Ravens (2-4) at Steelers (4-3)
Monday, 9 p.m.
RB Jamal Lewis: Boy, when Lewis finds that elusive rhythm, it's going to be on. That's the Ravens' stubborn stance. Well, I can tell you this much -- he's not going to find it running between Orlando Brown and Keydrick Vincent. That gap runneth over with unblocked defenders and 2-yard gains. You'd have better luck finding rhythm at a second fiddle convention. Look, Lewis has been awful -- 14 of his 15 carries last week went for 3 yards or fewer. But it's hard not to play him, if only because on the off-chance the Ravens get into the red zone, he stands a good chance of reaching paydirt. He's scored at least one TD in each of his past four games against the Steelers. That said, I can think of at least 25 RBs off the top of my head that I'd rather have in the lineup this week. Rating: 2 out of 5.
RB Chester Taylor: Taylor's near-absence from the Week 7 game plan has been the source of much debate in RavensTown this week. If you believe Brian Billick, the Ravens sacrificed Taylor's carries to try to get Lewis untracked, a plan that backfired big-time. Taylor deserves better, and he should get 6-8 touches this week. Against Pittsburgh's sixth-ranked run defense, it probably won't matter much. Rating: 1 out of 5.
QB Anthony Wright: At this point, Wright's just keeping the QB seat toasty for the eagerly anticipated return of Kyle Boller. For the record, that's the first time the phrase 'eagerly anticipated return of Kyle Boller' has ever been written. Pittsburgh has given up four passing TDs in six games. Rating: 1 out of 5.
WR Derrick Mason: Mason remains the most reliable fantasy option on the Ravens offense, which is like saying someone can do the most pushups of anyone in the backgammon club. Even when he's good, he's not that good -- Mason is tied for seventh in the NFL with his seven catches, but he's only scored once, making him one of only three players in the top 15 without multiple TD catches (along with Deion Branch and Laveranues Coles). The last time Mason faced the Steelers, in 2003, he caught one pass for 4 yards. He'll better that effort, but not by much -- five catches, 50 yards is a stretch. Rating: 2 out of 5.
TE Todd Heap: Heap hasn't fared well against the Steelers in his career, topping three receptions just three times in eight meetings and catching only one touchdown pass. But Heap's heating up -- Boom-shacka-lacka! -- with 15 grabs for 204 yards and two scores in his past three games. With the Steelers bringing the blitz, Wright will dump the ball off to his new favorite target often, resulting in a nice night for Heap. He's the Ravens best bet to get in the end zone this week. Rating: 3 out of 5.
PK Matt Stover: Where would the Ravens offense be without Stover? They'd probably rank last in scoring -- oh, wait. Stover has made good on his past nine FG attempts, but he hasn't kicked one at Pittsburgh since 2002. Also, open-ended Heinz Field is a kicker's worst nightmare. Rating: 2 out of 5.
Ravens defense: No Ray Lewis. No Ed Reed. At this point, the Ravens would be happy to get through a game with no personal fouls or unnecessary roughness penalties. It's not that the defense is playing poorly -- it ranks second overall. The Ravens don't give up big plays and don't give up many points. They also don't force turnovers or create general chaos, Ravens' trademarks. Basically, they've become the Redskins.
It's no secret that Pittsburgh wants to run the ball and control the clock, meaning the Ravens will get a heavy dose of Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis. They figure to split carries about evenly, with Parker getting the bulk of the yardage and Bettis doing the dirty work, true to the Steelers' profile (been listening to Billck way too much). Bettis has just two TDs in 13 career games against the Ravens, but I like his chances of adding to that total on Monday night. The absence of Lewis in the middle should leave the Steelers with room to run.
Pittsburgh doesn't ask much of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but what he does, he does very well. The second-year QB threw his first interception of the season last week at Cincinnati. Even when the Ravens are at full strength, they traditionally have difficulty containing receiver Hines Ward, who has four scores in his past five games against Baltimore. With Reed out of action, Ward should approach 85 receiving yards with a TD. If the Ravens focus too much on Ward or sell out on the run, Roethlisberger can beat them over the top for a score to tight end Heath Miller, who has TD catches in three consecutive games. Rating: 3 out of 5.