Steelers have been able to dominate the rivalry by making clutch plays
By Mike Preston
The Baltimore Sun
September 9, 2011
Every year, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis delivers his "Where would you rather be?" speech before one of the team's big games.
Before the Ravens open the 2011 season against Pittsburgh Sunday, Lewis should huddle with his teammates and ask them another question: "Where are the playmakers when we play the Steelers?"
In this rivalry of old, historic blue collar cities, Pittsburgh has owned the Ravens lately because the Steelers make big plays late in games, especially their big money players. The Ravens can talk about how close the games have been and how the two teams play a similar style, but the bottom line is that Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley have made plays in the final four minutes of games, and the Ravens have not.
In the last two games, the Ravens have had leads late only to lose to Pittsburgh, the last time 31-24 in an AFC divisional playoff game after leading 21-7 at the half.
Those situations are both unforgettable and unforgivable.
"They spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for the last two out of three years," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "We have to switch that, you know? It's sickening. It ends our season every year. We lose to our division rival. I'm sick of it. I'm disgusted. I'm tired of having a sick feeling in my stomach for a whole year. Game One. Let's go."
Ravens defensive end Cory Redding said: "In our hearts we believe we had them. We did everything we could up until that part where the game turned and they went on to win the game. Obviously, we did things wrong to mess it up, to get the ball out of our court, so to speak, and put the ball back on their side. They made plays. In the last two games against them, we didn't finish."
That's the bottom line. We've heard all the justifications during the past three or four years. Mike Tomlin is a better coach than John Harbaugh. Joe Flacco was a rookie. The Ravens receivers can't get separation. Cam Cameron can't coach. The Ravens need to get a home playoff game.
How about this: Somebody make a play.
In the NFL, a head coach's responsibility is to have his team in position to win in the last four minutes of every game. Then, players have to make plays. Against the Steelers, the Ravens haven't had many players consistently make plays.
Lewis doesn't make a play. Ed Reed doesn't make a play. Anquan Boldin couldn't catch the ball and Ray Rice couldn't hold onto it. The only Raven to consistently beat down the Steelers is Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. He is a Steelers killer.
On the other side, Pittsburgh has many guys who make plays.
Roethlisberger owns the Ravens, having won seven straight. He beat them with a broken nose and a sore foot. Even on a bad day, he'll beat the Ravens in the final two minutes regardless if he has to scramble, throw it sideways or toss it underhand with four defenders draped over him.
"Man, you have to make a play," said Lewis about Roethlisberger. "That's the beauty of the National Football League. The thing is whether he makes one play out of 50. Then maybe it's that one play in the fourth that you need to make an adjustment on. And that's just him being a competitor. So, from my side, we just have to do the same thing. Keep him in the pocket, get him on the ground and play through the whistle. Maybe even sometimes play after the whistle with him, because he's that type of guy."
Baltimoreans hate Ward, the Steelers' talented receiver. So do the Ravens. On crucial second- and third-down situations late in the game, he carves up the Ravens. Maybe that's why he smiles so much when he plays in Baltimore.
And then there is the Polamalu factor. He is either picking off a Flacco pass late in the game to win the AFC title, or knocking Flacco senseless like he did last December because somebody forgot to pick him up at the line of scrimmage. Steelers outside linebackers Woodley and Harrison have had success against the Ravens, and former Pittsburgh receiver Santonio Holmes drove the Ravens crazy before leaving for theNew YorkJets.
But it's not just the big-name Steelers, either. It was rookie Antonio Brown who hauled in that 58-yard pass down the right sideline late in the playoff game last season, and rookie Emmanuel Sanders had four catches for 54 yards in the same game.
The Steelers make plays, and the Ravens don't. It's simple stuff sometimes, like tackle Michael Oher failing to pick up Polamalu on a blitz, or safety Dawan Landry missing a tackle on fullback Issac Redman's 9-yard touchdown run. It's hard to explain how safety Lardarius Webb allowed Brown to get behind him for the bomb on a third and 19 from the Steelers 38 in the final two minutes of the playoff game last year. Also in that game, Boldin couldn't hold onto a possible game-winning touchdown pass in the final quarter, and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh couldn't hold onto a fourth-down conversion pass last season with 63 seconds remaining.
And Flacco, against the Steelers is 2-6, has a QB rating of 68.5, has thrown eight interceptions and only completed 53.4 percent of his passes. Awful.
The Ravens have brought in some new faces to play against the Steelers. They've added more speed at the receiver positions and in the defensive backfield. They brought in a monster fullback to be able to convert on short-yardage situations, a must if a team is going to win in the NFL.
But those aren't the real reasons they can't beat Pittsburgh.
The Steelers make big plays in crunch time and the Ravens don't.
Somebody has to make a play.