Head to Head: Steelers LB James Farrior vs. Ravens RB Ray Rice
It is not so much that Ray Rice rushed for 88 yards on 19 carries in Baltimore's first meeting against the Steelers -- the most by an opposing running back this season.
Nor is it particularly disturbing that two weeks after the Ravens' 20-17 overtime victory against the Steelers, Rice ran for 166 yards on only 13 carries in a lopsided 48-3 victory against the Detroit Lions -- the same two-win Lions team the Steelers struggled to beat earlier this season.
What is especially troublesome for the Steelers, who haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 36 consecutive games (including playoffs), is what Rice does when he catches passes out of the backfield for the Ravens. They only need to refer to their first meeting for proof. And concern.
"That's evident by them throwing him the ball and catching it 73 times," said nose tackle Casey Hampton, referring to the number of team-high catches Rice has for the Ravens.
"They feel if they throw the ball in his hands and he gets 9 yards every time, that's way better than a run."
It was bad enough when Rice ran off left guard for 19 yards to the Steelers' 4 on the opening series, setting up a Ravens touchdown.
Or when he carried on four consecutive plays for 19 yards in overtime to set up the winning field goal.
But the play on which Rice did the most damage was the type of play the Steelers have had trouble defending this season: A short pass over the line of scrimmage that he turned into a 44-yard gain on fourth-and-5 from the Ravens' 46 with 2:51 remaining. That play resulted in Cundiff's 24-yard field goal to force overtime.
The Steelers were in man coverage on that play and Rice slipped behind inside linebacker James Farrior just 7 yards beyond the scrimmage line. However, he ran 37 more yards after the catch to the Steelers' 10, breaking tackle attempts by linebacker Lawrence Timmons and safety Ryan Clark along the way.
"We've got to contend with him better than we did the last time," coach Mike Tomlin said.
Not many teams have been able to do that. Rice is one of only three players in the league to lead his team in rushing (1,128) and receptions (73 catches) -- Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams are the others -- and has become the catalyst for a Ravens offense that is averaging 25 points per game after scoring 79 in the past two combined.
The Steelers are hoping they have developed a Rice-like weapon of their own.
Rashard Mendenhall rushed for only 38 yards on 11 carries in the 37-36 victory against the Green Bay Packers, but he caught six passes for 73 yards, including two each of 25 yards, and had a 14-yard touchdown catch wiped out by penalty.
"He really is becoming a guy that can help us in all areas, similar to what Ray Rice is doing in Baltimore," Tomlin said.
That will be some contribution if he does.
First Published December 27, 2009 12:00 am