Steelers Can Get Back In Race Today

It's not that the playoff beards are sprouting in the Steelers' locker room, it's that they haven't been shaved off yet. Will the Ravens let them hang around?

PITTSBURGH -- Brett Keisel looked like a lumberjack when he called for "a stack of hotcakes" the other day.

Of course, "stack" around these parts is an old term that means "wins," and the Steelers have one. Keisel wants another.

"I wanna get a big stack," said the bearded one. "But I'll start with a short stack."

The Steelers (1-4) are playing the Baltimore Ravens (3-3) later this afternoon at Heinz Field on the shortest of stacks: a single win in five games. But that win happened last week, and it's all about surviving and getting hot in this league.

Ask the Ravens.

After beating the Byron Leftwich-led Steelers 13-10 on Nov. 18 last year, the Ravens lost to the Charlie Batch-led Steelers 23-20 on Dec. 2. The Steelers were led by Batch that day because in the earlier game, Leftwich, filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger, played with broken ribs throughout the narrow loss.

The Ravens barely beat a team with an injured backup quarterback, and then lost to that team with its third-team quarterback.

So, how again did they win the Super Bowl?

"When you get towards the playoffs, the team that gets hot usually is the team that can go on a roll and win it," Keisel said. "We're close. We just got to make that next step."

The Super Bowl win by the Ravens showed just how close the Steelers were last season. This season they're 1-4 and a lumberjack's talking about stacking hotcakes.

Keisel's beard is a sign that he still believes his team can reach the playoffs.

The same goes for the newly bearded Roethlisberger, who can't quite believe it's over long enough to get the razor out.

"It was a Pirates' beard," Roethlisberger said. "We won, so I'm just going to keep wearing it I guess."

Roethlisberger has started 12 games against the Ravens and the Steelers have an 8-4 record (inc. 2-0 playoffs) in those games. But he hasn't been involved in a win in this series since Dec. 5, 2010, another game that turned out the AFC champion. Roethlisberger knows there's never any telling what this game will determine, no matter who or who's not playing.

"The point was brought up to me by Baltimore ," Roethlisberger said, "that there's no Ray Lewis, there's no Ed Reed, is it still the same? It's still the same rivalry. There just might be different people in it. [Terrell] Suggs is still over there. [Haloti] Ngata is still over there. To us -- and I'm sure they're saying the same thing -- it's still Baltimore-Pittsburgh."

Just the faces are changing.

The Steelers -- a team in admitted transition, a team that turned over 40 to 45 percent of its roster this season (depending on calendar points) -- will have more familiar faces in this game than the Ravens.

The Steelers will start only five players who've never started a game in this series: C Fernando Velasco, G David DeCastro, RB Le'Veon Bell, DE Cameron Heyward and NT Steve McLendon.

The Ravens, the defending champions, will have 10 new starters: DT Chris Canty, LB Arthur Brown, LB Daryl Smith, DE Elvis Dumervil, S James Ihedigbo, S Matt Elam, CB Jimmy Smith, OT Eugene Monroe, C Gino Gradkowski and WR Marlon Brown.

Most of those new faces are on defense, where the Ravens rank 17th. Their problem, on paper, is a 17th-ranked pass defense that allows a 19th-ranked passer rating of 92.6. But, meanwhile, the pass rush ranks second with 22 sacks.

"Well they've got two guys on the edge that are among the best in the league," Heath Miller said of Suggs and Dumervil. "And they have Haloti Ngata in the middle, and a couple proven guys in the middle -- Chris Canty and (reserve) Marcus Spears -- along with a guy who's been there, Arthur Jones. Their front is very good. They don't have to bring a lot of exotic stuff to get to the quarterback."

Two-thirds of the Ravens' new faces on offense are on the line, and the struggles there are reflected in the 19 sacks allowed, the 31st-ranked 2.7 yards per carry, and the 22nd-ranked overall offense.

When asked why his team hasn't been able to run the ball, Ravens coach John Harbaugh simply said, "We haven't blocked very well."

But the Ravens still have quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, deep threat Torrey Smith, and tight end Ed Dickson. They're joined by 34-year-old H-back Dallas Clark (20-256-1) and undrafted rookie receiver Marlon Brown (17-221-3).

The names may change, but of course the tenacity won't; not with a live-or-die sense of urgency from the Steelers.

"We have games coming up that if we go in and play the right way and win these games, we're back in the hunt," said Ryan Clark. "This is the first opportunity we have to see that. If we win this game we'll have four losses and so will the Baltimore Ravens. That kind of puts us in the race with them."

And then anything can happen.

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