It's Ravens week and it's business and usual for us. Typical Baltimore Raven kind of an outfit: They've got the No. 1 defense in football led by Ray Lewis and Co. He's got his usual cohorts wreaking havoc on opponents: (Haloti) Ngata, (Terrell) Suggs, (Jarret) Johnson, (Jameel) McClain, the list goes on and on. On the back end (Dawan) Landry, (Tom) Zbikowski, (Fabian) Washington. (Chris) Carr has fit in nicely. They brought him in maybe as a return man. Now this guy's playing the corner and is doing some nice things in their sub-packages. They've given up the fewest first downs by far in the NFL. I think they're second in the league in red-zone defense. So they play ball the way we desire to play ball. I think that's what makes this match-up special. We've got a great deal of respect for this outfit. They bring the best out in us. We love playing against them. Regardless of what happens in the stadium you're going to know a little bit about yourself after having played the Baltimore Ravens.
Offensively, their run game is their run game. Ray Rice is a special player. He's got great vision and patience, short-area quickness. He has hurt us pretty good here the last several years. Willis McGahee is a legitimate tough man, a one-cut runner, no-frills kind of guy. (Le'Ron) McClain is an All-Pro fullback and very capable ball-toter. Joe Flacco is their signal caller. They won with this guy when he was young. He's matured. They've centered their offense around him. They have some legitimate weapons for him to throw to. Boldin of course is at the top of the charts in terms of receptions. He has more receptions than our receiving corps. He's second in the NFL in third-down catches. He blistered Cleveland pretty good last weekend. I just finished watching that this morning. That was a horror show if you sit in my position. (Todd) Heap is Heap. He has more receptions than anyone on our team. He's a security blanket for their quarterback. They're good with the running backs in terms of the checkdowns. It's funny; I haven't even mentioned Derrick Mason yet. That's the kind of task we're facing this week, but we're competitors. We enjoy it; we respect them; we're excited about it. It is Steelers-Ravens. It's something that's humbling to be a part of. It's something that's exciting to be a part of. Hopefully we'll prepare level-headed and play level-headed. It's a very emotional game. I think that the spirit and play of the leaders on each side of this matchup kind of exemplify what this matchup is about, whether you're talking about guys like Hines Ward or James Farrior or Ray Lewis, you know what you're getting when those guys step inside stadiums. I think the two teams mirror those men when they play one another, so we're excited about that.
From an injury standpoint, we're in relatively good shape. We've got no new injuries at quarterback. Chris Hoke (knee) is questionable at this juncture. If he gets to work in the latter part of the week, we're going to try to play him, so he's going to have to prove his health to us, as is Trai Essex from his ankle sprain. We also have some bumps and bruises: Will Allen returned to the game with an ankle sprain; Ziggy Hood sustained an ankle sprain late in the game but he'll be fine; Anthony Madison had a little hamstring. Other than that we have a clean bill of health and we're going to need it.
Would not having Rice change their game plan?
I don't think it's going to change their personality whatsoever from a play-calling standpoint, and I base that off of video evidence. They roll their backs some. You're going to see Willis McGahee and McClain whether this guy's healthy or not. And Joe Flacco does a nice job of checking down to backs when his primary's covered. They've done it since he's been there. I don't expect that to change.
Is Charlie Batch leading you into Baltimore?
He is. He's doing a nice job. Guys got a great deal of confidence in him. He's simply a man that's taken advantage of an opportunity. You've got to be happy for him. It's an awesome lesson learned for our young players, one that I hope they take heed to. It's about perseverance. This profession's about perseverance. It's about taking advantage of opportunities when they're given and he's given them a shiny, clear-cut example of that.
How's Byron Leftwich?
Byron's fine. He was last week.
Why didn't you play him late last week?
We were comfortable with what we were doing and how we were going about our approach to the game.
Why is this rivalry unique?
I think it's unique because it's the best rivalry in the National Football League.
Because I've witnessed the last seven or eight of those meetings. It's always fireworks. It's always significant. It just is. It's football the way it's supposed to be played. Those guys put a lot into it on both sides. Both teams are spent when it's over. And I would think mutual respect is a big part of it.
Could you talk about Ray Lewis and James Farrior playing at such a high level after all these years?
They're freaks of nature, not only in terms of God-given ability and talent, but endurance, longevity. They're special people. They probably lead in very different ways but probably fits their personalities and probably respected very differently.
What about Dennis Dixon?
They say from four to six weeks, but every time it's different. We're hopeful he's going to get back to us quickly.
Is he a candidate for IR?
Man, not this week. It depends on how games go. I never look too far ahead in terms of those types of decisions. It depends on how games go. I never look too far ahead in terms of some of those kinds of decisions. We've got to play a game this week. Injuries are a part of football. You never know. You just don't.
How did Doug Legursky play?
I thought he represented himself very well. I think that's one of the reasons Trai's feeling better.
How's the Ravens' secondary without Ed Reed?
They're the No. 1 defense in the league and the No. 1 defense against the pass. I'm glad Ed Reed isn't playing.
When you had the lead in the second half last week, is that what you wanted to get back to? Handing off and running the clock?
I was excited that it produced in the manner it did on Sunday. Every week is different. We're trying to do the very best we can to win football games and we acknowledge that week to week that may change.
