Baltimore Ravens Thursday Team Notes

There are two goals for the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night: clinch a playoff spot and secure a spot in the record books for Jamal Lewis. To accomplish the first, the Ravens probably need to reach the second one, too. In the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh, Baltimore believes its playoff hopes ride on the success of Lewis.

The Ravens running back needs 154 yards rushing to break the NFL single-season mark of 2,105, which was set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. Baltimore, which likely needs to win to capture the AFC North title, is 3-0 when Lewis gains over 150 yards. "The great thing for us is that this game is for the whole ball of wax for us to go to the playoffs," said Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We don't have to play any other mind games about, 'What does this mean? Is he up? Is he down? When do you pull him out?' "We're going to need every bit of whatever number he needs to get the record, whether it's 2,000 or above, to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he has to run the ball 50 times for us to win on Sunday, he'll run the ball 50 times."

Baltimore could clinch the AFC North title a couple hours before its Sunday night game. If the Cleveland Browns pull an upset win in Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon, the Ravens would claim the first division title in franchise history. But the Ravens aren't banking on any help. "Cincinnati is going to beat Cleveland," Billick said. "They just are. I have a tough time believing that Cleveland is going to go into Cincinnati, and where they are, mindset now, hell, their players last week said they wanted Cincinnati to win. So we are approaching it only one way."
If the Ravens have to win to get into the playoffs, Lewis will have a better shot at catching Dickerson. "The record is attainable," Lewis said.

But Lewis has never had a 100-yard game against the Steelers and has averaged 70.5 yards rushing against them. "If you look at how many carries I've had, it kind of adds up," said Lewis, who has averaged 14 carries in his last three games against Pittsburgh. "I've never really gotten the ball against those guys. Hopefully, they'll feed me this week and I'll get the ball a lot more."

In order for the Ravens to stick to their run-oriented game plan, they need to keep a lead or within striking distance of Pittsburgh. If they fall to far behind, the Ravens will have to pass to play catch-up. "In order to beat Pittsburgh, we have to defend the pass better than we have, plain and simple," Billick said. "We can't let them get cranked up in their passing game and create any kind of separation that could arbitrarily push us out of our profile."

SERIES HISTORY: 16th meeting. The Steelers lead the series, 11-4, and have won their last six trips to Baltimore. Their last meeting was this season's opener which was won by Pittsburgh, 34-15, at Heinz Field. Tommy Maddox threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--The Ravens will log in a full week while the Steelers received a couple of extra days off for the holidays. The Ravens practiced Christmas but didn't convene until noon, about four hours later than normal.  "This is the routine we have practiced, pretty much throughout, when this has come up this way," Billick said. "We'll get what we need to get done on Thursday and be back to a normal routine." 

Meanwhile, the Steelers didn't practice Monday, Tuesday or Thursday. Monday was a reward for Sunday's victory, Tuesday was the regular day off and Thursday was added since Pittsburgh is out of the playoffs. When asked if he was a Grinch because coach Bill Cowher gave the Steelers Thursday off, Billick said, "Yeah, well, Bill's a helluva lot nicer than I am. You all know I'm an arrogant prick. There is no getting around that."

--There's more importance on playing Pittsburgh than clinching a playoff spot for quarterback Anthony Wright. It was four years ago when Wright was let go by the Steelers after one year with the franchise. "I've been waiting for this one, trust me," Wright said. "I'm going to try to not focus on that. I'm going to try to stay focused on our situation and do the things I need to do to make sure we win the game. Of course, I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. It's finally here. But I'm not going to harp on it."

--The Ravens top the league in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.9), which will be tested by the likes of Pittsburgh receivers Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward. This duo have combined for 13.2-yards per catch and 14 touchdowns. "I think you've seen that group progress all year long," Billick said of his secondary. "This group is playing at an elite level. This will be an elite test."

--In the last meeting with Pittsburgh, the most embarrassing touchdown allowed came in the third quarter, when safety Ed Reed was faked out by Steelers tight end Jay Riemersma for 20-yard touchdown pass over the middle. After the game, Cowher said the play was "designed to get Jay matched up one-on-one against Ed Reed, and he just beat him really bad."
When asked about the play this week, Reed said, "They got what they wanted last game. Let's see about this one. Pittsburgh-Baltimore, Sunday night, tune in."

