Steelers notebook: Offensive line hurts Ravens


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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh might not be on the best of terms after their postgame handshake flap a year ago in Baltimore, but they do have something in common this season. Both have cringed at times when watching their offensive lines try to protect their $100 million quarterbacks.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who signed a $120 million contract after leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in February, has been under even more duress than Ben Roethlisberger.

The Ravens have given up 19 sacks, which is as many as the embattled Steelers offensive line has allowed. Only six other teams have allowed more sacks.

The Ravens offensive line also has allowed Flacco to be hurried 69 times. Only the New York Giants have allowed more quarterback hurries this season.

Like Tomlin, Harbaugh has benched his starting left tackle. Baltimore traded for Eugene Monroe and plugged him in the place of veteran Bryant McKinnie, who struggled to protect Flacco's blind side in the first five games.

Monroe is one of two new faces on the Ravens line. Gino Gradkowski, a Seton-LaSalle High School graduate, is in his first season starting in place of Matt Birk, who retired.

A struggling offensive line will be a welcome sight for the Steelers, who finally broke through with a consistent pass rush in their 19-6 victory Sunday against the New York Jets. The Steelers, who struggled so much to pressure opposing quarterbacks in their 0-4 start, recorded three sacks against the Jets, or one fewer than they had against the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings combined.

Pressuring Flacco, who has enjoyed great success against the Steelers in recent years, will be important if the Steelers want to notch victory No. 2 this week.

"I think it will be vital for us to have success," said defensive end Cameron Heyward, who was credited with four hurries against the Jets. "Pressures and sacks, if we can force him off a target and leave the ball up in the air a little longer and give a chance for our defensive backs and linebackers to make plays, then I think it can have a great effect on the game."

The fact the Steelers won for the first time with the defensive front applying pressure in the passing game while doing better job against the run is not a coincidence. The pressure -- they also were credited with 16 hurries of Geno Smith in addition to the three sacks -- helped force two turnovers and put the Jets into unfavorable down and distances most of the game.

"It played extremely well," safety Ryan Clark said. "Rush and coverage go together. Getting some pressure on Geno early allowed us to make some plays late in the game."

"The main thing was stopping them on first and second down," Heyward added. "That put them in some situations where they didn't have the whole playbook to use on third down. When we do that, we can pin our ears back and light our hair on fire."

With so much upheaval along the offensive line, Flacco has had a hard time picking up where he left off last season when he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs en route to his first Super Bowl championship.

Flacco's quarterback rating is 76.2, which is on pace to be the lowest of his career. He also has completed 57.9 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and eight interceptions. Flacco has never thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his previous five NFL seasons.

One of the reasons Flacco has struggled to match his success from previous seasons is the lack of a consistent running game. The Ravens are 27th in the league in rushing offense, averaging 72.7 yards per game.

Roster move

The Steelers signed receiver Devon Wylie to their practice squad. Wylie was a fourth-round draft choice of the Kansas City last season and caught six passes in six games for the Chiefs. Wylie, a 5-foot-9, 187-pounder who played at Fresno State, had been a member of the Arizona Cardinals practice squad this season.

Steelers

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published October 16, 2013 8:02 PM


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