If the reigning Super Bowl champions Pittsburgh Steelers have an Achilles' heel, it might be their poor kickoff coverage.
The Steelers have allowed an NFL-high four kickoff-return touchdowns in five games this season, including in the past two contests.
Pittsburgh's sudden vulnerability sounds enticing to a Ravens squad that ranks eighth in the NFL in average start on kickoffs (28.2-yard line).
"We look to break a kick every week," said rookie Lardarius Webb, who returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 1. "It doesn't matter if they haven't had a kick broke on them ever or if they've had two or three. It's no different for us. We look at the game the same way, and we try to attack them in all phases of the game. We know that they have let some kicks go back, but that's the part they're going to tighten up. So we're going to keep on attacking people the same way and keep studying them the same way."
Production from the kickoff-return unit could translate into short fields for the offense and potential points, which are at a premium against the Steelers' defense, which ranks first in the NFL in yards allowed and eighth in points.
"Oh yeah, we've got to," fullback Le'Ron McClain said of attacking the Pittsburgh coverage unit. "We plan on doing that every week. Our goal is to go in and make a difference on special teams and in the return game especially."
Until now, the only previous season the Steelers surrendered as many as three kickoff-return touchdowns was 1986. The troubles have forced the team to cut three players and sign two, including former Raven Corey Ivy.
"We've missed some tackles," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got to exhibit the passion that's required to play that, and maybe we've lacked a little bit in that regard. We've acquired some men that I think will bring some passion to it, and we've got to be a little bit better schematically. I think that when you've failed the way we've failed in that area, you've got to look at all aspects of it, which we are, and make an accounting of it."
Suggs' status uncertain
Linebacker Terrell Suggs
could offer nothing definitive Thursday about his availability for Sunday night.
Suggs, who sat out Sunday's 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts and missed the first game of his seven-year NFL career, said the sprained ligament in his left knee is slowly improving. But he wouldn't go so far as to say that he would suit up.
"We'll have to see when I get there," said Suggs, who has recorded 50 tackles and 10 sacks in 13 career games against Pittsburgh. "We don't know right now. It could go either way. But it is the Steelers."
In addition to Suggs, linebacker Ray Lewis (foot) and free safety Ed Reed (foot) did not practice for the second consecutive day. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right ankle) was limited for the second straight day.
Tight ends Todd Heap (chest) and L.J. Smith (illness) and center Matt Birk ( neck) fully practiced. Birk and Smith did not practice Wednesday, while Heap was limited. Linebacker Jarret Johnson (left shoulder) fully practiced for the second consecutive day.
More carries for McClain?
Could the signing of fullback Charles Ali
mean more time for McClain at tailback?
When the team elected not to re-sign fullback Lorenzo Neal during this past offseason, McClain became the team's lone fullback. But as a tailback last season, McClain rushed for 902 yards (eighth in the AFC) and 10 touchdowns (tied for third in the conference).
"I hope that's the case, but I really don't know," a smiling McClain said. "I haven't heard anything about it. I'm just waiting for my shot. If they give me a chance to do it, I'm just going to take advantage of every carry I can get to try to help this team win."
News that Pittsburgh had signed Ivy drew smiles from his former teammates.
But the Ravens agreed that Ivy's value in terms of providing inside information might be a little overstated.
"With every team, you're going to see a foundation under the offense," wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "From that, you have your variations, and we certainly have our variations that don't allow you to really just key in on our stuff. So I can't say that it'll help much."
Tomlin denied that the Steelers signed Ivy to scout the Ravens, saying: "We know the Ravens pretty good, just like they know us pretty good. Corey's presence here has nothing to do with insight, and more to do with his ability to make plays in the special teams game."
For Pittsburgh, strong safety Troy Polamalu
(strained posterior collateral ligament in left knee) missed practice for the second straight day. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu
, who also did not practice, has already been ruled out because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Running back Willie Parker
(hip) joined defensive end Travis Kirschke
(torn calf muscle) in being limited. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
(head) fully participated for the second consecutive day. ... Wide receiver Hines Ward
and linebacker James Farrior
- both of whom did not practice Wednesday because of non-injury-related reasons - were taken off the injury report. ... The Ravens held practice one hour earlier than initially scheduled for the Thanksgiving holiday.