Ravens in do-or-die situation against Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- Bone-rattling hits, bruising runs and a reversal of a negative trend are what the Baltimore Ravens need to topple their chief rival and avoid drowning in a crowded playoff pool.<br><br> In a football game likely to define their season, the Ravens are facing two formidable opponents: the Pittsburgh Steelers, and themselves.

Not only do the Ravens (8-6) need a road win today to keep alive the majority of their most viable scenarios to secure the sixth and final AFC playoff berth, they have to do it against the Steelers (13-1). And Pittsburgh features the NFL's top-ranked defense and have dispatched nine opponents in a row at Heinz Field.

However, Baltimore is foundering near the finish line by losing three of its last four games and has an all-time record of 1-3 at this stadium including three consecutive losses. The newly crowned AFC North champion Steelers have won 12 consecutive games since a 30-13 loss to Baltimore three months ago.
The offense is struggling to generate points on the road, averaging 10.3 points away from Baltimore in losing four of seven games, and struggling with untimely turnovers from second-year quarterback Kyle Boller.

Boller threw two interceptions in last week's 20-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Yet, the Ravens can create a foothold in the climb to the playoffs by crafting another patented smash-mouth performance with a physical running game, stout run defense and a stingy secondary.

To have the opportunity to prove themselves playoff-worthy against Pittsburgh, the Ravens say, all that much the better.

"We love that scenario," tight end Todd Heap. "We love being in this position. There's something on the line, we're playing for something, but it's Pittsburgh.

"We're going to play hard no matter what, whatever the situation, regardless because it's Pittsburgh. It puts more emphasis on it, because we have to go to their place to make the playoffs."

The Ravens remain tied for the sixth spot with a trio of 8-6 teams: the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills with Jacksonville currently holding a slight edge.

Baltimore essentially needs to win its remaining two games, and obtain some assistance from opponents of the Jaguars and Broncos.
Especially the Jaguars.

If there's a two-team tie at 10-6 between the Jaguars and Ravens, Baltimore couldn't lose on the strength of victory tiebreaker, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

After consulting Elias this week, the NFL determined that a two-team tie between the Jaguars and Ravens would require the Bills and Broncos to both lose at least one game in the next two weeks and the New York Jets to win at least one more.

Under that scenario, Jacksonville couldn't do better than tie the Ravens in strength of victory if every game that hasn't been accounted for in this category works in the Jaguars' favor.

If the two teams were a dead heat in strength of victory, the next tiebreaker is strength of schedule. The Jaguars currently hold the slightest of advantages in that category: .551 to .541.

Scoreboard watching may accompany the Ravens' responsibilities.

"You try not to, but you can't help but look," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "In TV timeouts, you look up at the scoreboard and check to see who's doing what. Maybe I shouldn't. But when it's to determine if we're going to go on and play extra, I'm going to look."

The Ravens also need better eyesight and execution in the red zone, though.
Against Indianapolis, the Ravens traveled nine times inside the Colts' 20 and only produced 10 points.

"You can look back at each game, and it was just a few plays," Heap said. "We have to make sure that when the time comes and the opportunity presents itself, you have to take advantage of it and make the play."

The Ravens have the NFL's ninth-ranked running game and Jamal Lewis is coming off a 130-yard outing against the Colts. He has averaged only 76.3 yards in six games against Pittsburgh, though.

The Steelers have only allowed 100 yards to one running back this season, but surrendered 172 yards on the ground to Baltimore earlier this season. No running back has surpassed 100 yards against the Steelers in the last 10 games.

"We need to use our physicality," Mulitalo said. "You keep pounding and pounding until someone's will breaks."

Ironically, it was the Ravens who launched the Steelers' superb season when cornerback Gary Baxter's blitz injured starter Tommy Maddox and forced rookie Ben Roethlisberger into the lineup.

The leading candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Roethlisberger is coming off his first 300-yard passing game and ranks second in the NFL with a 118.5 quarterback rating in the fourth quarter.

"I guess we were the best thing for him, but now we're going to be the worst thing for him," linebacker Terrell Suggs said.

The Steelers are playing terrific football, ranking first in rushing defense (80.9 yards per contest) while piling up 2,124 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.

It's a physical style that Baltimore will need to match to compete with a team that has already toppled the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets at Heinz Field this season.
"They're playing football the way it's supposed to be played," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "They're running, they're playing great defense, you can't really ask for anything else. They're playing really smart football."

When it's the Steelers and the Ravens, it's always a combative rivalry.
The combustible history includes several incidents, including: injured tight end Todd Heap being shoved to the ground by linebacker Joey Porter on Sept. 19, Porter and linebacker Ray Lewis' noisy confrontation outside the Ravens' team bus last year and former Ravens defensive back James Trapp stomping on wide receiver Plaxico Burress' head.

"I would say it's along the lines of hate," Burress said. "I don't think there are too many friends on that other sideline. When the game starts, everything goes out the window. They don't like us and we don't like them."
Suggs added the element of trash talk this week by proclaiming that the Ravens are the Steelers' kryptonite based on two consecutive wins even though Steelers coach Bill Cowher is 11-6 all-time against Baltimore.

"It's definitely our biggest rival," Steelers running back Jerome Bettis said. "It's been a seesaw battle, and there's been a lot of bad blood on both sides.

"It's one of those games you circle on the schedule and you know it's going to be a tough, physical brawl. You've seen the incidents. That's just part of this game."

Ravens coach Brian Billick reminded Boller this week about drawing on the rough experience he had in his first NFL start last season at Pittsburgh, noting the growth he's had since that encounter.

"He's been to Pittsburgh under much tougher circumstances," Billick said. "Anytime you play Pittsburgh, it's a playoff atmosphere. It's all part of the progression. I'm not talking about next year. I'm talking about us hopefully playing two weeks from now."

For the Ravens, it's do-or-die time.

If they lose this game, their playoff hopes are essentially crippled with a few highly unlikely scenarios remaining where they could split their last two games and still be a part of the postseason landscape.

Defeating the Steelers would significantly boost their strength of victory quotient and validate that the Ravens are a viable contender, not an underachieving outfit.

"We will take it like a playoff game," Boller said. "Where we are in our season, this is a huge game. We have to win it."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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