All attention should turn to Flacco on Sunday vs. Steelers

There needs to be more interest in the quarterback who is playing this week than the one who isn't.

With Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out of Sunday's game with rib and shoulder injuries, it's safe to assume the Steelers are going to struggle scoring points even against the Ravens' suspect defense.

But a major concern now shifts to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and if he can handle Pittsburgh's defense.

Good teams rally around big injuries or tragedies.

The Steelers already had the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL, and they likely will be even better this week to make up for Roethlisberger being out.

The last time Roethlisberger missed extended time was during a four-game suspension by the NFL in 2010 and the Steelers still went 3-1. They were on a mission because they wanted to prove they weren't a one-man team, and Pittsburgh was still defined by its defense.

They'll be on the same mission again Sunday night.

They'll be just as defiant when they come out possibly wearing those Ronald McDonald throwback uniforms and inviting back every former Steelers star from across the country.

Heinz Field will be jacked up.

"We are looking for a chance to — No. 1— control the division, but it just so happens to be the Steelers," Ravens running back Ray Rice said. "You can't take anything away from them. Even without Ben Roethlisberger, they're still going to play great football. That's how much confidence coach [Mike] Tomlin has in that group.

"We know our challenges ahead. They are a physical bunch. They haven't changed a lot on defense, even with their stars out — [Troy] Polamalu. They are still coming after you. They are going to hit you hard. As a running back — especially on that field and that grass, as a running back, [it will be] a nice little day for us."

That's what Ravens fans are hoping, but no one knows for sure about which Flacco or Ravens offense will show up Sunday night.

Flacco has had big games in Pittsburgh including last November when he completed 28 of 47 passes for 300 yards, no interceptions and finished with a rating of 85.4

But so far this season, the Ravens have been dismal on the road, scoring 70 points and rolling up only 1,081 yards compared to 184 points and 2,106 in five home games.

Flacco has a quarterback rating of 108 at home this season compared to 62.7 on the road. When he was recently asked why he and the offense struggled at away games, Flacco had no answer.

But if the Ravens are disciplined and take advantage of a few weaknesses, 14 points might be enough to win the game.

"We have to take what they are going to give us, but I think running the ball is something that we have to do well against them," Rice said. "I've always said it: You don't pick up and say, 'We are going to run the ball at the Pittsburgh Steelers.' They take a lot of pride in that. We'll be smart when we run it, but we will try to execute at a high level and get some great runs. I'm sure we will be passing the ball as well. We have some burners on the outside."

This Steelers defense is not as great as some in the past. They are allowing 94.6 rushing yards a game, and last Monday night the Kansas City Chiefs ran right at defensive end Ziggy Hood and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

Fellow outside linebacker James Harrison, once one of the most feared pass rushers in the league, has only one sack and is still slowed by a knee injury. He is more of a target against the run because he can no longer get full bend in his knees and leverage, which was a major asset for the 6-0 Harrison.

Pittsburgh will also be without strong safety Troy Polamalu and possibly free safety Ryan Clark because of injuries.

"Those guys are going to have good guys on the back end no matter what," Flacco said. "Obviously, those guys give you something that maybe not everybody in the league has. They are physical. Troy is a little bit unpredictable.

"They may not have that, but whoever they do put back there is going to be a good player, and they are going to come in and definitely make sure they have something to show us. We can't take them lightly, and we have to go out there and just execute the plays the way they are meant to be."

The X-factor in this game could be Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. The Steelers haven't had a shut down cornerback for years, and they still don't. The best they have is Ike Taylor.

Pittsburgh's philosophy has been to give up the short and mid range passes and tackle well, but never let anyone get behind the coverage.

Tight end Dennis Pitta could have a big game and Smith as well before he lures Taylor in and the Ravens go over top.

"They're playing well," said Flacco of Pittsburgh starting cornerbacks Taylor and Kennan Lewis. "We'll see what happens on the back end, but those guys are going to have to come up, be physical, and they'll probably rely on those guys a good amount to play our guys pretty tight. I have a lot of confidence in our receivers. We've played Taylor a good amount over the years, and Lewis has started to show up a little bit. Obviously now, he is in there for the long haul, so it'll be exciting to get out there and get a feel for them [in] live action."

Before the Roethlisberger injury, it was his game to control because he was playing so well. But without him, the attention has to shift to Flacco.

If the Ravens can control the clock and make a few plays, they win. If Flacco plays like he has done throughout most of his career in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have no chance.

But if the Ravens play in Heinz Field like they've done on the road this season, they'll get beat and have wasted an excellent opportunity.

If the Ravens are a team in transition going from defense to offense, this is the perfect time to prove it.

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