Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A; with someone who covers the Ravens’ opponent that week. In case you haven’t heard, the Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday. I chatted with longtime Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette this week while I covered the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
MV: What are your expectations for quarterback Byron Leftwich, who will fill in for Ben Roethlisberger?
EB: He’s played well in the preseason. And when he was getting ready to start in 2010 when Ben was suspended, he was having a real good preseason, I thought, then he got hurt and didn’t play. But this guy is a big-time quarterback. He’s no longer a franchise quarterback or an elite guy like Ben, but I still think he can do it. So my expectations are that the quarterback position is going to be OK.
MV: Like the Ravens, the Steelers had to answer questions before the season about how people say their defense is old and they were falling apart and all that. But the Steelers defense is tops in the league in total yards allowed right now. How were they able to stabilize themselves after a sluggish start and get where they are now?
EB: I think there’s a couple of things going on there. They’re tops in yards allowed, but they don’t make the big plays like they used to. They have five interceptions, four fumble recoveries. So that’s nine turnovers. They’re just not getting the turnovers like they used to. But what’s helped is that they got some people healthy like [linebacker] LaMarr Woodley and [linebacker] James Harrison, who missed the first three games, though he hasn’t been playing at his top level. I think [cornerback] Keenan Lewis has been a big addition for them. And they lost [safety Troy] Polamalu early and they lost [safety] Ryan Clark for a game in Denver [due to a medical condition]. With Polamalu being out, they’ve finally found the right combination, and that’s Will Allen to go with Ryan Clark. That’s helped settle the secondary down, too. There’s been several reasons.
MV: With running back Rashard Mendenhall returning to practice, it looks like everybody -- and by that I mean him, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer -- is healthy for once. How do you see the carries shaking out Sunday?
EB: They said they would go with the hot hand then the plan last week was every two series switch between Dwyer and Redman. But those guys no longer have the hot hand after their play against Kansas City, so I think it makes it easier for them to go back to Mendenhall. That would be my expectation, that he’s going to start, and as long as he does OK, he will be the running game.
MV: Who is the bigger concern for the Steelers defense: quarterback Joe Flacco or running back Ray Rice?
EB: They always, always, always, as long as I’ve covered this team, have said that stopping the run is the most important thing on their agenda. And so I would say stop Ray Rice.
MV: The Ravens talked opening in the past about wanting to build a team that could beat the Steelers. They won the season series for the first time in a while last season. Do you get the sense that the Steelers have extra motivation, beyond the implications to their title hopes, to settle the score against the Ravens?
EB: I asked [nose tackle] Casey Hampton that question today. “They beat you twice last year,” I told him. And he said, “Yeah, but we’ve always beaten them in the playoffs.” I think that’s kind of their attitude that the Ravens still have not gone through Pittsburgh to get to a Super Bowl, while the Steelers have gone through them to get to the Super Bowl. Now, I’m not stating that as fact. That’s my opinion of how they feel.