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Weakened Ravens secondary prepares to face Ben Roethlisberger, who's on a hot streak

Weakened Ravens secondary prepares to face Ben Roethlisberger, who's on a hot streak
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during the first quarter against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs has expressed his respect and admiration for Ben Roethlisberger many times over the years. However, when he was asked about the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback's record-breaking performance last Sunday, Suggs didn't exactly heap on the praise.

"Congratulations to him — whatever," Suggs said Wednesday. "They have to line up on Sunday and so do we."

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The Ravens have faced Roethlisberger 17 times since he broke into the league in 2004, but rarely — if ever — have they encountered him on a roll like he's on now. In his last two games, Roethlisberger completed 63 of 82 passing attempts for 787 yards, eight touchdown passes and no interceptions.

In a 51-34 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, Roethlisberger became the first quarterback in NFL history to have a second 500-yard passing day. He also established single-game franchise records for passing yards (522), completions (40) and touchdown passes (six)

"When he's in that zone," Steelers receiver Antonio Brown said, "it's absolutely special."

On Sunday, Roethlisberger will be the Ravens' problem as the two long-time rivals meet in a prime-time game at Heinz Field. Both teams are 5-3 and need a victory to keep up with the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1). The Ravens know that in order to get the win they'll have to cool off Roethlisberger, who leads an offense that has scored 30 or more points four times this season and ranks third in yards per game (418.3).

"It's always been stop No.7," Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "That's always been our thing. If we can stop [him], we can win the game. The front seven guys, they'll take care of the run. We have to just take care of No.7."

Roethlisberger has long been one of the faces of the rivalry and has caused plenty of angst for Ravens players and coaches. He's helped the Steelers beat the Ravens 10 times in 17 meetings, including in both playoff matchups — the AFC championship game after the 2008 season and in the divisional round after the 2010 season.

He's also engineered several late game-winning drives but for the most part, the Ravens have managed to keep him from posting huge statistical days. In 17 meetings, Roethlisberger has passed for more than 250 yards six times and for 300 yards just once. He's thrown one touchdown pass or fewer against the Ravens 11 times and he's tossed for more than two scores just once.

Overall, he has 24 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions against the Ravens.

"Ben is a great quarterback. We respect Ben enough to not allow him to take over the game," said Ravens strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw. "We just want to get after him and try to slow him down, but he's going to make plays."

The timing of their latest matchup with Roethlisberger is particularly bad for the Ravens. While the Steelers' offense is seemingly getting more explosive every week and Roethlisberger's chemistry with his young receiving group is growing, the Ravens secondary is trying to compensate for losing its best player.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith sprained his left foot in the Ravens' loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and he is expected to miss several weeks. Smith shadowed Brown, Pittsburgh's top receiver, in the Sept. 11 matchup between the two teams, a 26-6 Ravens victory. Brown leads the NFL with 60 receptions and is second with 852 yards, but Smith held him to seven catches for 90 yards in Week 2, with several of those catches coming after the game's outcome had long been decided.

"Guys are going to step up," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "We have the guys we need. Every team faces some kind of a situation at some position, and we've had injuries all year in different positions, and you just have to step up. It's not something we talk about. We don't make a big deal about it. It's not a point of emphasis for us."

For now, the Ravens are expected to use Webb and Dominique Franks as the two starting cornerbacks with Chykie Brown, who has been inactive the past two games, also potentially seeing some snaps on the outside. Not only will they have to deal with the dynamic Brown, but also Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton, two young receivers who are establishing themselves as big-play threats.

The Ravens all year have struggled to limit big plays in the passing game — they've allowed 31 receptions of 20 yards or more, the third most in the league. Now, they have to move forward without Smith.

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"This week is about us, not about them," said Chykie Brown. "It's about whether we can correct what we did last week and keep going forward. They had a good game and everything but we have to take care of us, worry about us and get better with what we do."

Franks was picked on by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton last week and it's a safe assumption that Roethlisberger will challenge him early and often Sunday.

"This is a big game for me," Franks said. "This is a game where I can really prove how good I am and that I can play in this league. I haven't proven myself, so I would expect people to think that way. It's a good opportunity for me. I need to treat it like a normal game and work on my technique and go out there and play well."

When the Ravens have frustrated Roethlisberger, they've done it mostly with their pass rush. The Ravens have sacked him 54 times, an average of more than three per game. Suggs has 14 1/2 of those, but even he was a little envious of the hit that Upshaw put on Roethlisberger in September.

Upshaw was flagged for unnecessary roughness and ultimately fined, but the hit certainly made a mark. Roethlisberger acknowledged that it was one of the toughest that he's had to take and he didn't look like himself for the rest of the game. He completed 22-of-37 passes for 217 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

Seven weeks later, the Ravens are catching him under far different circumstances.

"It's going to be a challenge," Webb said. "Ben has been Ben for years. He's been putting up stats like that for the longest [time]. But we knew before they even played that game that we were going to have to come in on point in the secondary."

Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.

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