- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. If you like good hard-hitting action, then today's Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers matchup is your type of game.
The storyline couldn't be better. Pittsburgh, the league's top rushing offense, against the Ravens and the NFL's top rushing defense. And if that wasn't enough, the game features the top two defenses in the league.
The Ravens (4-3) bring their imposing defense to Heinz Field for the first time and take on the AFC Central-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1).
The Steelers are out to prove they are for real and the Ravens need the win to stay in touch with the Steelers for the division lead and continue their playoff drive.
A Ravens loss wouldn't shatter their postseason plans, but the Super Bowl champions would fall three games behind the Steelers in the AFC Central race.
"You know what we know, and what the Steelers know, too," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "This is going to be a close, hard-fought, very physical game. There is no intimidation here, there's respect. They bring an attitude and a physical presence that is tough as nails. So do we."
The Steelers offense is of the smashmouth variety. The Steelers crank up "the Bus" and run the ball. Running back Jerome Bettis, the Steelers 5-11, 255-pound bruiser, is fifth in the AFC in rushing with 612 yards on 112 carries, a 5.5 average. Behind Bettis, the Steelers lead the NFL in rushing with 186.8 yards a game and a rushing average of 5.4 yards a carry.
However, it would seem to be a foolish game plan to rely solely on the run against the Ravens. The Ravens have not permitted a 100-yard rusher in their last 44 games the longest streak in the league and they allow only 65.7 rushing yards per game and yield just 254.3 yards a game.
"Whatever [the Steelers] decide to do, we're built for it," said Ravens four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "If they come out and try to establish [Bettis] with the run, that's something we don't believe in. It's going to be a slugfest. I think both sides of the ball know that."
This game marks the 10th time Bettis has faced the Ravens. In his first four games against Baltimore, Bettis rushed for more than 100 yards, averaging 118 yards. However, Bettis has found it tough going in his last five games against the Ravens and has averaged just 40 yards a game.
"I don't know if I've seen him run this well in a long time," Ravens safety Rod Woodson said of Bettis. "To this point, nobody has really stopped the guy. He's hitting gaps, breaking tackles, and seems like at the end of games, the guys in the secondary and linebackers don't want to hit the guy."
The Ravens are confident that Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart won't beat them through the air. Stewart, who is 6-0 against the Ravens as the Steelers' starting quarterback, has completed 61 percent of his passes, but has attempted only 146 passes and has thrown more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (two).
"Their main goal is to run the football," Woodson said of his former team. "They want to throw the ball maybe 18 times in a game, maximum 22 or so. They want to do that black-and-blue type of thing to you all day. It's one of those games where you have to be physically ready to play."
Since dropping their season opener 21-3 at Jacksonville, the Steelers have reeled off five straight wins, including last Monday night when the black and gold crushed the Tennessee Titans 34-7 on national TV.
On a short work week, the Steelers have had to plan for two Ravens quarterbacks. Ravens starter Elvis Grbac is bothered by sore ribs and probably won't play. Randall Cunningham, the Ravens' 38-year-old backup is expected to start, but that could change if Billick feels Grbac is healthy enough come game time.
"We are going to prepare for their offense, but they are really not going to change a whole lot what they do offensively, philosophically-wise," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "Basically, whoever the quarterback is, you've got to have a little more awareness. But it really won't affect our game plan per se, as much as it would an awareness of who is in the game."


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