.Ravens seek to stop Big Ben
OWINGS MILLS – His strong right arm remains cocked back with his eyes fixated downfield at his targets while tacklers jump on his back and dive perilously at his legs: Ben Roethlisberger is all calm in the midst of chaos.
He's the elusive, gritty quarterback the Baltimore Ravens haven't been able to intimidate, and rarely corral or defeat.
Twisting his bulky torso away from defenders' grasp, buying himself a precious extra second of time, Roethlisberger delivers spirals with authority and timing leaving flailing bodies at his feet.
Not even a broken, bloody nose suffered last December when he got bashed in the face by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata detered the Pittsburgh Steelers' clutch passer from his mission: beating the Ravens.
"Roethlisberger is a football player, man," Ravens free safety Ed Reed said. "He's an old-school sandlot football player that knows his situation. He's a quarterback, he's got the ball in his hands and he loves to play the game, and he can run.
"That's always tough playing against him, a guy that's like a Michael Vick. You've got to game-plan for him to scramble. You really can't account for that, for the quarterback to run with the football half the time. Knowing he does that, we have to do something to slow him down."
As the Ravens prepare for a pivotal season-opener against the Steelers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, it's Roethlisberger that they need to vanquish.
Following an AFC divisional playoff victory over Baltimore in January, Roethlisberger is now 9-2 for his career as a starter against the Ravens. That includes seven consecutive victories.
Roethlisberger has nimble feet that defy his burly, 6-foot-5, 241-pound frame.
And the Super Bowl winning quarterback is at his most effective when the degree of difficulty rises to its highest level.
Roethlisberger overcame a sore right foot and a broken nose last December in Baltimore to manufacture a game-winning touchdown with his nine-yard throw to fullback Isaac Redman in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
"Yeah, he's different than most guys," Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "Most guys, you want to get them running and get them out of the pocket and their decision-making goes down. This guy, it's through the roof.
"It's uncanny how accurate he is on the run, how he just creates plays. Especially when he's getting grabbed, if he can keep that arm free, he's dangerous. It's unbelievable how he does it."
Following a suspension last year for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy, he went 5-0 against AFC North opponents. For his career in the division, Roethlisberger is 29-7 with 7,920 yards, 50 touchdowns and 32 interceptions for an 88.8 quarterback rating.
During the past four seasons, the Ravens have only beaten the Steelers three times.
In each of those instances, Roethlisberger wasn't on the field.
Last season, Roethlisberger was serving the final game of his suspension when the Ravens won at Heinz Field. Two seasons ago, he was sidelined with a concussion in the Ravens win. Three years ago, Roethlisberger was rested as Charlie Batch started during a loss to Baltimore where the Steelers had already clinched a playoff berth.
He's not about to get outwardly cocky, though, or accuse the Ravens of talking too much as beefy nose guard Casey Hampton famously did this week.
"I think the Ravens are pretty tough,"Roethlisberger said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I mean, busted my nose last year on like the third play. So, you'll never hear me say something like that."
What you will hear Roethlisberger talk about is his deep respect for Ravens four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, his frequent nemesis.
As much as Roethlisberger has built a reputation as the Ravens' albatross, Suggs is the equivalent for the Steelers.
He has recorded 10 ½ sacks during the regular season against Pittsburgh with 76 tackles, one interception, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
He's been even more of a scourge during the playoffs with a career-high three sacks against Pittsburgh during last season's playoff game and two sacks in the AFC championship in Pittsburgh three years ago.
No one has sacked Roethlisberger more than Suggs with 12 ½ sacksagainst Roethlisberger, including the playoffs.
"He's such a ferocious player," Roethlisberger said."He's got really long arms and legs and he uses his hands really well. He's super athletic, fast, strong and ferocious. Something that people really don't write about is his intimidation factor alone.
"When you line up across from him, I think a lot of linemen and running backs and tight ends before the play even starts are a little intimidated because of his reputation of being such a good, ferocious player. I'm still looking for a weakness in his game. He's pretty doggone good."
Just as the Ravens make special preparations for Roethlisberger, Suggs expects the Steelers to place a gauntlet of blockers in front of him to create obstacles to prevent him from hitting their quarterback.
"I guarantee you they've got something in store where I won't be one-on-one with any of their tackles," said Suggs. "It's going to start with a chip, Heath Miller or a back. I won't be one-on-one with them, because they remember the playoff game. They remember all the games I've had."
And Suggs won't be consumed or distracted by flattery.
"They're trying to psych us out," Suggs said. "They're going to do everything possible to make sure I don't have a good game."
He's convinced that the Steelers aren't scared of him.
"I don't think they're rattled at all," he said. "I think it's a sign of respect. It definitely is, but I don't care."'
No active NFL player has as many sacks against the Steelers during the regular season as Suggs.
And only one other NFL team -- the Cleveland Browns -- has had as much trouble blocking Suggs with a dozen sacks surrendered to the former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
What is it about the Steelers that pushes Suggs' motivational buttons?
"I just don't want to lose, so every time I play them I crank it up," Suggs said. "That could explain it, but it doesn't matter if the Steelers end up winning the game."
Notebook: Gurode getting up to speed
Ravens list no players on injury report
Considering that the Baltimore Ravens aren't even listing center Matt Birk on the injury report following surgery on his left knee last month, it's unlikely that they'll need new center Andre Gurode to stand in for him on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Just in case, though, the former Dallas Cowboys five-time Pro Bowl center intends to be prepared.
