Ravens pre­pare for ‘huge’ matchup against ri­val Steel­ers

Bal­ti­more looks to end two-game skid in crit­i­cal mid­sea­son matchup

Cecil Whig - - NATIONAL & LOCAL SPORTS - By JOR­DAN SCHATZ jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com Fol­low Jor­dan Schatz on Twit­ter: @Jor­dan_Whig

— Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco took to the podium at the Un­der Ar­mour Per­for­mance Cen­ter Wed­nes­day sport­ing a clean-shaven face.

It’s a new start for the sud­denly su­per­sti­tious Bal­ti­more Ravens sig­nal caller, who moved on from the beard in the wake of two straight losses that dropped the team to .500 on the sea­son.

“I’ve been think­ing about cut­ting it ev­ery night for about two weeks. It’s not like we’ve been win­ning with it,” Flacco said. “We’ve all got a lit­tle bit of su­per­sti­tion in us, I guess.”

As if the team needed any more mo­ti­va­tion fol­low­ing last week­end’s lop­sided 3621

OWINGS MILLS

road de­feat to the Carolina Pan­thers, the Ravens (44) wel­come the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers (4-2-1) to town this Sun­day — a con­test that still re­mains one of the NFL’s top ri­val­ries.

Bal­ti­more can ill-af­ford a los­ing record at this junc­tion in the cam­paign, with the Steel­ers and Cincin­nati Ben­gals ahead of it in the di­vi­sional race and five other AFC teams with a sim­i­lar or bet­ter record. The Ravens will be search­ing for a sea­son sweep of the Steel­ers af­ter de­feat­ing their arch-ri­val, 26-14, in Week 4.

Since then, Pitts­burgh has rat­tled off three wins in a row, while the Ravens have gone 1-2.

“All of them are huge – es­pe­cially in the AFC, es­pe­cially at home. All of them are huge. The sim­ple fact that we’re play­ing them this time of the sea­son, I don’t think it mat­ters. They still have their guys; they still got who they are. We still got our guys; we’re still go­ing to be who we are. It’s Week 9: Raven­sS­teel­ers, Part Two,” Ravens line­backer Ter­rell Suggs. “I still love these games. I still love play­ing in these games. These games are def­i­nitely a bit more edgy than oth­ers, but at the end of the day, these two teams know each other very well. So, it’s still fun. It’s still fun.”

Bal­ti­more head coach John Har­baugh sees the same type of Steel­ers team that has shown up in years past. Pitts­burgh’s 1-2-1 start to the sea­son is firmly in the past, and the team finds it­self alone atop the AFC North.

“They’ve won three in a row. They’re play­ing re­ally well. I They’re not giv­ing up the big plays like they did a lit­tle more ear­lier in the year. They’ve tight­ened up that par t of it. They’ve talked about that. I’ve seen that. To me, they’re play­ing Steeler foot­ball in that sense,” Har­baugh said. “They’re play­ing hard de­fen­sively. They’ve made big plays on of­fense. They’re run­ning the ball very well. That’s prob­a­bly the big­gest thing that sticks out. They have James Con­ner re­ally rolling. The of­fen­sive line is healthy with [David] DeCas­tro back there. They’re the same team that we’ve seen over the years. They’re play­ing very well, and that’s where they’re at.”

The Ravens en­ter still ranked No. 1 in to­tal de­fense and points al­lowed per game even af­ter a game in which they al­lowed the Pan­thers to gain 386 yards of of­fense.

Of­fen­sively, the Steel­ers have ap­peared to find their iden­tity, scor­ing at least four touch­downs in each game dur­ing their cur­rent win­ning streak. Against Cleve­land a week ago, run­ning back James Con­ner gen­er­ated 212 yards from scrim­mage, in­clud­ing 146 rush­ing yards, 66 re­ceiv­ing yards and two touch­downs.

In their Week 4 matchup, the Ravens lim­ited the Steel­ers to just 19 yards rush­ing and 47 to­tal yards in the sec­ond half.

“The mind­set is we just need to stick to our fun­da­men­tals, keep it sim­ple, and just play ball how we know how to play ball. Some­times, we could prob­a­bly try to do a lit­tle too much as play­ers when things aren’t go­ing the way we want them to go. So, it’s just re­ally set­tling down, re­lax­ing, know­ing that the same team that we’ve been for the last eight weeks – the same de­fense – is still the same guys out there, so we can just out there and play the game how we know how to play it,” said Ravens cor­ner Jimmy Smith, who was kept from the Week 4 con­test as he served the fi­nal game of a sea­son-open­ing four-game sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s per­sonal con­duct pol­icy. “I’m just happy to suit up and get to play against them again. It seems like for the last few years, I’ve only played against them one time – for four or five years, it seems like. So, I’m just ex­cited to play against them. It’s a high-stakes game, so there is go­ing to be a lot that goes into it, and I’m ready for it.”

Most im­por­tantly, it’s a chance to turn the page, en­ter the bye week with an up­lift­ing win over an archri­val and be­gin the sec­ond of the sea­son still firmly in the play­off race. The Ravens have not made the post­sea­son since 2014.

“We’re ready to get to Sun­day. But this op­po­nent, ob­vi­ously with the divi­sion and where it’s at, and we’re one game out with Pitts­burgh lead­ing the way, if we get a win, we’re right in the thick of it. The sky is not fall­ing – we’re 4-4 with eight games to go. So, who knows the way this sea­son is go­ing to end up?” Ravens safety Eric Wed­dle said. “We’re con­fi­dent in what we’re do­ing with our coaches and our play­ers. We just have to go out, play well, play team ball, play for each other and go out and play our style of game.

“It’s great that we get to go against Pitts­burgh, a di­vi­sional op­po­nent, know­ing we have to go play at a high level to get a win. What bet­ter chance [than] to go against a great team?”

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