*With the Ravens preparing to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend, two members of the enemy team answered a few questions about their squad. *
Here is head coach Mike Tomlin and receiver Hines Ward.
Head coach Mike Tomlin
Will you be targeting rookie Lardarius Webb if he starts?
Tomlin:"No. We're going to play ball the way we play football. I'm sure a lot of what we do is dictated by the presence and the location of Ed Reed. I know if that guy is playing corner, Ed Reed is going to be aware of that, and we're not interested in throwing him any balls. But somehow he usually comes back with a couple.
What is it like defending the Super Bowl championship?
Tomlin: "I don't think we started this journey with a mind set of we were defending anything. We're one of 32 vying for an opportunity to be the one. That's been our approach. I know what other people say and how other people view us, but that's not how we're going to work. Last years championship is no different than the one we had in '74 and '75 – it's history. We've been focused on the now, the development of this team, the development of roles and competing, and that's kind of been my focus, and hopefully our focus. We haven't had a 'defenders' approach to anything that we've done this year."
Why is this rivalry defined by its physicality?
Tomlin:"I think it's the personality of the leadership of the teams. When you talk about a guy like Ray Lewis, or guys like Hines Ward and James Farrior, the way they play the game. The passion with which the play the game, I think, creates the atmosphere that is the Ravens/Steelers."
Does the degree of physicality add extra concern for Ben Roethlisberger with his concussion?
Tomlin:"I'm always concerned about protecting the quarterback. I don't know if there's any added concern. That's football. And of course, we're always going to act appropriately in regards to the health of our quarterback. It's less about a specific game and more about doing what's right in regards to him. We're going to proceed with caution."
What kind of matchup do you expect with the Steelers' pass rushers against Jared Gaither and Michael Oher?
Tomlin:"I didn't look at specifically how they dealt with Mathis. I was studying those guys and less about who they were blocking. Those guys have done a nice job protecting their quarterback. They're two talented, young tackles, and it's going to be an exciting matchup, and it's going to be one of the central matchups, I think, in the football game: our edge men versus their pass protectors. We'll see how it turns out."
WR Hines Ward
How hard is it to understand this rivalry unless you've played in it?
Ward:"Yeah. I don't think for the younger guys, they really know the magnitude of this rivalry. But the trick is I've been here… It's always been Baltimore or Pittsburgh as the key matchups in the AFC North as far as winning the division. Cincinnati is having a tremendous year this year. But the rivalry between us, you have to play in it to really know the rivalry between each other."
What would it mean to win four consecutive games against the Ravens?
Ward:"It would mean a great deal. We understand what is at stake. Last year, we had some great battles. We snuck down there and got a chance to win, to steal one from you guys. Then playing in the AFC Championship game, which was a hard fought battle… We knew to beat Baltimore three times and to have that last drive that we had in Baltimore, I think that helped propel us to win the Super Bowl the way we did. To beat them four straight times, it would be great for our team, for the players who took part in that and for our organization."
How aware will Ben Roethlisberger have to be of hits on Sunday?
Ward:"We would definitely take that into consideration as far as him having a concussion. Protection wise, we know we have to be a little stiff, a little more stout up front, to make sure we don't have any free guys running through and getting clean shots on Ben. But, one thing I know about Ben, he's not going to miss this game as far as he can help it. He loves standing up in big games. Being the teammate that he is I can count on him to be out there competing with us down in Baltimore."
Do you have a sense of how many Ravens would like to hit you?
Ward:"I would like to hit them just as much as they would like to hit me. *[laughing] *One thing about this game, win, lose, or draw, you will come out of this game hurting. That's just always been the rivalry itself. Just as much as they want to hit me, the feeling is mutual. But off the field, Ed Reed is one of the better safeties in the league. Ray [Lewis] and I, we've done some promotional stuff off the field. They're still a great group of guys over there. But on the field, we're just trying to do whatever it takes to win the ballgame and help our club win."
Do you resent being voted the dirtiest player in the NFL by his peers, and do you think the Ravens' players voted a few times?
Ward:"I'm pretty sure they voted three or four times.* [laughing]* I don't really resent it; I look at it as an honor. What wide receiver in history has been known as the dirtiest player in the league? [laughing] For me, I don't want people who don't know anything about football and the first thing they read is the dirtiest player to get a misconception of me personally as a human being. Dirtiest player… I know what I mean to my ball club and my teammates. I'm just trying to win. Same time, when I go across the middle, those guys aren't going to try to tackle me softly; they're trying to rip my head off. Why should I wait around for that to happen? I'm not going to do that. That's not how I play this game. To be the dirtiest player in this league, it is actually kind of cool to win it, because last time I came in second. [laughing] I guess that's a big honor."