"If the challenge is there and the opportunity is there, if I can master the playbook, I'm going to do my best to learn the offense and be ready to play on Sunday, " Gurode said.
Birk practiced fully and is expected to start.
And he's been helping Gurode get up to speed on the playbook.
"Matt is a guy who has taught me a lot over the years," Gurode said. "He was actually at my first Pro Bowl, and we have been talking back and forth over the practice schedule and things of that nature. He has helped me fit into the offense, and I am here to do whatever I can to help the team win."
Gurode visited the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots before signing a one-year deal with Baltimore worth at least $1.5 million with a maximum value of $3 million. He played high school football with Ravens defensive end Cory Redding in Houston.
"The Ravens won because I thought I'd look slimmer in black," Gurode said with a laugh. "No, it's a very great, a very great organization. It's a good fit for me, and I am looking forward to doing some big things."
Gurode was cut by the Cowboys primarily due to his $5.5 million base salary.
"It was a salary-cap issue," Gurode said. "All respect to the Cowboys organization and Jerry Jones, I had a great time there, but I have moved on in my career. Now, I'm a Raven and I'm looking forward to enjoying it and seeing how the game is going to play out on Sunday."
GARRARD TO BALTIMORE IS UNLIKELY: The Ravens aren't expected to pursue former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard.
Garrard is seeking a starting job.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal on whether the team is interested in Garrard.
"I don't know," he said. "We had practice and meetings, so I haven't been involved in any of that. We're always looking for ways to make our team better."
At this stage of the season with Joe Flacco completely healthy, the Ravens aren't in the market for a veteran backup.
Taylor passed for 408 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in four preseason games, gaining 106 rushing yards on 11 carries for one touchdown.
"Tyrod is our backup quarterback," Harbaugh said. "Look at the roster. I sure like Tyrod as a football player. He had a beck of a preseason. If he goes into a game to play quarterback, that opponent is going to have their hands full."
NO INJURIES: The Ravens didn't list any players on their first injury report of the season as they practiced in their indoor facility due to rain flooding their practice fields.
That includes Birk, wide receiver Lee Evans (left ankle), cornerback Chris Carr (left hamstring), offensive guard Marshal Yanda (back spasms) and rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor (bruised left shoulder).
"I do feel back up to snuff," Carr said. "I feel good. Whatever they want me to do, I'll be ready for. You don't want to be on the sidelines."
For the Steelers, reserve linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) didn't practice.
Backup wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and backup offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) were limited.
ZBIKOWSKI TO START?: The Ravens have yet to declare whether Tom Zbikowski or Bernard Pollard will start at strong safety.
Each started two games apiece during the preseason.
Pollard is a big blitzing presence and in run support at 6-foot-1, 228 pounds and also intercepted one pass.
Zbikowski made no big plays during the preseason, but applies tight coverage.
Pollard appeared to suggest that he won't be starting against Pittsburgh.
"I guess we'll see," Pollard said. "My main purpose and goal is to help this team in whatever way I can. If that's starting, if that's coming off the bench, it's an adjustment for me. It really is.
"I'm a competitive person, I love to play. I haven't come off the bench in a while, so it's just one of those things now where I have to adjust, but it's not going to take that fire out of me. When I get on the field, I'm going to be a dog."
Pollard recorded 112 tackles last season as a starter for the Houston Texans, and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has spoken highly of his physical presence.
"I think Chuck and the rest of the coaches know what I'm capable of," Pollard said. "I know what I'm capable of, but it's just one of those things now where I've got to sit back and watch this thing, and when it's time for me to go in, I'm going to wreak havoc. ..
"On this team, on the field, you have bullets, and that's what I love. I'm a dog at heart. I'm one of those guys who I want to come in and do whatever I have to do to help this team win in any way that I can."
FLEXIBILITY: Because of the mobility and route-running ability of tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, they could be utilized as slot receivers in a pinch.
"Yeah, I definitely could," Pitta said. "It's something I did my whole high school career and my whole career at BYU. It's a position that I'm comfortable with."
Both Dickson and Pitta have been thrust into larger roles this season with the departure of Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap.
"This is why we're here," Pitta said. "This is what we've been working for all offseason and training camp for these kinds of opportunities. We know we're ready to play."
QUICK HITS: Gurode is accustomed to the Cowboys'fierce rivalry with the Washington Redskins.
Now, he's about to be indoctrinated into another one.
"I have asked a few of the guys on the team about the rivalry and how deep the disgust between the teams exists, that's a nice way of saying it," Gurode said. "The Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is pretty serious, but I don't think I have ever seen anything like a rivalry like this."
Former Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice hasn't forgotten his key fumble during the Ravens' playoff loss last January to the Steelers.
"As a player, you're only as good as your last game,"Rice said. "That is the last memory. I'm not going to blame that fumble on me being sick, because that's the same game I scored a touchdown in. Obviously, you just want to get back out there and prove yourself all over again that I'm not a fumbler.
"I had some kind of streak going, so hopefully, I can start the streak again this year and keep it going. But, you're only as good as your last game and there's always that itch." …
The Ravens and Steelers can't wait to resume their grudge match, especially a Baltimore team that's tired of losing in the playoffs to their division rivals.
"They spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for the last two out of three years," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We have to switch that, you know? 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."
All of the trash talking exchanged during the offseason between the two teams didn't go unnoticed by Suggs.
"A lot of us were bored this offseason," Suggs said."We know everybody is expecting a gang fight, so we're just going to hold up our end of the bargain.
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