Firing on all cylinders, Ravens move to top of playoff picture

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens moved from the second tier of possible playoff contenders into the top group yesterday with a 27-0 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This wasn't just a victory, but a total beat down, easily the Ravens' best game of the season. Move over, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots.

It wasn't just the margin of victory that made this win so significant, but also that the Ravens are showing signs of developing into a quality team. The Steelers aren't the Tennessee Titans or Atlanta Falcons, but the defending Super Bowl champions who faced possible playoff elimination if they lost yesterday. It was close to a playoff game as far as intensity, and the Ravens played to near perfection.

They pounded the ball effectively as their running game continues to improve. In the first half, they pressured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with basically a four-man rush, the sign of a great defense.

In the past, the Ravens' offense has had trouble picking up blitzes up the middle, but had no breakdowns yesterday.

There were other important signs as well. The Ravens had six first downs and averaged 8.2 yards on first-down plays in the first quarter. That's real football, because it keeps defensive coordinators guessing on second down. They averaged 4.5 yards on 12 first-down plays in the second quarter.

The Ravens don't need a high-scoring offense, but one that needs to be around No. 15 in the league to give them more balance. The Ravens had 215 yards of total offense in the first half.

They easily could have had more in the second half, but coach Brian Billick began resting some of his starters after linebacker Adalius Thomas recovered a fumble and ran 57 yards for a touchdown to put the Ravens ahead 24-0 with 4:46 left in the third quarter.

Simply put, the Ravens played like a quality team.

Roethlisberger roughed up

Steelers coach Bill Cowher should be ashamed of himself for playing Roethlisberger the entire game. Roethlisberger was sacked nine times and hurried nine others. He could easily dominate ESPN's "Jacked Up" segment, especially when Ravens linebacker Bart Scott stretched him out late in the first half.

Roethlisberger is only a shell of his former self, and you can see it in his eyes. The kid is totally lost, and he never should have been the starter at the beginning of the season because of his motorcycle accident shortly before training camp.

Instead, Cowher tried to make him into a "Super Bowl" quarterback by throwing the ball instead of staying with the running game. Even more embarrassing for Cow- her is the fact that he won't play backup Charlie Batch, who has been successful when called on to play in the past two years.

Roethlisberger had no chance yesterday, yet Cowher kept throwing him out there to take a beating.

Suggs steps up

Outside linebacker/end Terrell Suggs had six tackles, including two sacks. Suggs used to disappear against quality offensive tackles, but that's no longer the case.

Pittsburgh left tackle Marvel Smith had played well against Suggs, but he had problems trying to control him. When the Steelers tried to run to his side, he forced several plays inside. He also forced Roethlisberger to move several times when he tried to pass in the pocket.

Suggs seems to be peaking along with tackle Trevor Pryce. Pryce was slow to adapt to the Ravens' defensive scheme but appears a lot more comfortable.

"When you put them next to each other, that causes a lot of problems," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "Which one do you double-team?"

Ryan's stock rising?

Speaking of Ryan, if the defense continues to play well, will he be among possible head coaching candidates this offseason?

Before yesterday, the Ravens had the No. 2-ranked defense in the league. They held the Steelers' fifth-ranked offense to 172 yards of total offense. Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, San Francisco's Mike Nolan and Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio are all former Ravens defensive assistants who have become head coaches.

Ryan talked only about his defense briefly before setting the tone for the Bengals in three days. But he couldn't help but send a message to Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- in typical Ryan fashion.

"As T.J. Houshmandzadeh said: 'They are better than we are,' so we'll find out," Ryan said.

Steelers' stars AWOL

Did anybody see Pittsburgh outside linebacker Joey Porter or safety Troy Polamalu? Porter was talking his usual mess before the game, but he only got within a sniff of a sack. Porter finished with eight tackles, mostly after left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden pushed him downfield about 4 or 5 yards.

As for Polamalu, he had 10 tackles, but he missed about 10, too. He looked like he was playing with only one shoulder. But he looked like a lot of the other Steelers who failed to wrap up and make tackles.

Question of the day goes to Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden and safety Ryan Clark: How does it feel to have 245 pounds of Jamal Lewis cave in your chest when he has a 10-yard head start?

Saving J. Lewis

If you're wondering why Lewis had 13 carries in the first half and only four in the second, it wasn't because Billick was trying to work reserves Mike Anderson and Musa Smith into the rotation. Billick was saving Lewis for the Bengals.

A nice dose of Lewis will give Cincinnati a lot of trouble.

Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at

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