Cleveland ran on Baltimore. What was Cleveland doing right?
I would imagine the Ravens are sitting in a meeting room somewhere talking about what they didn't do right. The fact that Cleveland had success a week ago doesn't bode well for us. It just doesn't. I'd have felt better had Peyton Hillis run for 40 yards instead of 140 because I know the type of men that play for that team. I know how prideful they are. I know they'll bounce back. Anytime you play football on defense, every now and then people are going to have days on you. The great defenses like the Baltimore Ravens usually bounce back pretty quickly, so we've got a tall task this week given what happened to them a week ago.
What's different about Flacco now than a few years ago?
Nothing extraordinary, just a natural maturation process of a franchise-caliber quarterback. He utilizes all his eligibles. He doesn't ride the emotional roller coaster. He's an extreme flat-liner. In the midst of pressure and so forth, he's at his best. He can make any throw on the field. The deep come-backer is his signature. He can take the top off the coverage and drop deep balls on you. He's a talented, talented guy.
How do they use Ngata?
It depends on whether you're asking how they use him or how they use him against us? Last time they moved him around. We saw him over Heath Miller some. They think we like to run to the tight end some, so they put Ngata out there and it's uncomfortable for Heath to say the least. It won't be a reprieve for Maurkice Pouncey if he's out there because he'll be looking at Kelly Gregg, who's an awesome football player. And they've got a young guy they haven't even taken the wrapper off of in Terrence Cody.
Lawrence has played fast since he's been here. He's a special player. He's one of the blurs on the screen, along with 43, when you watch tape. They've got unique characteristics in that way. They're run-and-hit guys. That's why they're first-rounders. That's why they're linchpins of a rock-solid defense.
Do you have to watch that emotions don't get too high?
You do. You do in that you want to play penalty-free. You don't want to beat yourself. You could tell the game kind of got out of hand at points last week against Cleveland. That's AFC North football. We understand that going in. I think these two teams do a better job than people give them credit for in terms of playing clean and controlling their emotions when they see each other, because we know the game is going to be tight and you can't reduce your chances of winning by hurting yourself.
Is good health the reason why your defense has been so much better through three games?
I think you made the key statement when you said ‘through three games.' Through three games a year ago, I think our defense was pretty salty. It's too early to be anointing us. Right now the Baltimore Ravens have the No. 1 defense in football.
How has Will Gay handled his role as nickel back?
He's been a consummate professional. He's been a team player. I tipped my hat to Charlie Batch a few days ago for how he's approached his situation. I can say the same thing for William Gay. This is a guy that started every game a year ago and fell back into a sub-package role when we reacquired Bryant McFadden. He hasn't muttered a peep. He works extremely hard. He's always ready. He's always into the game. You never have to look for him when it's sub-package football time. And he's making plays. I'm happy for him. I'm excited for him, and want more of those kinds of plays from him.
Is it possible to respect an opponent and at the same time dislike an opponent?
How have the other parts of Mike Wallace's game come around?
I tease Mike openly a little bit. I call him one-trick pony, because he's searching for a ceiling in all elements of his game. This is a young guy who's extremely humble, who works very hard, who has a distinguishing characteristic but also has a desire to develop a well-rounded game. He's a man in development in some of those other areas but I like how he works at it. I'm going to continue to challenge him in those areas.
Baltimore likes to bring in a third tackle at times. What kind of matchup are they looking for?
Coach (John) Harbaugh would be a better man to answer that. It's our job to stop them.
Is ‘perfect' too strong to describe Maurkice Pouncey's execution?
Yeah that is a strong word. He's doing a nice job. He's doing an extraordinary job for a rookie but we don't grade on a curve. We put him in the lineup because he doesn't play like a rookie. He's doing a very nice job. But this guy has a tall challenge this week. It doesn't matter who they put in front of him, whether it's Gregg or Ngata or Cody, he's going to be introduced to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry pretty soon, I'm sure.
What makes Ngata so special?
He's freakishly big. He's got great body control. He's very quick and fast in a short-space area. He's just got it all. He really does. He's as dominant a defensive lineman as there is in football right now.
If you have to double him …
… but doesn't that allow linebackers to run free?
Absolutely, but it is what it is. If you block guys like that with one man, he's going to be in your backfield.
Is either rookie WR making enough progress to contribute at that position?
Right now Antonio Brown has the helmet and both guys are making steady progress. Antonio Brown did play more offense in Tampa than he did in Tennessee.
How is Ray Lewis playing?
Looks like Ray Lewis to me. He's a dangerous guy. He's great versus the run. He's great versus the pass. The most extraordinary thing that's going on with him right now is how very good he is against the pass. A guy that's been around as long as he has, he's great in open space. They utilize him in somewhat deep defense in that Tampa-2. He covers a bunch of ground. He's an intimidator. He's a playmaker. He broke the ball up intended for Chad Ochocinco that's kind of indicative of the kind of player he is. He banged a ball out against Cleveland in the same coverage to a tight end last week. He's rangy. He makes a lot of plays. He's extremely smart.
Will your bye-week activities change from the norm because Ben Roethlisberger will be coming back?
I haven't decided on it, and probably the No. 1 determinant for our bye week activities is how we perform on Sunday.