Will Steelers' wizard unleash the hounds?

PITTSBURGH – After the Baltimore Ravens sacked Ben Roethlisberger nine times in their 27-0 annihilation a month ago ...

... the perception was they overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line with numbers.

But only once did the Ravens send more rushers than the Steelers had blockers. The Ravens instead confused their opponent with blitzing options before falling back. They looked like … well, the Steelers.

Did the Ravens beat the Steelers at their own game?

"No, not really," said Steelers linebacker James Farrior. "We run a similar defense. They've been doing it for a long time anyway. We just didn't pick it up as well as we should have."

That's the question for today's rematch: Can the Steelers block the Ravens?

Last month, the Ravens used the crowd noise at their stadium to beat the Steelers off the ball. While the Steelers will have that advantage this afternoon, they'll also have a rookie playing right tackle. Max Starks injured his knee before playing his best game of the season last Sunday. He's out and will be replaced by fourth-round pick Willie Colon.

Colon's a feisty hothead from the Bronx and his aggressive nature fits against the feisty Ravens. But, then again …

"You have to know what you're doing first," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "It's not like it's a very simple defense and you can just line up with the guy that's over top of you. There are a lot of things they do that we have to get communicated. [Colon] will be leaning on Kendall [Simmons] a little bit with his experience to make sure he gets the right calls. But certainly he's excited about the opportunity. We'll see how it goes."

Colon won't be the only new face in the lineup. Rookie Santonio Holmes is expected to start at split end and flanker Hines Ward will be healthy for this Ravens game.

The Steelers will also have a new face in their secondary. Rookie Anthony Smith has two interceptions in his two games since replacing the injured Ryan Clark. Smith's fitting in with the feisty Steelers and promised more antics should he intercept another pass.

Smith will team with returning strong safety Troy Polamalu for the first time, giving the Steelers a pair of active and aggressive safeties, but the Steelers, as a unit, haven't been all that aggressive on defense.

Last Sunday they sacked quarterback Chris Weinke five times and used only six blitzes all game. The previous game, against Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson, the Steelers blitzed only 10 times. So, in the last two weeks, the Steelers blitzed on only 16 of 82 dropbacks. At a 19.5 percent rate, they're blitzing far less than their norm.

"We might send four, but sometimes you might not know which four it is," said Farrior. "And our defensive linemen are good enough athletes to be able to drop back sometimes and let some of the smaller guys, the DBs and linebackers, come through. It can be confusing, but we've been doing it well for awhile now."

However, at this point it's almost become an art form.

"I think we're getting better," said defensive end Aaron Smith. "I think guys are maturing; guys who've been in the defense long are starting to understand things better. A lot of times teams want us to show our hand early. They'll hold the count or hold stuff until we show them. That's what Cincinnati did the second game when they beat us [last year]. They really changed their snap count up to try to get us to show what we were going to run. We got wise to it against Peyton Manning."

It helps to have defensive ends in a 3-4 who can get to the quarterback. The Steelers are also generating pressure from their nickel rush with Smith and Brett Keisel coming up the middle and Joey Porter and Clark Haggans coming from the ends. Or two will drop and two defensive backs will come in another of their many variations.

All of those variations will come in handy today against a Baltimore offensive line that'll be without its anchor, left tackle Jonathan Ogden. He'll be replaced by second-year man Adam Terry, who was knocked by scouts as soft coming out of Syracuse. He'll line up next to another injury replacement at left guard, Jason Brown. The rest of the Ravens' line consists of center Mike Flynn, right guard Keydrick Vincent and right tackle Tony Pashos.

Add it up and you wonder if Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has only been saving up his best blitzes for this game.

"There could be something to that," said Aaron Smith. "The wizard does have some tricks now."


Steel City Insider Top Stories