Hampton Starts The Trash Talk
It's been an unusual Steelers-Ravens week.
There's been no trash talk.
The two teams have never been the type to hold their tongues in the past, but presser after presser this week, the rivals have only talked of their respect for one another. Sure, they've always given that due respect in the past, but it is usually mixed in with a few fighting words.
Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton finally broke this week's trend with a jab about the Ravens' one-sided hate and a reminder of the Steelers-Ravens playoff record.
Considering the history of this heated rivalry, Hampton was asked if Pittsburgh players really hate the Ravens.
"You know 'hate' is a terrible word to say," Hampton said, per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"I think they hate us, though."
Reporters followed up, asking why hate is only a terrible word for the Ravens to use but not the Steelers.
"Probably because we knock them out of the playoffs all the time," Hampton replied. "Isn't that what they say?
"I'd hate us, too."
Hampton is as knowledgeable about the rivalry as anyone considering he's been a part of it for a dozen years. He knows his team has a 3-0 playoff record against Baltimore. But the Ravens swept the Steelers last season, sending them on the road for a wild-card matchup in Denver. Pittsburgh lost the game, while the Ravens advanced to the AFC championship game.
Despite Baltimore being the reigning AFC North champions, Hampton and the Steelers are trying to exude a quiet confidence while giving the impression that the Ravens are just another team.
"The [Steelers'] company line is that the Ravens — as formidable as they are and as fierce as this rivalry is — are just another team in their path toward another NFL title," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Matt Vensel.
Said safety Ryan Clark: "It's a football game — like the other 15 I play every year. It's a football game. I put no more importance on it than any other division game, and that's the honest-to-God truth.
"I know people get upset with me when I say it. Fans boo-ha-ha about it. But you know, Coach [Mike] Tomlin always says it's a nameless gray face. These guys are standing in our way and are a team we have to beat in order to win this division. So it's important."
Vensel isn't completely buying the Steelers' poker face, saying the Ravens have certainly become the hunted in the AFC North.
The Steelers were "embarrassed" in a blowout season-opener at M&T Bank Stadium last year. And then quarterback Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith broke their hearts with a game-winning touchdown with eight seconds remaining at Heinz Field.
"[A]s often as they are reciting Tomlin's non-confrontational mantra about their opponents' faces whenever a microphone is shoved in their own, Steelers players know deep down that the nameless gray faces they will butt heads with Sunday night at Heinz Field will be wearing black and purple helmets," Vensel wrote.
"That should elicit emotion, and the bad memories, the bitter taste and the hard feelings will come rushing back."
The Ravens have the chance to make it three wins in a row over Pittsburgh. The last time they did that was in the 2005-06 seasons.
Hampton does at least admit the losses last year left a bitter taste and he wants to put an end to the streak.
"You never want to lose to those guys – period," Hampton said. "That's definitely a bad taste in our mouth, losing to them twice in a row. We need to get that turned around."
Watch Your Wallets At Heinz Field
The Washington Redskins claim Head Coach Mike Shanahan had money and a passport stolen from the locker room during their game in Pittsburgh last month, per the Associated Press.
The Redskins released a statement yesterday, saying Pittsburgh officials insisted on filing a police report. The investigation is ongoing.
The Ravens may want to watch their belongings a little more closely this Sunday night.
More Info On Smith Surgery, Could Make For Longer Recovery
The Ravens announced yesterday that cornerback Jimmy Smith underwent successful groin surgery this week, and is expected to return this season.
A report from NFL.com's Ian Rapoport provided a little more information, saying it was a sports hernia operation, which could make for a longer recovery.
"The fact that it was a sports hernia – essentially a tear in the abdominal six-pack – complicates matters more than groin surgery (though sports hernias often originally are considered groin injuries)," NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal wrote.
"The general timetable can be anywhere from three to six weeks, making it questionable if Smith can return before the end of the season."
ESPN's Jamison Hensley sees this as yet another stumbling block in the second-year cornerback's young career.
"This is another setback for Smith, who hasn't lived up to expectations after being a first-round pick in the 2011 draft. Injuries and inconsistent play have limited Smith to five starts and two interceptions," the AFC North blogger wrote.
Case For Ravens To Make Super Bowl
Two days ago, ESPN's KC Joyner gave five reasons why the Ravens are Super Bowl pretenders.
Unrelated to Joyner's story, Hensley made a case for Baltimore being the most-likely team to represent the AFC North in the Super Bowl. (All ESPN bloggers did the same thing for their respective divisions).
Here's why Hensley says Baltimore has the best chance:
1) Ben Roethlisberger's injuries make the Ravens the clear-cut favorite to win the division.
2) There are no more questions about whether Joe Flacco can lead a team to the Super Bowl.
3) Despite the Ravens having the "worst defense in more than a decade," it is championship-caliber in an important category: inside the red zone.
