Ravens' secondary bracing for Steelers

OWINGS MILLS -- The football only touched the ground three times on incompletions, piercing the Baltimore Ravens' end zone for five touchdown passes. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger exploited a shorthanded Ravens secondary for five scores, picking on young cornerbacks Derrick Martin, David Pittman and Corey Ivy as starters Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle were sidelined.

The meltdown occurred before a national television audience while several old Steelers greats gleefully celebrated each dominant display.

Eight games after a 38-7 rout on Nov. 5 at Heinz Field where Roethlisberger did whatever he wanted on 13 of 16 accuracy for 209 yards as he took advantage of short fields generated by three lost fumbles in the opening quarter, the Ravens' defense is hoping to achieve a measure of revenge in the season finale Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Last time, I think we game-planned everything expecting one of the players to at least play," Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, referencing how the Ravens anticipated either Rolle or McAlister to be available. "It took some adjusting, obviously. Pittsburgh, to their credit, took advantage of it.

"Roethlisberger was hot, obviously. I guess five touchdown passes pretty well covers that. Regardless of who's playing out there, Terry Bradshaw could be playing quarterback, it's still the Steelers versus the Ravens. So, let's see what happens."

What might transpire in this encounter is a slightly more battle-tested secondary manufacturing a more competitive effort against wide receiver Hines Ward and Co.

And the Ravens might be aided by the AFC North champions' desire to rest Roethlisberger for the playoffs.

Roethlisberger is nursing a sprained right ankle, and the Steelers don't want to aggravate the injury in a relatively meaningless game against Baltimore. He has been limited in practice for the past two days with backup Charlie Batch taking the first-team snaps. It's possible that Roethlisberger will either sit out or see limited action.

A few published reports out of Pittsburgh have predicted that Roethlisberger won't play at all. The timing is good for Baltimore as Roethlisberger is coming off throwing three touchdowns and posting a perfect passer rating of 158.3 against the St. Louis Rams as he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Whether it's Batch or Roethlisberger under center Sunday, the Ravens are looking for payback after being embarrassed against their archrivals earlier this season.

"That game left a bad taste in my mouth, especially since it was on Monday Night Football," safety Dawan Landry said. "We're just hungry for a win. It would be really good to go out with a good showing against our rival."

Baltimore (4-11) is mired in a franchise-record nine-game losing streak and have surrendered 25 touchdown passes.

The Ravens have also set a club record for most passes allowed over 40 yards with 14 so far this year.

The Ravens rank 22nd in pass defense, giving up 222.6 passing yards per game with an average per reception allowed of 12.7.

Against the Ravens, Roethlisberger didn't have to throw it very far to find his targets, connecting on touchdown passes from 17, 15, 30, 35 and 7 yards before giving way to Batch early in the second half.

"We just ran into those guys at their house on Monday night in a very emotional game," linebacker Bart Scott said. "They had their 'Steel Curtain' team there, they played with high emotion and we got behind the eight-ball early. We made a lot of mistakes, and whenever you make a lot of mistakes, it's always going to come back and cost you. You can't be on the wrong side of the turnover battle."

During last week's 27-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Ravens allowed two more touchdown passes, but also intercepted quarterback Matt Hasselbeck twice.

Now, they get to measure their readiness against an explosive passing game that exposed them more than any other team during this woebegone season.

"We want to play better than we played last time obviously," said Martin, who allowed a few touchdown passes in single-coverage against Pittsburgh during the first meeting. "Obviously we put that game behind us, but we remember what they did to us last time.

"We know what we're doing now, David knows exactly what he's doing now. Truthfully, it's probably one of the hardest things to do, but we're playing with more confidence now."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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