Perception and reality differ on key to Steelers victory
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense cannot be one-dimensional against the Ravens if they want to win Sunday, coordinator Bruce Arians said.
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In order to beat the New England Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 50 times. Everyone knows that formula must be reversed against Baltimore. In order to beat the Ravens, the Steelers need to run more often and do so more successfully.
"Ultimately, it comes down to whoever rushes better against each other is usually the winner in this series," said Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks, a veteran of the Steelers-Ravens wars but not that opening-day bloodletting this season.
"You can look at the team that has the most rushing yards [as the one that] usually wins."
That sounds good in theory, but it's not true. The team that has piled up more yards rushing in the past two seasons, lost more often. In the five games the teams played in 2009 and '10, the team with the higher run yardage lost three of them.
Things reverted to the kind of form generally associated with this series when Baltimore outrushed the Steelers, 170-66, in the opener and ran away with a 35-7 victory.
The Steelers, however, were running the ball reasonably well in the first half with 60 yards on 10 carries. Even though they trailed, 21-7, that ground game did well enough that they tried it again on the first play of the second half.
Ben Roethlsiberger took the snap, tried to hand off to Rashard Mendenhall and both met Haloti Ngata in the backfield. Baltimore recovered the fumble from that collision and, on the next play, Joe Flacco threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ray Rice. Baltimore 29, Steelers 7.
"Dang, first time we played them we were running the ball this good and then we had the miscommunication coming out of halftime," coordinator Bruce Arians recalled Thursday. "The play we ran was the same play we ran for 8 or 9 yards early -- fumble and game's over. Those are the kinds of errors we just can't have."
It was one of seven turnovers by the Steelers that day, none for the Ravens.
But the Steelers believe they can run Sunday night, even though they have done less and with less effectiveness against most everybody this season.
"The running game is very important," Starks said. "When you get one-dimensional and passing all over the place, that's when the game gets tough. I think our personnel matches up very well against their defensive front seven to accommodate that and establish the run in this game."
Arians said striking a balance is more important against Baltimore than merely establishing the run.
"When you play a defense as good as these guys, you can't get one dimensional on either phase," Arians said. "If you're going to try running it, they're going to stuff you. If you're going to try to throw it every down, they'll get you. They pride themselves, as we do, on their great third-down defense."
Here's a new twist to an old story: Another Steelers player was fined this week, and, not only did he agree with the fine, but he also believes the NFL is doing the right thing.
That player also happens to be safety Ryan Clark, who in the past has been an outspoken critic of fines levied on the Steelers by the NFL. Clark, the team's representative to the NFL Players Association, was fined $15,000 for a hit out of bounds on New England tight end Rob Gronkowski in the third quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.
"It's part of the rules, though, man," Clark said. "If you get a personal foul, they've been fining for that. I have to be smarter in that sense and not put myself in that position."
Clark joins many other teammates who have been fined this season for various infractions, including Chris Kemoeatu who had a double-whammy the week before for two penalties, a personal foul and hands to the face that cost him $25,000.
Kemoeatu also was caught for another foul for hands to the face against the Patriots, but he was not fined for that, perhaps because he said he pulled off this time.
"You have to understand that, if they see something that they feel is outside the rules, you're going to get a fine for it," Clark said.
"That's just the way the game is going. They're really setting high standards for fair play, and they're also setting high standards for player safety. That's something that we as players want to implement.
"They're being proactive in that approach so we have to find ways to make sure we play within those guidelines."
The fine for his hit on Gronkowski was strictly for hitting him out of bounds, Clark said, and not for hitting him too hard or to the head. He has, however, made a more determined effort lately to lay down some harder hits.
"Lawrence Timmons and I always joke about who can get the hardest hit every game," Clark said. "We have like this running pool of who is going to get gets the hardest hit every game.
"There was like two weeks neither one of us did anything. We had a lot of tackles but just weren't making any impact, physical plays. I just decided that every time I hit, every time I run to the ball, I need to be as violent and as efficient as possible, and that's what I'm doing. It hurts, though, I'm not feeling too great about it."
Clark leads the team with 52 tackles.
The Steelers are not counting on Emmanuel Sanders to play Sunday night after spending all week in Texas following his mother's death Tuesday.
Her funeral will be held Saturday.
Sanders has 18 receptions for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"It's hard when you lose your mother at a very young age, to come back and play," Arians said.
"Even if he makes it back in time, this is something we're not expecting. Our prayers and hearts just go out to him and his family."
James Harrison went through another practice without any ill effects, and as long as he passes his eye test today or Saturday, he will play Sunday.
"It's all up to the doctors, if they feel comfortable with it," Harrison said.
Fellow linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior also were listed as being limited in practice, as was tackle Jonathan Scott.
Game: Ravens (5-2) at Steelers (6-2).
Where: Heinz Field.
When: 8:20 p.m. Sunday.
First Published November 4, 2011 12:00 am