Ravens vs. Steelers. For the 12th-consecutive season, the AFC North rivalry will be on primetime television.
Historically, the rivalry elicits visions of bone-rattling hits from defensive icons and clashes in the trenches – two physical powerhouses ramming into each other.
In more recent years, as the Steelers have fielded one of the best offensive trios in the game, it’s been billed as the Steelers offense vs. the Ravens defense, Ben Roethlisberger vs. Terrell Suggs.
That could be changing a bit, however. Ravens veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree is new to the rivalry, and he has a fresh perspective.
“I don’t really want to talk about the rivalry,” Crabtree said Wednesday. “I’m not making it into anything too big. I’m trying to bring that calmness, like don’t talk and just go play. Let’s just beat them.
“I know the hype all around it. I’m trying to cut through that stuff and just play – kind of change the environment. It’s usually our defense versus their offense. We’re going to cut through that [crap]. We’re going to make plays and do what we do. We’re going about our business.”
Recent meetings at Heinz Field haven’t been so defensive. Last December, the Steelers mounted a fourth-quarter comeback to win, 39-38. On Christmas 2016, the Steelers won, 31-27.
“The last few times we’ve played up there, they’ve turned into a little mini-shootouts and they’ve been a lot of fun to be a part of,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just haven’t come out on the right end of it.”
Just because the games have been more offensively-inclined recently doesn’t mean they’ve lost their physicality, Flacco noted.
The Steelers’ defense ranks 29th in the league and has allowed 30 points per game. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s offense ranks 13th in yards and has averaged more than 32 points per game.
So, while it’s still a clash of Baltimore’s top-ranked defense versus Pittsburgh’s No. 2-ranked offense, there’s plenty to watch when the Ravens offense takes the field too. Asked about the emergence of Baltimore’s offense this season, Crabtree didn’t want to look back.
His outlook is that good offenses don’t talk about it. They just do it. So, when it comes to all the pregame build-up around Ravens vs. Steelers, Crabtree would rather not partake.
“You want to have one of the best offenses out there. That’s just doing your job,” Crabtree said.
“I don’t think you can worry about what happened last year or the year before that or the year before that. Every year is different, and we have new guys. The wide receiver corps is different. People can let that [crap] go. The comparison [crap] is over. You answer by what you do and how good you can be. I don’t care about who did what and who got what. It’s about winning and getting the most out of the offense.”
Crabtree has his fellow wide receivers, John Brown and Willie Snead IV, convinced too. All three are new to Ravens-Steelers, and they’re all taking a chill approach.
“I know it’s going to be a tough one and competitive one, but I’ve played them in my career before and they treat every game like a rivalry, especially playing at home,” Brown said. “I know what this game means to this organization and I know how Pittsburgh is.”
“I’m not trying to get too high on it,” Snead added. “To me, it’s just another game. But there’s definitely some emphasis behind it. There is some grit and fire to this game.”