Ray Lewis: Don't Need Chin Strap To Play Steelers
When the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh for their primetime showdown Sunday, they'll be facing a very different team than the one Ray Lewis used to know, says the former linebacker.
When the Steelers played on Monday night 10 days ago, Lewis was asked about Bill Cower and Hines Ward describing their former team as "finesse on offense, soft on defense."
Lewis didn't disagree, noting how the style of Pittsburgh football has changed.
"Totally different. Totally different," the future Hall of Fame linebacker said on "Monday Night Countdown" before the Steelers' Week 7 matchup.
"I'm telling you, from the moment you started to watch film, you realized that in your bag you had to pack two chin straps. Now, you don't even have to pack a chin strap when playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers because their style of play is just so night and day."
Lewis recalled how even the wide receivers used to be physical. Ward quickly comes to mind. He said the offensive line was the "nastiest" in all of football and the defensive line was known as the "Steel Curtain" dating back to the 1970s. Lewis remembers pounding pads against Jerome "The Bus" Bettis.
Now the Steelers feature Antonio Brown (5-10, 186) at wide receiver and Le'Veon Bell (6-1, 244) at running back, who have different styles of play, but are still two of the best in the league at their positions. Brown ranks second in the league in total receiving yards and Bell ranks third in rushing yards. The offense is No. 3 overall.
So they may be a "finesse" offense, but they're still productive. And, of course, the finesse comments came before the Steelers offense exploded the last two weeks* *against the Texans and Colts.
On defense, however, the Steelers are ranked No. 16 in the NFL. They've given up 357.9 yards per game, and they're also allowing 24.5 points per game (No. 21).
That's a far cry from the Pittsburgh defense that Lewis played against in the 2000s, when the unit consistently ranked in the top-10, and many times higher.
To Lewis, the difference is the physicality.
"[W]hen you hear people that played in this organization taking shots at them like that – I'll let them do that,"* *Lewis said. "But what I will tell you is this not the same team that I'm used to. I remember on this same goal line – first down, second down, Jerome Bettis, whoever it was – you had to pack a lunch when you came to play these guys.
"And now the philosophy, and what they're going through just doesn't fit Steel City."
Don't Ask Suggs About 100th Sack!
Professional athletes are some of the most superstitious people on the planet.
Count Terrell Suggs as one of them.
The Ravens outside linebacker currently has 98 career sacks, and if he picks up two on Sunday, his 100th would be against his arch nemesis Ben Roethlisberger. Suggs was asked what it would mean to him to hit the milestone against his rival.
"And why would you say some [stuff] like that? On air, on Wednesday?" Suggs shot back, drawing laughter from the media. He doesn't want to jinx it.
"But answering that question … It would be cool," he said. "But that 'W' would feel a hell of a lot better on the plane ride home."
Looking at history, Suggs has a decent chance of not only picking up No. 100, but maybe even No. 101.
In The Baltimore Sun's "five stats that standout" article, Jon Meoli points out that "threes are wild this week" for Suggs.
Turns out, he has three sacks in three of his past six regular-season trips to Heinz field, including a hat trick last year. He also has sacks in three straight games.
Let's hope he can continue the streak and live up to his "bad guy"* *reputation in the Steel City.
"To be the villain? At Heinz Field? Yeah, I love it," Suggs said. "I love it because they put so much energy into hating you. You obviously are doing something, so it's kind of flattering. I take it as a sign of respect."
Smolka: NFL Dropped The Ball With Ravens Schedule
Count Bo Smolka as one who doesn't like how the NFL set up the Ravens schedule this year.
He doesn't like how their presumed top two division rival games will all be played in the first nine weeks of the season.
"The Ravens charge into Heinz Field Sunday night for another critical AFC North that will have huge playoff implications and, quite frankly, should be played much later in the season," wrote the CSNBaltimore.com reporter. "The NFL really dropped the ball with its AFC North scheduling this season.
"So much for late-season drama. Instead of the buildup to the divisional slugfests in the frosty air of December, the NFL gives you Ravens-Jaguars."
The Ravens do play the Browns in the regular-season finale. And with the way Cleveland is playing (4-3), that matchup could have a major impact on the playoff seedings.
But Smolka points out that from 2001 to 2007, the Ravens and Steelers met in the final four weeks of the season, and thinks it should stay that way.
Head Coach John Harbaugh has been peppered with questions about whether he likes his division schedule, but he says it's really not a big deal.
"Doesn't matter," Harbaugh added. "It doesn't matter if I prefer or don't prefer. They give you a schedule. It's just (a) waste of energy to even think about stuff like that, so I don't think about it."
Do Ravens Have Big Ben's Number?
Yes, Roethlisberger is coming off the best game of his life (statically speaking – the man has won two Super Bowls).
He put up 522 yards and six touchdowns last week and the Ravens are banged up in the secondary, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will have a big game against Baltimore.
"History suggests you shouldn't write off the Ravens so easily," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
"It looks like the Ravens are the ones who have had Roethlisberger's number lately. The Ravens have beaten him in four of the last five meetings, recording as many interceptions (five) as touchdowns allowed (five). His passer rating against the Ravens since 2011 is an extremely mediocre 78.2."
Steelers Hoping To Get Extra Motivation From Joe Greene
The Steelers will retire Hall of Fame defensive end Joe Greene's No. 75 jersey on Sunday night, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin hopes it serves as a little extra motivation for his players to beat Baltimore.
"It's Joe Greene," said Tomlin, per the Steelers official team site. "We all feel a little better when we see Joe, even though he is not playing. I know the fans have a level of appreciation for him and what he meant to this organization, the city and football in general.
"I expect it to be a really positive thing and one that we can hopefully find a source of energy from that can help us perform in the game."
- Jimmy Smith was selected for Peter King's midseason All-Pro team for first-team cornerback and Marshal Yanda was selected for the first-team right guard. C.J. Mosley is on the second-team at inside linebacker. [MMQB.com]
- Yanda and Rick Wagner were selected for All-Pete Prisco midseason team at right guard and right tackle, respectively. [CBSSports.com]
- Joe Flacco is ranked as the 13th-best quarterback at the midseason mark. [NFL.com]
- Stock up: Ravens red-zone offense. "The Ravens have been the ninth-best red zone offense over the past three games," wrote Hensley. "That's a big difference from being No. 28 in the first five weeks of the season." [ESPN]