary Baxter and Chris McAlister) has gone back and forth over the years and is considered a wash. Baxter, though, suffered some mental breakdowns in the preseason and in last week's opener. When the Steelers go with three wide receivers, look for them to pick on nickel back Deion Sanders. In a 21-game span, the Ravens have allowed just one quarterback to throw for more than 275 yards.


Special teams: The Ravens' special teams play was embarrassing in the season opener, with penalties, poor returns and kickoffs costing critical field position. The Steelers pinned Oakland inside its 24-yard line on the first seven drives last week, including twice inside the 10. As far as punting, the Ravens' Dave Zastudil averaged 38.7 yards in the opener, while Pittsburgh's Chris Gardocki averaged 43.5 yards. Gardocki holds the NFL record with 984 consecutive punts without a block, which could be challenged by the Ravens' Ed Reed. The Steelers' Antwaan Randle El averaged 12.0 yards on punt returns last season (third in the AFC) and ran back two for touchdowns. The Ravens are feeling out that position and could alternate Sanders and rookie B.J. Sams there more freely this time.


Intangibles: This has become like a home game for the Steelers, who have won six of their past seven games in Baltimore. But the Ravens believe they ended that aura of dominance by beating Pittsburgh, 13-10, at M&T Bank Stadium last season. They also have approached this game with a relaxed yet confident attitude in the locker room all week, not panicking over the possibility of falling to 0-2 in the division this early. Under coach Brian Billick, the Ravens are 10-4 following a road loss. The Ravens have won three of their past four home openers. Pittsburgh hasn't won consecutive games since the end of the 2002 season.


Prediction: Overcoming adversity has been the rallying cry of Billick's teams here, but it won't be easy bouncing back against the Ravens' biggest rival. In a game that should go down to the wire, look for the Ravens to get enough big plays out of Jamal Lewis and their defense.

RAVENS, 16-13


Statistical leaders


Att Com Pct Yds TD Int Lg Rat.

Boller 38 22 57.9 191 0 2 24 49.3

Team 38 22 57.9 191 0 2 24 49.3

Opp. 24 15 62.5 180 1 0 51 99.3


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