PITTSBURGH - The Ravens' unbalanced offensive formation featuring the tackle-eligible might have been an unusual wrinkle for a number of their opponents, but for the Steelers, it's nothing new.
This will be the seventh time Pittsburgh faces a team that uses an unbalanced formation, including the Cleveland Browns (twice in the regular season), San Diego Chargers (once in the regular season and again in the playoffs) and now the Ravens for the third time.
What makes the Ravens' version a little different is the tonnage they bring when they use it. Baltimore substitutes 330-pound tackle Adam Terry for a tight end and loads its backfield with 255-pound fullback Lorenzo Neal and 260-pound ball carrier Le'Ron McClain.
"They're a big, powerful team, and that just increases their ability to apply that power," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.
They key to defending the Ravens' unbalanced line is identifying its true center, he said. Sometimes that's just as simple as counting the guard on the power side as the center and shifting accordingly.
"It really is [the key]. You just move one over and play your defense," LeBeau said. "They're shifting and moving, and sometimes the true center is hard to identify, but again this will be our [seventh] time playing against a lot of unbalance, so that is a plus for us."
Pittsburgh veteran linebacker James Farrior said the Steelers have to find ways to cancel the size mismatch the unbalanced formation creates.
"Our outside guys and our [defensive backs] have to do an excellent job of holding down the edge," he said.
"We're definitely going to have to have more than one guy tackling the ball carrier," Farrior added. "That's what we love to do, that's what our defense loves to do, run around and make plays. Everybody is going to be hustling to the ball. That's what we preach every day in practice, so I'm not worried about just one guy having to make that big tackle."
Impressed with Flacco
Add LeBeau to the growing list of football people who are impressed with Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. LeBeau compared him to the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger in terms of size, arm strength, ability to make plays with his legs and one other important category: victories. Roethlisberger was 14-1 in his rookie season.
The understated LeBeau, now in his fifth decade in the NFL as a player and coach, said, "I think Ben only lost one, but this guy hasn't lost very many either."
Flacco is 13-5.
Safety Troy Polamalu, who has been dealing with a strained calf suffered in warm-ups before Sunday's game against San Diego, practiced yesterday. Center Justin Hartwig, who used a knee brace to stay in against the Chargers, was limited in practice yesterday but he said he will play.
The weather has been getting progressively colder as the week has gone on, and temperatures today are expected to be in single digits. Temperatures will rise over the weekend, but that doesn't mean balmy conditions when the Ravens and Steelers kick off at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
The forecast for game time is low 20s with a chance of snow showers, but the wind is expected to be relatively calm.