He's seen both sides of Ravens

The Baltimore Sun

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has seen enough of the Ravens to know that what you think you see isn't what you necessarily get.

Specifically, Tomlin has seen - both from the sideline and on tape - that the Ravens try to control field position with a punishing ground game, punter Sam Koch's precision placements and a stout defense. That is, until the Ravens do just the opposite.

"They do a nice job of managing situations," said Tomlin as he readies his team for Sunday's AFC championship against the Ravens at Heinz Field. "They pace themselves and there's an eerie calm about the [Ravens] and a confidence about that bunch because they know they've got great defense and it's all right to punt one, two, three times because invariably, No. 20 [safety Ed Reed] is going to come to the sideline with the ball in his hands or worse than that - at least from my perspective - he's going to go in the end zone with it."

However ...

"Then they're capable of striking and striking big," Tomlin said. "I think that was also evident in the Tennessee game [last Saturday]. When they went third-and-[13] and hit Derrick Mason down the sideline for a touchdown. You have to be extremely cautious when you play this football team. ... They don't necessarily play it close to the vest, even though from a fan's standpoint, it may appear so."

The Steelers have seen, both up close and from afar, examples of both sides of the Ravens. For instance, in the first half of Pittsburgh's 13-9 win at M&T; Bank Stadium on Dec. 14, the Ravens played textbook field-position football and the frustrated Steelers spent most of the opening 30 minutes bottled up in their own territory.

In the Ravens' 13-10 playoff win over the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore started out by patiently doing much the same, running the ball on third-and-long on its first two possessions and punting. But on the next conversion opportunity, third-and-13, quarterback Joe Flacco went deep down the right side to Mason for a 48-yard touchdown that tied the game, 7-7.

"One would think that you've got to play the chains in those circumstances, routes breaking in and around the chains" for the first down, Tomlin said. "Well, he went over the top on them and put seven [points] on the board."

"They do that quite often," the Steelers coach added. "You'll see double moves from those guys on third-down-and-8 and they'll stutter it about 9 yards and go by you. ... Maybe it's not interesting for a viewer, but from a coach's standpoint, this is not an overly conservative bunch. [The Ravens] play smart and they play to their strengths."

Tomlin noted that the Ravens are plus-seven in turnovers during the playoffs. And there was one Raven Tomlin singled out. Not surprisingly, it was Reed, who has had nine interceptions in the regular season and two more in the playoffs.

"So often you see teams throw a deep ball and it's caught by no one," Tomlin said. "Very rarely do you see that against the Baltimore Ravens because they got a guy, No. 20, that plays in the middle of the field back there. Very few balls hit the ground when you throw deep versus those guys. He's got that kind of range, he has that kind of intuition. He's that kind of playmaker."

Notes: : Tomlin revealed yesterday that he had not been certain that his own star safety, Troy Polamalu, would have been able to play in Sunday's 35-24 divisional win over the San Diego Chargers. Polamalu strained a calf muscle in warm-ups and wasn't announced in introductions. Polamalu did play and finished with four tackles. Tomlin said the safety would be limited in practice this week but is expected to play against the Ravens. ... Steelers center Justin Hartwig "tweaked" his knee in the first half against the Chargers, was outfitted with a brace and finished the game. ... Tomlin was asked about a report that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered what was described as a concussion in the final regular-season game against the Cleveland Browns, actually suffered a spinal concussion. Tomlin refused to directly address what he called "potentially erroneous reports." Roethlisberger played against the Chargers on Sunday, going 17-for-26 for 181 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. ... This is the Steelers' 14th appearance in the AFC championship game.

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