The Ravens have flooded the airwaves and newspapers with an advertisement in which new coach Brian Billick says, "It's time to step up." Today against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens either step up or get stepped on.
Billick was polite last week when he said the Ravens lacked physical toughness and intensity in a 27-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams. The bottom line is that the Ravens laid down against the St. Louis Rams in the season opener, a familiar problem that played a major part in the firing of former coach Ted Marchibroda in December.
The lack of motivation was also a major reason the Ravens hired Billick last January, giving him a six-year, $9 million contract. This organization is in search of leadership. Billick says it has to come from the players, not the coach.
"That's something they have to learn, to challenge themselves," Billick said. "My job is to put them in an environment or structure and support them in their development with other players. There are no magical words. I've been at this for 25 years and I don't know if I have ever been motivated by anything a coach said but, 'If you don't do the job, you're out of here.'
"The only motivation a coach has over a player is to threaten his job," Billick said. "The magical words are overrated."
Billick and the Ravens expect a better performance today than last week. If the team needs motivation, it could come from the sellout crowd of nearly 70,000. There is also the concern about losing the first two games of the season, one to the Steelers (1-0), who are also in the AFC Central. Next week, the Cleveland Browns come to town.
"We will have the crowd noise," Billick said. "Veteran teams feed off that negative energy. We have to feed off the positive. Anytime you get the noise cranked up, it works in your favor. By the fourth quarter, it can wear you down emotionally and mentally."
"We didn't get the job done last week," said right guard Jeff Blackshear, who had a lackluster performance along with right tackle Harry Swayne. "We were on the back side, so how can you say you played well? But it will be a lot different this week. This one is in front of our fans; we'll be ready to go. We've got Pittsburgh and Cleveland, two games we need to win."
Billick has hinted that starting quarterback Scott Mitchell has to improve his play this week or No. 2 Stoney Case could replace him. Mitchell completed 17 of 40 passes against the Rams for 188 yards. He was intercepted twice and sacked five times.
Billick doesn't want to be too quick with the hook, but he doesn't want this game to slip away early, either.
"Scott was not as good as Scott needed to be, neither was the line, neither were the backs, neither were the receivers, neither was the defense, plain and simple," Billick said. "When it gets to the point where someone can make a difference and move the offense, I will do it. Not just the quarterback, but in the secondary and the offensive line, the defensive line, you name it."
The Ravens will be at full strength on offense. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who bruised his hip and had to be removed in the second quarter last week, is expected to start. Also, speedy wide receiver Patrick Johnson will be in the lineup after missing last week with a strained calf muscle.
Defensively, the Ravens' top priority is to slow down Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Last year, Bettis had just 41 yards on 23 carries in his only game against the Ravens. If Pittsburgh can get Bettis going, it will stay with the running game.
If not, then Pittsburgh has to rely on quarterback Kordell Stewart, who can be rattled. Most of the pressure has to come from Rob Burnett, who has been slowed by a knee injury, plus fellow defensive end Michael McCrary and outside linebacker Peter Boulware, both of whom are closer to 100 percent than a week ago. Boulware has been hampered by a shoulder injury, and McCrary was limited in training camp because of a knee injury and stalled contract negotiations.
"We have to be disciplined," Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster said of controlling Bettis. "In a way, you have to be selfish. If you do your job, leave him no gaps to run into, then you can be effective. Once he turns those shoulders and starts running downhill, he becomes a load. We have to dominate up front."
The Steelers are coming off a 43-0 win over the Cleveland Browns in which the Browns were held to 9 yards rushing and 40 yards of total offense. Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher has said his team will come into Baltimore ready to play after last week's laugher.
Will the Steelers be overconfident?
"No, I don't think so," Cowher said. "One, the players understand the circumstances we went through and what is going on in Cleveland. Second, look at Baltimore. They're a good football team. They went 4-0 through the preseason and lost a tough one last week.
"They're in the process of learning Brian's offense, and the defense is strong. We have struggled moving the ball against them consistently. We know the type of team they are. We won't be overconfident."