The Steelers will change more than quarterbacks Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens. They will change their offense, too.
Todd Haley said he won't just plug Byron Leftwich into injured Ben Roethlisberger's spot and carry on as usual. The offense will have to adapt to Leftwich rather than the other way around.
"Byron is not Ben, and I think it's very important that we and he understand that," Haley said after practice Thursday. "He can't go out there trying to be Ben; he needs to go out there and be Byron.
"This is why I make the point every time you all say 'Haley's offense,' it's not my offense. We're going to do things to cater to the strength of our players. Obviously, that will be critical when you talk about the quarterback position. We're going to cater to Byron's strengths, as opposed to trying to force square pegs into round holes, so to speak."
How refreshing must that be in the executive offices? They've had coordinators in the past who frustrated them by forcing their offense's schemes down their players throats no matter what happened -- different quarterback, new running backs, different types of offensive linemen.
But Haley has shown throughout his career that he adapts to his personnel, most strikingly so when he left his high-flying passing machine in Arizona to a ground-oriented offense in Kansas City.
Now he is presented with the loss of one of the NFL's most elite and versatile quarterbacks, to one who has little mobility but a rifle arm and something else Haley tried to explain about Leftwich.
"I think there is a lot to like about him. ... First and foremost, when you're around Byron for a very short time, you understand that he's just got that it factor. Everybody remembers when he was coming out [at Marshall University] and his team was carrying him down the field with his leg dangling from the knee joint. That isn't something everybody has, but he has it.
"When things occurred in the game last week, there was a great look in his eye. There was never a moment that you really didn't believe and think he was a cool customer. He's been there and done it and he's just got that moxie that good quarterbacks seem to have."
Sunday will be the 50th NFL start for Leftwich, but his first with the Steelers. He guided them to a field-goal drive in the fourth quarter Sunday that staked them to their first lead against Kansas City before the Chiefs tied it and sent it to overtime.
Both Leftwich and Haley said having an entire week to prepare to start should help the quarterback become more comfortable than when he jumped off the bench to play for the first time in the third quarter of the ninth game.
"That's what made it a little difficult for myself as a play-caller, just that you haven't seen him running the plays that we're running, and you try to figure it out on the fly," Haley said about the switch to Leftwich last Sunday. "He always checks the game plan and marks the things he likes and feels good about, and we try to get to those as much as possible.
"That comfort has nothing to do with him knowing where and what to do, it's more [about] developing timing and rapport with the guys catching the ball.
"I speak for everyone, we all feel good about going into this game with Byron playing and Charlie [Batch] as the backup."
It's the Steelers' hottest rivalry and among the best in the NFL, but do their players really hate the Baltimore Ravens?
"You know 'hate' is a terrible word to say," said nose tackle Casey Hampton, who has been part of this series for a dozen years. "I think they hate us, though."
So, why would hate be terrible word for the Steelers to use and not the Ravens?
"Probably because we knock them out of the playoffs all the time. Isn't that what they say. I'd hate us, too."
The Steelers have a 3-0 playoff record against Baltimore that includes one AFC championship that sent them to Super Bowl XLIII, where they claimed their sixth Lombardi Trophy. The Ravens, though, are reigning AFC North Division champs, based on their two-game sweep of the Steelers in 2011.
That puts Baltimore in a position to accomplish something it has done only once as Ravens and only once in three different decades going back to their days as the Cleveland Browns. They can make it three wins in a row against the Steelers Sunday night, when they play at Heinz Field. The only other Baltimore teams to beat them three times in a row did so in a span covering the '05 and '06 seasons.
"You never want to lose to those guys --period," Hampton said. "That's definitely a bad taste in our mouth, losing to them twice in a row. We need to get that turned around."
The Steelers placed linebacker Chris Carter on injured reserve Thursday because of an abdominal injury, ending his season. They signed linebacker Marshall McFadden from their practice squad to replace him on the 53-man roster.
Carter, a fifth-round draft pick from Fresno State in '11, started the first three games of the regular season at right outside linebacker while James Harrison overcame a knee injury. Carter had six tackles, two quarterback pressures and three special-teams tackles.
McFadden played at South Carolina State, where he started 49 games, but was not on a NFL roster his first season ('11).
The Steelers signed him in January, and he went through the entire preseason with them but was released Aug. 31. He has been on their practice squad all season. He will wear No. 40.
The Steelers re-signed tight end Jamie McCoy to take McFadden's place on the practice squad.
• Referee Walt Anderson and his crew will officiate the Sunday night game. Anderson was the referee for Super Bowl XLV between the Steelers and Packers.
• Safety Ryan Clark went through a full practice after meeting with neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon. Clark continued to pass all his ImPACT concussion exams and appears ready to play Sunday.
• Those returning to practice after missing the Wednesday session included defensive end Brett Keisel (shoulder) and offensive tackle Max Starks (ankle).
• With only two healthy quarterbacks on the roster, the Steelers, nevertheless, have decided not to sign one to the practice squad, at least for this week.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published November 16, 2012 5:00 AM