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Steel City Pre-Game

<b>Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore</b><p> As Khan told Captain Kirk in Star Trek II, "So we meet again old friend," so too do the Steelers meet the Ravens. This has turned into an intense rivalry, of which the Ravens have never won against the Steelers at P.S.I. "hate this name" Net Stadium.<p>

Much has changed in a year. The Ravens got a face-lift. Gone are Tony Siragusa, Rod Woodson, and Sam Adams just to name a few. But like all bad face lifts, some of the original facial remains. That character is Ray Lewis. Granted the chances are 50/50 that he will sit out Sunday (but really, who's gonna believe he won't suit up?), but his spirit and attitude have fused this team into an overachieving bunch.

This spirit hasn't translated into the suffocating defense that once held the Lombardi trophy, but it does help explain a huge upset over the Denver Broncos three weeks ago.

The Steelers are evolving into a top-tier team as each week goes by. Last week's win, while over an overrated Colts team, was impressive because of the domination on both sides of the ball. The Steelers did what they wanted to against an average Colts defense and hounded Peyton Manning all night long.

The Steelers seem to play some of their best football in Baltimore, but the Ravens have nothing to lose. Do I really want to pick a winner?

Defense: Statistically, both defenses are not near the levels they played at last year. The Steelers rank 16th and Baltimore ranks 24th. But, both teams have playmakers who can change the course of a game in one play. If Ray Lewis plays, the Ravens defense will have an easier time containing Amos Zereoue. Kendrell Bell will be a week less rusty and should have more of a sustained impact in the game. If it were up to me to make the call, the game will come down to the play by the secondary.

Advantage: I like the Steelers defense to contain the Ravens offense.

Offense: The Steelers will be without Jerome Bettis, but thankfully Amos Zereoue has proven he can run well against the Ravens. His speed may be a blessing, as the Steelers will test the outside lanes, especially since Jeff Hartings is down and Ray Lewis may play. Plaxico Burress should continue to dominate the Ravens secondary and Tommy Maddox shows no signs of any mental breakdown. Jamal Lewis is beginning to regain his rookie season form and that could cause problems for the Steelers. He can't be let loose or the Ravens will control the clock with short passes to Chris Redman favorite, Todd Heap.

Advantage: I can't think of a reason why the Steeler offense will not be able to put points on the board.

Quarterbacks: Tommy Maddox, with a 91.9 passer rating, is on pace to break the Steeler record held by Terry Bradshaw (87.8). I think what has been most surprising is the lack of gratuitous 1 - 3 yard dump passes. He's obviously seeing the whole field and going lateral with his passes.

Chris Redman, on the other hand, has been efficient but leads a 30th ranked offense. He has locked onto Todd Heap, his tight end, and that could lead to a problem against a sophisticated defense. Because he only has one real threat in the air, he isn't apt to b bringing his team back from large deficits.

Advantage: Redman's going to be a solid quarterback some day, but Maddox gets the nod.

Outlook: The Steelers should have this wrapped up by the 4th quarter, but expect an intense game, especially at the beginning. Patience will be key.

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