- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The misfiring offense of the Baltimore Ravens now faces the challenge of trying to come together against a pretty good defense.

The front seven of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 3-4 defense is as solid as any unit in the league. You can bet the blitz-happy Steelers will be coming after second-year Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller today in the Ravens’ home opener at M&T; Bank Stadium in a key AFC North contest.

In Pittsburgh’s 24-21 win over the Oakland Raiders last week, the Steelers sacked quarterback Rich Gannon three times, picked off two passes and forced the veteran to lose a fumble.

Meanwhile, the Ravens’ offense struggled in a 20-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore generated just 254 yards and never drove deeper than the Browns’ 24. Star running back Jamal Lewis, who was the NFL’s leading rusher last season while having the league’s second-greatest season ever (2,066 yards), was held to just 57 yards on 20 carries.

Boller completed 22 of 38 passes for 191 yards but threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Until Boller proves he can beat people with his arm, opponents are going to clog the middle and focus on Lewis.

“Yeah, when we start connecting on the outside, they’re going to start playing a little more passive and it’s going to open up a little bit,” Boller said.

The Ravens’ ground game should get a big boost with the return of seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who sat out last week with a sprained knee. Ogden, a superior run blocker, arguably is the best offensive lineman in the NFL.

However, Lewis has found yards hard to come by against the Steelers. In six games against Pittsburgh, he has topped the century mark just once, gaining 114 yards in last season’s final game. And in last season’s opener, the Steelers limited Lewis to 69 yards on 15 rushing attempts, his lowest total of the year.

“They’ve got some pretty good talent over there on defense,” Lewis said. “They play sound defense. We need to go out and play as a complete whole. I don’t mind getting held down as long as we make plays in the passing game.”

Wide receiver Travis Taylor’s groin injury complicates things for Baltimore’s passing game. Taylor, who is projected to be out at least a month, is perhaps the Ravens’ best deep threat.

Ravens coach Brian Billick is optimistic his offense may be able to exploit the Steelers’ secondary. Though he was rattled by Pittsburgh’s blitzes, Gannon still completed 20 of 37 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns.

“They’ve got good people back there,” Billick said of Pittsburgh’s defensive backfield. Their front seven is solid, and their back end, with some new guys obviously, [DeShea] Townsend outside at corner is a little bit different. But we’re always going to try and take advantage of any secondary we play.”

The same could be said about the Steelers’ offense. Blessed with a wonderful trio of receivers (Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El), Pittsburgh may look to throw a bit more and thereby avoid Ravens standout middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Ward caught seven passes for 99 yards last week against the Raiders.

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