There have been times when the Steelers knew the best they could hope for on the ground was to remain persistent and patient with a running game that was destined to go nowhere fast.
There have been times when the sight of Ray Lewis eating glass and breathing fire was as unsettling as any that confronted the Steelers offense throughout the course of a season.
This isn't one of them.
The Ravens defense the Steelers will encounter on Sunday at Heinz Field ain't what it used to be, and not just because Baltimore is still waiting for safety Ed Reed to be freed from the physically unable to perform list.
Don't be fooled by that No. 1 overall ranking. You can run on these guys.
The Steelers will run on these guys.
The Browns did last Sunday, to the tune of 173 yards on 29 attempts (a 6.0 average), including 144 on 22 totes (6.5) by Peyton Hillis, who has yet to be confused with either Walter Peyton or Calvin Hill(is).
A fluke, perhaps?
Cleveland ran right at Baltimore and thrived. The Browns being the Browns, they still found a way not to win the game. But they ran all the same, right at Ray Ray.
The Browns blocked Lewis with guard Eric Steinbach. They blocked Lewis with guard Floyd Womack. They blocked Lewis with fullback Lawrence Vickers, who escorted Hillis through Lewis and into the end zone untouched on what became a 1-yard touchdown run.
Haloti Ngata remains a player who will have to be blocked with numbers if he is to be blocked at all by the Steelers. But Cleveland was able to use a variety of guys one at a time against Lewis, double-teams weren't needed. The Browns blasted and the Ravens buckled.
Why shouldn't the Steelers expect the same type of success with Rashard Mendenhall?
Ravens coach John Harbaugh considers the Cleveland ground assault an aberration even though his defense surrendered an average of 105 yards per game on the ground (116 to the Jets, 94 to the Bengals) before being gashed by the Browns. He challenged potential doubters on his radio show on Tuesday night ¬¬¬¬¬¬– cleverly named "The John Harbaugh Show" – to keep testing the Ravens' run-defense mettle.
"I would love for opponents to think we can't stop the run," Harbaugh was quoted as saying in The Baltimore Sun's Ravens Insider blog. "That's great. You opponents out there listening; the Ravens can't stop the run, OK? So just run it at us and we'll see how that turns out."
The Steelers ought to take him up on that offer frequently if not exclusively.
They'll still need to take their shots down the field, because of the speed and big-play potential of Mike Wallace and because the Ravens' defensive backs simply aren't very good at getting their hands on or playing the ball. But there's no reason the Steelers should abandon their newfound commitment to the ground game just because big, bad Baltimore is coming to town.
They were able to run on Baltimore in Baltimore last year with Ramon Foster at right guard and Dennis Dixon making an emergency start at quarterback. This time around the Steelers have proven themselves to be much more adept at adopting a run-the-ball mentality and making it work for them, and the Ravens look more susceptible to such an approach than they have in recent memory.