On the Steelers: Jumping right into the fire


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The two bullies on the AFC North block will open the season Sunday in Baltimore, where footballs, insults and maybe even fists will fly. There will be no easing into the 2011 season for the Steelers and Ravens.

"I think the league scheduled this game for a reason. It's going to be good to be a part of it," said Hines Ward, who has played in 28 of the 33 games between the two franchises. "We're going into the lion's den. It's going to be a tough one. Last year we won down there; I know those guys are thinking about that."

When it comes to the Steelers, the Ravens may be thinking too much, at least that's how nose tackle Casey Hampton sees it.

"They talk a whole lot," Hampton said. "They don't like us. I think they don't like us a lot more than we don't like them. I think they have to talk themselves into it, kind of, know what I mean? Since I've been here, we've beat them a lot more than they beat us. They have to talk about it a whole lot."

The Steelers are 14-9 against Baltimore since Hampton was drafted in 2001, including 3-0 in the postseason. Lately, they've had even more success, winning six of the past eight against the Ravens, including the AFC championship game in the 2008 season and last year's comeback 31-24 victory in the playoffs, both at Heinz Field.

In their past nine meetings, only one has been decided by more than a touchdown. The Steelers took a major step toward the AFC North title Dec. 5 in Baltimore with a 13-10 victory after Troy Polamalu's sack/fumble of Joe Flacco that led to Isaac Redman's 9-yard touchdown reception with 2:51 left. The Steelers then came back from a 14-point halftime deficit to beat the Ravens in the playoffs.

"It seems like they always have us beat and we always end up beating them, and they always feel like they should have won." Hampton said. "That's what makes it so sweeter.

"At the end of the day, if you win you win, no matter how you get it done. We have two physical teams that kind of play similar styles. We just seem to come out on the winning end more."

Hampton has his own reason for that. The Steelers, he said, have a better deep passing game.

"I think our defenses are similar, but I think our offense can score a lot of points. I think that's kind of been the difference, our offense being able to score points at crunch time.

"They got a really good offense running the ball, but I think our passing game, being able to pass the ball, I think that's kind of [been the difference] the last few times we played them."

LaMarr Woodley has said the Steelers have an edge because of Ben Roethlisberger vs. Joe Flacco at quarterback. Hampton added another superiority on the Steelers side.

"They don't have the receivers we have ... as far as stretch-the-field kind of receivers, I should say."

Harrison at '75 or 80 percent'

James Harrison is gaining strength, the pain down his legs has dissipated and he feels better than he did for three-fourths of last season as he prepares to open this one.

That's mostly good news for the 2008 NFL defensive player of the year who has made the past four Pro Bowls. He had two back surgeries in March to repair a problem he said bothered him for the final 12-14 games of 2010. Those surgeries, described as simple discectomies, were a little more involved than that, Harrison said.

"They shaved a couple disks, shaved it off and sewed it back up and went back in [a week later] because they missed an area and had to hit it again," Harrison explained. "They shaved it off, sewed it back up.

"I don't have the pain going down my legs or anything else. I just don't have the same strength because they dug pretty deep in my back. It's not going to help but I'll deal with it the same way I did last year, at least for the last 12-14 weeks. I'll do all right."

Harrison said his strength has returned to about 75 or 80 percent of what it once was but that he's getting stronger daily, measured by working on the field and in the weight room.

"I do heavier weights than I did before and practice longer."

And the winner is ...

The participants in the next season of "Dancing With the Stars" have been announced and the defending champ has his favorite. Hines Ward would like to see his former dance partner, Kym Johnson, win it again.

"I want Kym to do well," said Ward, who teamed with Johnson to win the previous season's title in May. "She's with David Arquette so I'm always going to root for her. She taught me a lot. I know she'll teach David a lot, too."

Ward and Johnson stay in touch and he said he has tickets to a Steelers game for the native Australian at Heinz Field ready for her when the show ends in November.

"She'll be here; I'll teach her a little American football."

Looking ahead

• What: Steelers at Ravens.

• When: 1 p.m. Sunday.

• TV: KDKA


For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.


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