Armageddon? Nope, just Ravens-Steelers

The Steelers expect the Ravens to return to their offensive identity at Heinz Field, as the showdown hour draws near.

PITTSBURGH -- The Baltimore Colts couldn't win either of their two playoffs games against the Steelers. The Baltimore Ravens are also 0-2 against them in the postseason.

Apparently, the Baltimore Orioles – and maybe more – have had similar postseason problems with that metropolis over the Alleghenies, because Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about his city's Pittsburgh problem earlier this week.

"Is that a psychological burden that we're placing on the team?" Harbaugh responded. "The whole city's psychological burden?"

Perhaps that Baltimore burden will be broken come Sunday morning – if the sun comes up.

Yes, even that was put into question this week by Baltimore's self-appointed spokesman, pass-rushing star Terrell Suggs, who called Saturday afternoon's AFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Ravens and Steelers at Heinz Field "Armageddon."

The Steelers' own pass-rushing star, James Harrison, was asked if Suggs was right. Will this be Armageddon?

With a nod, Harrison said, "It's Baltimore versus Pittsburgh."

Of course.

Even if it's not the end of the world, or if it's not going to bear the psychological burden of an entire city, this game will certainly be a three-hour lesson in football the way it was meant to be played:

It will be physical and it will be entertaining.

So much so that Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said he'd lay down a few ducats himself and take it in as a fan if he weren't playing.

"No question about it," said Hampton. "All my boys, the people I know, this is who they want to see us play because they know what type of game it's going to be."

Hampton knows exactly what kind of game it's going to be: a run-centric battle of the trenches – at least from the Ravens' perspective. That's how they used to play when Joe Flacco was new to the league and before free agency rounded out their receiving corps.

In fact, Ray Rice is the only running back to have gained 100 yards against the Steelers in the last 54 games, counting the postseason.

Last season, on Dec. 27, Rice carried 30 times for 141 yards in the Steelers' win over the Ravens at Heinz Field.

This season has been much different for Rice. In the first game against the Steelers, Rice didn't start because of a knee injury and carried only 8 times for 20 yards, both season lows.

In the second meeting, Rice had only 9 carries for 32 yards. He was healthy, but missing his fullback, Le'Ron McClain, who was out with an injury.

The Ravens instead came out in a 3-WR package that may have looked good on paper but betrayed the team's physical offensive identity, one to which they've since returned in spinning off five consecutive wins.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he expects the Ravens to continue with that identity Saturday afternoon upon the return of McClain, the 260-pound two-time Pro Bowl fullback. So does Hampton.

"It'll definitely be that type of game," Hampton said. "They'll put him in and bring the tackle over [unbalanced line] and try to pound us. That's their identity. That's who they are. McClain didn't play the last time and that's why we got a lot more pass. With McClain back it's going to be a lot different game."

At least it'll provide the Ravens with legitimate balance, because the passing game has matured with the growth of quarterback Flacco in his third year and a quartet of receivers who've caught 2,657 career passes. And Derrick Mason (924 career receptions), Anquan Boldin (650), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (616) and tight end Todd Heap (467) are still going strong. This year they combined for 195 receptions and 2,636 yards. Add Rice out of the backfield with his 63 catches this season for 556 yards and it becomes a lethal receiving group, particularly when complementing a successful running game.

And that's what the Steelers will look to take away first.

"I came to expect teams spreading us out this season and throwing the ball," Hampton said. "But these guys surprised me last time. They say they're going to be more physical, come out and be physical, that that's their game, so from that standpoint it surprised me. But this game, I don't see that. I expect to have some fun out there, have some old school fun."

No, it's not Armageddon. But it'll be close.

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