Ravens-Steelers Preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't feeling too good - mentally or physically - coming off a game against an aggressive defense that blitzed relentlessly.

The Baltimore Ravens probably can't wait to try the same thing.

The early lead in the AFC North will be on the line Monday night in Pittsburgh, where the beat-up Steelers will try to find some answers for the Ravens' top-ranked defense in one of the NFL's most physical rivalries.

Pittsburgh (2-1) felt pretty good about its revamped offensive line heading into a showdown at Philadelphia last Sunday, but that wasn't the case when it flew back home. Ben Roethlisberger, already nursing a sore shoulder, was sacked eight times and left with an injury to his right hand in the fourth quarter of a 15-6 loss.

"I think this was about as frustrating a game as it could be," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "I think sometimes you do not want to press the issues too much this early in the season, but we really had a lot of guys that were not on the same page."

Yet when the Steelers' injury report came out, Roethlisberger wasn't the offensive star listed as out against Baltimore (2-0). Tailback Willie Parker - the AFC's second-leading rusher - was, after suffering a sprained left knee late in the loss to the Eagles. With Parker out, rookie Rashard Mendenhall will start against the Ravens.

"I had a lot of experience in the preseason and early in the season, so I'm just looking forward to going in there," Mendenhall said. "You have to make sure you have your assignments down and have an idea what they're going to do so, come gametime, you've seen it all before."

Mendenhall will be running into the NFL's top-ranked defense. Baltimore has given up an average of just 161.5 yards through its first two games, 72.5 fewer than the league's No. 2 unit, which belongs to Pittsburgh (234.0).

The Ravens, who have had a top 10 defense in each of the last five seasons, seem like they haven't strayed far from their aggressive philosophy despite the arrival of new coach John Harbaugh.

Harbaugh certainly fits in with Baltimore's defensive style. He served as the Eagles' defensive backs coach from 1998-2007, learning from head coach Andy Reid and blitz-happy defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

After watching what Philadelphia did to the Steelers last Sunday, might Harbaugh check in with his old team?

"I talk with Andy and Jim Johnson and those guys pretty much every week," he said.

With quarterback Joe Flacco learning on the job, the defense has made sure its rookie signal-caller doesn't have to do too much. Last Sunday against Cleveland, four-time All Pro Ed Reed returned an interception for a touchdown and former defensive rookie of the year Terrell Suggs had two sacks in Baltimore's 28-10 victory.

"Ever since the Ravens started playing football in the '90s, they've played great defense and it's gotten better as we go," Harbaugh said. "We've got a long way to go, but they've played really well the first two weeks."

Flacco began his collegiate career at the University of Pittsburgh, but after seeing limited playing time as a redshirt freshman, transferred to Delaware. With Troy Smith and Kyle Boller injured, he's assumed the starting job right away with the Ravens.

He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass yet and he tossed two interceptions against Cleveland, but Harbaugh liked what he saw from the rookie.

"You shouldn't have to play perfect to win," he said. "I'm going over to console Joe, and Joe's consoling me. That's the kind of guy Joe is."

Flacco will face a Pittsburgh defense that's allowed just 12.7 points per game - third in the NFL - and has picked off six passes, second in the league.

Pittsburgh had owned its series with Baltimore in the late '90s and early part of this decade, winning 11 of 14 meetings including a 2002 divisional playoff victory. But the Ravens have won four of the last five meetings, including 27-0 on Nov. 26, 2006, when they sacked Roethlisberger nine times.

After watching their quarterback go down eight times in Philadelphia, the Steelers are well aware that the Ravens are capable of doing the same.

"If we do not make changes, we are going to have problems," right tackle Willie Colon said. "If we do not get on the same page, these things are going to continue to happen."

The lone Steelers win in the last five meetings came when Roethlisberger threw a career-high five touchdown passes Nov. 5 in Pittsburgh - a 38-7 Steelers win on Monday Night Football.

That victory was Pittsburgh's 13th straight at home on Monday night since 1992.

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