Stakes high for Ravens, Steelers Marchibroda calls meeting 'pivotal' in AFC Central race; Teams split series in '96; Ravens' Thompson: Expect physical game


Maybe no one can explain the importance of today's Ravens home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers better than Ravens safety Bennie Thompson.

Take it away, Bennie

"Yep, this is the statement game, this is the one," said Thompson, with that old Louisiana accent. "For the old guys that came here from Cleveland, we don't like Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh doesn't like us. Some of the new guys and rookies don't understand, but they will once they get out there. There is a very physical nature to this game.

"There is going to be a lot of trash-talking, a lot of it by me. There are going to be punches thrown and I don't know by who, maybe me again. That's just the way we carry on when we play the Steelers."

Apparently, some of the passion of the Steelers-Browns rivalry has made its way to Baltimore, and the stakes have been raised because a win for either team would ensure a spot in the upper echelon of the AFC Central, maybe even first place.

And though it's still early in the season, a loss could have a significant impact.

"This is a pivotal game," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "During the course of the season you're going to run into three or four pivotal games. This is another one. It's a big ballgame, extremely important."

Ravens center Quentin Neujahr said, "This is a big game for us, without a doubt. The Steelers have always been a nemesis of this organization, not just the players. This is even a bigger game for the administration."

The Steelers (2-2) have not forgotten the last time they were in Baltimore. On a rain-soaked afternoon last Dec. 1, quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns, and the Ravens scored on two, 72-yard drives in the second quarter en route to a 31-17 victory.

Pittsburgh lost two of its next three regular-season games.

"That was a turning point in our season," said Steelers linebacker Levon Kirkland. "It was rainy. It was dreary. It was Edgar Allan Poe day."

The teams still play similar styles, and two former Pittsburgh players start for the Ravens (3-2) in tight end Eric Green and running back Bam Morris.

It all adds spice to a game in which one team likes to run, the other prefers passing and both are able to stop the run but not the pass.

The Ravens' main thrust will be on stopping running back Jerome Bettis, who ran for more than 100 yards in both meetings last season.

This season, Bettis has 385 yards on 81 carries, and the Steelers' offensive line, led by center Dermontti Dawson and left tackle John Jackson, presents the Ravens with their stiffest challenge since facing Tennessee Oilers running back Eddie George two weeks ago.

The Ravens held George 40 yards on 10 carries. But the team might be without top run-stopper Tony Siragusa, who has tendon damage in his left ankle. Siragusa didn't practice last week, and a decision on his status will be made at game time.

"The Steelers play with great intensity and this will be a game with two teams that play very hard on each play," Marchibroda said. "They have the 'Bus' [Bettis], and he runs behind a good offensive line. We know we have to slow him down or they'll keep the ball all day on offense."

The Ravens' offense, meanwhile, presents the Steelers with big problems against their major weakness. Pittsburgh has the No. 28 pass defense in the league, allowing an average of 277.3 yards. And the team will be without starting cornerback Chad Scott, a rookie out of Maryland who is nursing a sprained right ankle.

Ravens receivers Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander and Jermaine Lewis are having great seasons, though they were slowed in the team's 21-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers last week. The Ravens are third in the league in passing offense, averaging 260.6 yards.

"They're tough to defend because they've got very good skill people, a solid offensive line and a quarterback who's playing excellent football and making good decisions," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "We're going to have our hands full."

The Ravens also have problems defending the pass. They gave up 352 passing yards and three touchdowns to the Chargers last week, which forced defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to hurry veteran cornerback Eugene Daniel into the starting lineup for second-year player Donny Brady. Daniel was signed as a free agent 2 1/2 weeks ago after missing training camp.

The Ravens are allowing 279.0 passing yards. They have a better opportunity to stop Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart than the Chargers' Stan Humphries, however, because Stewart has been erratic with the long ball.

"It really doesn't matter," Daniel said. "We still have our work cut out for us."

Ravens today

Steelers at Ravens

Site: Memorial Stadium

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Steelers by 1 1/2

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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