--Art Modell went out as a winner in Cleveland. In the final time Modell fielded a team in Cleveland, the Ravens routed the Browns, 35-0, on Sunday. Modell, 78, owned the Browns for 34 years before relocating the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season. "[The win in Cleveland] didn't mean anything more than the season-opening game in Pittsburgh," Modell said. "You don't carry emotions on your sleeve. I had a good run, and I'm very proud of my record."

--Playing 11 snaps in mop-up duty Sunday, Kyle Boller made his first appearance in a game since injuring his quadriceps muscle in St. Louis. Boller said making calls under center in a live game would only benefit him if starter Anthony Wright is injured and he has to go in against the Steelers. "It was good to be back in the huddle with my boys," said Boller, who was 5-4 in starting the first nine games of the season. "My leg feels great. Anytime you get in there and get that game experience, it's irreplaceable."

--In the 40 games that running back Jamal Lewis and linebacker Ray Lewis (no relation) have played together over the last four years, the Ravens are 27-13.

--The Ravens are 27-13 in games played in November and December, the league's fifth-best winning percentage in those months.

--When leading at halftime, the Ravens are 8-0. When they trail by six or more points at the end of the first quarter, they are 0-4.

--The Ravens have outscored their opponents, 147-65 in the fourth quarter.

--When the Ravens force multiple turnovers, they are 9-1.

--In five seasons under Billick, the Ravens have a 24-6 record when they produce a 100-yard rusher.

BY THE NUMBERS: 30.4 -- Average points scored allowed by the Ravens in the last five games against Pittsburgh.

 QUOTE TO NOTE: "As much as he's given us, and as much as he's done for the NFL, it would be nice to give him something great in return." -- Linebacker Peter Boulware on making the playoffs for out-going owner Art Modell.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The knee injury to Peter Boulware may limit him to being a rush end on passing situations and take him out of the Ravens' regular packages. Under that scenario, Terrell Suggs and Cornell Brown -- both of whom were backups to begin the season -- would become the starting outside linebackers. Brown is more of a run stopper while Suggs is more athletic.
Teams usually try to take advantage of Brown's weakness in dropping back to defend the pass and Suggs' inconsistency to contain the outside run.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES:
--RG Bennie Anderson (knee) is questionable but practiced. If he isn't at full strength, the Ravens may rotate him with Casey Rabach.
--LB Peter Boulware (knee) is questionable and did not practice. The team remains optimistic that Boulware will play but it's likely a game-time decision.
--LB Ed Hartwell (chest) is questionable but practiced. He is expected to start.
--TE John Jones (leg) is questionable and may not play.
--Jamal Lewis continues to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,952 yards, which is 360 more than New Orleans' Deuce McAllister, the league's second-leading rusher.
--Lewis needs 48 yards to become the fifth running back in NFL history to reach 2,000 yards and 154 yards to set the NFL's single-season rushing record.
--Linebacker Ray Lewis needs one more tackle to set a new franchise record in tackles. He currently has 210 tackles, matching his career best in 1997.
--Safety Ed Reed needs one more interception to tie Rod Woodson for the Ravens' single-season record of seven.

GAME PLAN: The Ravens have been riding running back Jamal Lewis all season but they still believe the best way to beat Pittsburgh is throwing the ball. Look for Baltimore to try to run early, baiting the Steelers to put eight or nine defenders in the box. Then, the Ravens won't hesitate to go over the top with jump balls to Marcus Robinson and Todd Heap.
Defensively, the Ravens feel more confident than ever they can stop the Steelers' passing game. Baltimore likes its matchups of cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter against Pittsburgh receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. What also helps is the Ravens' resurgent pass rush against a Steelers offense that has given up 37 sacks this season.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Ravens pass defense vs. Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox. The Ravens have the fourth-ranked pass defense. Since Gary Baxter has moved to cornerback, the Ravens have not allowed over 190 yards passing and have seven interceptions while giving up two touchdowns through the air. In three starts against the Ravens, Maddox is 59-for-83 for 626 yards, with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. 

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis vs. Steelers run defense. Lewis has cracked 100 yards in 11 of 15 games this season, averaging a league-best 130 yards rushing per game. In four starts, Lewis has averaged 70.5 yards rushing against Pittsburgh. The Steelers rank 11th in the NFL in run defense and have held teams to 107.5 yards rushing.

INJURY IMPACT: RG Bennie Anderson (knee) could be replaced by Casey Rabach, who is more athletic but lacks power in run blocking.
--LB Peter Boulware (knee) may be limited to pass-rushing duties and could be replaced by Terrell Suggs at linebacker in running situations.


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