Set to play in their 15th AFC championship game – the most by any team since 1970 – and owners of five AFC North titles since the current four-team configuration was finalized for the 2002 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have literally set the "gold" standard for the rest of the division.
Pittsburgh's success is based on several factors, including making smart choices in the draft (2010 first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey, 2009 third-rounder Mike Wallace, 2008 first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall and 2007 first- and second-rounders Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley – to name a few – are starters), jettisoning veterans who have outgrown their value because of injury or off-field issues (Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, Willie Parker), and building upon one of the more relentless defenses in the history of the NFL.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that his team has some ground to cover to keep pace with the Steelers."I think it has to do with the way they're built, and they've got some veteran guys that have been doing that for a long time," Harbaugh said Monday. "We've got some of that. If you look at a lot of the games we've won, it's been [free safety] Ed Reed and [inside linebacker] Ray Lewis making those kind of plays. I think we'll continue to build that on the offensive side. They've probably got a little more on both sides of the ball right now. I mean, their defense, they've got two outside linebackers and a safety that just come up with plays. And they've got a quarterback that creates plays. And I think that's where we're going. That's what we're trying to build, and we'll get there."
But Harbaugh also maintained that his club can and will continue to be competitive with Pittsburgh, winners of three of the last four division championships.
"I've got some ideas in terms of how we play them, but I think we play them very well," he said. "We didn't statistically play them very well on one side of the ball in this game – we had a bad third quarter – but you can't turn the ball over. And I think the key with the Steelers is, they do a great job of forcing errors and by taking advantage of those forced errors. And you can't give them the game. And when we've won, we haven't done that, and when we've lost, we've basically done that. I can't say that they've outplayed us dramatically in any game, and I think we've outplayed them most of the time we've played them. Yet we've won two out of eight because we've allowed them to make the plays that have turned the game. And we're going to have to find a way to get that solved."
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