Keys to beating the Ravens

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Once again, the trash talking before the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) play the Baltimore Ravens (0-1) has reached a crescendo.<br><br> Not that it matters.

This time we're featuring returning combatants Joey Porter and Brian Billick, but what the Steelers' linebacker and the Ravens' coach had to say this week doesn't really matter. It didn't matter what Hines Ward and Corey Harris had to say before them. Or what Plaxico Burress and Chris McAlister had to say a year later. Or what Porter and Ray Lewis had to say last year.

It's all the same, and it's useless. Here's what really will matter beginning at one o'clock this afternoon in Baltimore:

Stopping Jamal Lewis - The league's leading rusher last year with 2,066 yards, Lewis rushed for his first 100-yard game against the Steelers in six tries when he gained 114 yards on 27 carries in the regular-season finale. It was his last 100-yard game as the Tennessee Titans used as many as nine players at the line of scrimmage to hold Lewis to a season-low 35 yards in the playoffs. Lewis got off to a slow 2004 start last week when Cleveland held him to 57 yards on 20 carries with what Cleveland papers described as a 4-4 alignment on approximately 25 plays.

But the Ravens were limited in the run game last week because left tackle Jonathan Ogden and center Mike Flynn missed the game. Ogden is expected back with a gimpy knee (his back-up Ethan Brooks is out with an injury) but Flynn will again give way to Casey Rabach, and the Steelers expect to have an appreciable advantage there with Casey Hampton.

It's one of the reasons why the Steelers won't change their alignment to match what the Titans and Browns did, although both of those approaches have been downplayed this week by Steelers advance scouts. Instead, the Steelers will stick with a base defense that has allowed Lewis an average of 69 yards in the six meetings.

Fluster Kyle Boller - Mainly because of the loss of Ogden, the Ravens' second-year quarterback was sacked three times and pressured into three turnovers last week. Boller had a 49.3 passer rating against the Browns. In nine starts as a rookie, Boller's passer rating was 62.4.

If the Steelers can cover tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Kevin Johnson for mere seconds, they should be able to pressure Boller into mistakes. Even with Ogden back, the Ravens' line consists mainly of run-blockers and the Steelers showed last week, with three sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions, that Dick LeBeau is making a difference with the defense.

Boller's back-up is former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, who has teased reporters this week with the prospect of returning to the "Slash" position that made him famous as a rookie in Pittsburgh.

Run on Ray Lewis -
Think Duce Staley will find the heat of this game quickly enough? Think he'll be up to the challenge? Yes on both counts. Staley fits the Steelers like a glove and running at Kelly Gregg's replacement at nose tackle will be met by Lewis and his inside linebacking sidekick Edge Hartwell.

The Steelers must be able to run against this (yet another) 3-4 defense so that Tommy Maddox can deliver the second punch through the air, where both Ward and Burress will be jousting with Ravens defensive backs and Antwaan Randle El figures to give Deion Sanders trouble. But it will all start with Staley vs. Lewis.

Kick away from Jermaine Lewis - Trick answer, but Steelers punter Chris Gardocki remembers Jermaine, the third part of the Lewis trilogy from the Ravens' 2000 championship. Jermaine Lewis left in 2002 and the Ravens believe they've finally replaced him this year with rookie free agent B.J. Sams, a 5-10, 185-pound running back from McNeese State.

Sams titillated Ravens fans in the preseason, but in the opener he misjudged two kickoffs and had a long of four yards on five punt returns. He finished with 0 net yards on punts before Sanders replaced him and returned one punt for five yards.

So with Jermaine Lewis gone, however, the Steelers must only keep Sams in check and deal with the two other Lewises. And if the Steelers handle Ray and Jamal, flustering Boller will occur naturally.

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