Steelers Making Adjustments For Leftwich
Usually when players go down with injuries, teams keep a straight face and say it changes nothing and it will move forward as planned. That seemed to Head Coach Mike Tomlin's approach earlier this week.
But that's not what Steelers Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley is saying after losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Instead, he plans on adapting his offense to backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, rather than the other way around, according to the Post-Gazette.
"Byron is not Ben, and I think it's very important that we and he understand that," Haley said Thursday. "He can't go out there trying to be Ben; he needs to go out there and be Byron.
"This is why I make the point every time you all say 'Haley's offense,' it's not my offense. We're going to do things to cater to the strength of our players. Obviously, that will be critical when you talk about the quarterback position. We're going to cater to Byron's strengths, as opposed to trying to force square pegs into round holes, so to speak."
That could mean the Ravens will see a different offense than the one they have been preparing for this week. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees' ability to adapt could prove to be critical.
Week 11 Picks: Ravens vs. Steelers
The absence of Roethlisberger has changed a lot of minds; many favoring the Steelers have now switched over to the Ravens.
But not everybody is jumping on that bandwagon. Of the 28 expert picks below, eight are sticking with their prediction of a Pittsburgh victory.
The Baltimore Sun: 7 of 7 pick Ravens
Jeff Zrebiec: "How much does Ben Roethlisberger matter? Admittedly, if he was healthy, I'd be picking the Steelers by at least a touchdown."
ESPN.com: 8 of 12 pick Ravens
Yahoo! Sports: 2 of 3 pick Ravens
SportingNews.com (Vinnie Iyer): Ravens 23, Steelers 20
"As usual, there will be a lot of hard hitting but not a lot of scoring. It will be a grind for the Ravens, even without having to face Roethlisberger. But for the second straight season, Flacco will respond on the road against Pittsburgh."
FoxSports.com (Peter Schrager): Steelers 20, Ravens 16
The big stat that ESPN and the NFL Network have been floating around this week is that Pittsburgh is 9-5 against the Ravens with Ben Roethlisberger under center and 0-4 without him since 2004. Numbers never lie, but sometimes they tend to exaggerate things. Consider this: In those four losses to the Ravens without Big Ben, the Steelers lost by 3, 6, 3 and 3 points. Not exactly blowout city. The Ravens are a different team at home and on the road this year. They're 2-2 in games played outside of Baltimore, and in those two wins, they were incredibly fortunate to beat bad Chiefs and Browns teams. I know Ben's questionable "with a shoulder" (I always love that), but I'm still taking Pittsburgh. Ravens fans, I ask you to save your emails until after the game, please."
CBSSports.com (Pete Prisco): Steelers 28, Ravens 23
"This is a huge game in the AFC. The winner will be in first place in the AFC North. This used to be a physical war, but it's now more about each team's passing game. One problem: The Steelers might not have Ben Roethlisberger. Can Byron Leftwich keep up if it's a shootout? I think he can. The Steelers find a way -- even without Roethlisberger."
SI.com (Peter King): Ravens 27, Steelers 16
"It's Byron Leftwich for the Steelers Sunday night. Byron Sandwich, if Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger get their way. NBC in mourning over the Big Ben boo-boo. Song heard on Sunday Night Football poohbahs' iPods: While Fred Gaudelli's Guitar Gently Weeps."
ProFootballTalk.com (Mike Florio): Steelers 17, Ravens 13
"The Steelers have played the Ravens close without Ben Roethlisberger. And that's when the Ravens actually had a great defense. If the Steelers can run the ball effectively and if Byron Leftwich can start his elongated throwing motion quickly enough to get the ball out before Terrell Suggs plants him into the ground, the Steelers can hold serve at home."
ProFootballTalk.com (Michael David Smith): Ravens 17, Steelers 13
"Ben Roethlisberger's injury came at the worst possible time for the Steelers. Before Big Ben got hurt, I was expecting the Steelers to beat the Ravens both this week in Pittsburgh and two weeks from now in Baltimore, and to take the lead in the AFC North. But with Byron Leftwich in for Roethlisberger, I like the Ravens."
- The perception of Flacco has changed in the Steelers locker room, unless they are hiding their true feelings, says Vensel. [The Baltimore Sun]
- Steelers running back Isaac Redman said it "looks like" Rashard Mendenhall will start at tailback. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
- Hensley predicted who will start at left guard against the Steelers: "The way [Jah] Reid played there last Sunday; I would be surprised if he didn't get the starting nod. Bobbie Williams was a veteran stopgap and Harewood is overmatched at that spot. Reid would've been the man there all along if he was healthy coming out of camp." [ESPN]
- @mattvensel: #Steelers safety Ryan Clark just said that barring a setback, he expects to play Sunday night against the #Ravens. [Twitter]
- @mzenitz: Cam Cameron on rookie RT K. Osemele: "For a young player, he is a really intense studier - very detailed in his note-taking. Very mature." [Twitter]
- Credit unsung hero for Jacoby Jones' kick return success. [CBSSports.com]