The Ravens have battled Ben Roethlisberger 28 times, and they still respect his ability to hurt them.
There's plenty of speculation that the 39-year-old Roethlisberger is playing his final season, but he remains a central figure in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry. He doesn't move as well as he did 10 years ago, and he's getting rid of the football quicker than he did during his prime, when he often improvised and extended plays to find open receivers.
However, Roethlisberger is on pace for another 4,000-yard season (14 touchdowns, six interceptions, 2,522 yards), and facing the Ravens often brings out his best. Including the playoffs, Roethlisberger has a 17-11 career record against Baltimore, including last year when Pittsburgh swept the season series.
Heading into Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, Head Coach John Harbaugh has plenty of memories of facing Roethlisberger, and many of them are not pleasant.
"We've played him more than anybody else, probably, over the years," Harbaugh said. "He's made plays that were just jaw-dropping plays against us. You guys have seen them; the throws he's made, the scramble plays he's made, the red zone plays he's made going out to his left and finding somebody – those are all indelibly marked in my brain, as you can probably tell. So, he's unique.
"He has a little different style than he had, but it's effective, and it's the way he's playing right now."
The Steelers (5-5-1) desperately need a win as they're winless in their last three games and coming off a 41-10 beatdown by the Cincinnati Bengals. For the first time with Roethlisberger as their starting quarterback, the Steelers are underdogs against the Ravens at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger has been sacked 24 times this season, which is already almost twice as much as he was sacked last year (15). That speaks well for Baltimore's chances to get some hits on Roethlisberger, but outside linebacker Tyus Bowser remains wary of Roethlisberger's experience and ability to make clutch plays. He expects the Steelers to be fired up Sunday, led by a quarterback who's still dangerous.
"He's still Ben Roethlisberger," Bowser said. "He's still that Hall of Fame great guy. You have to respect that. Regardless of what people say of how he's been playing, whether it's good or bad, he's still Ben Roethlisberger and he can still go out there and make plays. We're not going to look at him any other type of way."
Bowser Tells Oweh to Expect 'Brawl' in Pittsburgh
Facing the Steelers is like a rite of passage for Ravens rookies, who hear about the rivalry but don't know exactly how it feels until they experience it. This will be the first time facing Pittsburgh for rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, who is making a case to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Bowser was asked what he would tell a rookie teammate like Oweh about facing the Steelers.
"I would tell them it's going to be a brawl," Bowser said. "The Steelers are a great team, especially when we play them, and they've always been that way, and it always will be that way. For him going into Pittsburgh, especially with fans coming back this year, it's going to be a whole new experience compared to last year. So, for the young guy, it's going to be exciting for him, and I know he's going to be ready for it."
Ravens left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has switched sides in the rivalry, playing in his first season with the Ravens after six years with the Steelers. Villanueva spent part of his childhood in Spain, and compared the Ravens-Steelers rivalry to one of the world's great soccer rivalries.
"I come from a country where there's a true rivalry between two giants, in Real Madrid and Barcelona," Villanueva said. "That's a rivalry that's tearing the country apart.
"This is just two good teams that happen to play each other twice a year, usually in the cold, from working towns, so everybody just wants to be the most 'blue-collar,' if you will. But I always saw the Brazilian players on Real Madrid and Barcelona just completely ignoring everything else that came with the rivalry, and I feel somewhat like that. This rivalry, to me, is a tough game. It's a tremendous defense. They both want to run the ball and play defense, so it's always going to be low-scoring points. Fans are going to get into it. But unfortunately, I cannot provide any further hype to the rivalry."
Ravens Feed Off Heinz Field Crowd
The intense atmosphere at Heinz Field is something that players and coaches relish. On Wednesday, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale told his unit that if he was able to play two games in Pittsburgh, he would.
When the home crowd is trying to pump up the Steelers, waving "Terrible Towels" and going crazy when "Renegade" blares over the loud speakers, Bowser said he is also inspired by the energy of Pittsburgh's fans.
"Probably the best in the NFL, besides us," Bowser said. The first time I went out there, in my first year in the league, it was just a crazy energy like no other.
"Honestly, any time you're out there playing in front of a whole bunch of fans, it just excites you. That's what it's all about. It's all about the fans, and having them come out there and support their team, and they're coming at you all crazy and stuff, you just love that. It just gives you a different type of energy to go out there and shut them up, so I enjoy it."
Avoiding Roughing the Passer Calls Is Difficult
Seeing pass rushers complain about a roughing the passer penalty is a weekly occurrence in the NFL. Bowser was victimized Sunday when he was flagged for a questionable roughing the passer call against Baker Mayfield.
Bowser said he felt like he turned his head before leading with his shoulder to make contact, but that it's often difficult to determine what will be called, and what won't.
"It is, because the quarterback is always going to have the right of way, and you have to adjust based off of how he reacts to you coming to hit him," Bowser said. "You've just got to make sure you're in the right spot and in the right place, and if you're not, any little detail, any little change in the head movement or anything, is going to be called, because we have to protect the quarterbacks. That's what makes our money in this league, so they're going to continue that. Us as defensive guys, we have to pay attention to that, and we have to continue to work on our aiming points and making sure that we don't get those penalties."
"I asked [the referee] what he saw on that, and he just said that he kind of saw the neck and head area kind of move, so I was like, 'OK.'"