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Secondary Bent On Redemption Versus Ben Roethlisberger


The last time the Ravens faced the Steelers, Big Ben had the look, and perhaps strength, of Popeye.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdowns and completed 25 of 37 passes for 340 yards. When paired with his six-touchdown performance the week before, his 12 touchdowns in two weeks set a new NFL all-time record.

Now given a shot at redemption in Saturday's wild-card playoffs, Baltimore's secondary is bent on not letting that happen again.

While Roethlisberger told reporters he's thrown that game out, cornerback Lardarius Webb said it's still on the Ravens' minds. 

"We think about that because he set records on us," Webb said. "It should have an impact on all the guys that were on that field to not want it to happen again. I think guys will be more focused and study a little harder."

Actually, Webb was one of the few cornerbacks on the field that day that's still with the Ravens.

The secondary's performance on Nov. 2 in Pittsburgh was so bad that, two days later, the Ravens uncharacteristically shuffled the deck more than midway through the season.

The Ravens cut two cornerbacks, Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, signed Danny Gorrer and brought undrafted rookie Tramain Jacobs up from the practice squad. Now not even Gorrer and Jacobs are around, as they're both on injured reserve.

Now it's Webb and Rashaan Melvin starting at cornerback with Will Hill and Darian Stewart patrolling behind them.

Melvin wasn't on the team for the six-touchdown onslaught, but he's watched the tape.

"A couple mistakes here, a couple blown coverages," Melvin said. "You try not to make the same mistakes twice. … These last couple games, we've been playing good ball all over the field. That confidence going into the playoffs is going to help a lot."

Webb has played his best football of the season recently, capped by his first interception of the year to seal Sunday's victory over Cleveland. Webb allowed seven catches for 105 yards and a touchdown that night in Pittsburgh, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). He's given up eight catches for 116 yards and no touchdowns in his last four games combined.

Melvin has added stability and confidence at the other starting position. In his three games, he's given up just five catches for 67 yards and no touchdowns.

The entire secondary unit gave up 227 passing yards to Miami's Ryan Tannehill, 210 yards to Jacksonville's Blake Bortles, 185 yards to Houston's Case Keenum and 177 yards to Cleveland's Conor Shaw.

That's impressive, but none of those quarterbacks are on Roethlisberger's level. Roethlisberger has had perhaps the best season of his 11-year career. It's at least the top statistically.

He finished the year tied for the NFL lead in passing yards with the Saints' Drew Brees (4,952 yards). He tied his career-high for touchdowns (from 2007) with 32 scores. He tossed just two interceptions, his fewest in a full season.

Despite a couple crushing hits from Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw (one in each regular season meeting), Roethilsberger stayed healthy, too. It's just his third season in which he's played all 16 regular-season games.

The Ravens aren't too surprised by what they're seeing from Roethlisberger, however. He's doing the same thing he's done for years.

The difference now is largely that he has so many dynamic weapons around him. When Roethlisberger dropped six touchdowns on the Ravens earlier this year, he threw five of them to different receivers.

Top target Antonio Brown has turned into one of the best receivers in the NFL with a league-leading 1,698 receiving yards. He's followed by Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, but Brown is the crown jewel. He posted 11 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown in the earlier meeting.

"Antonio Brown is gifted," Harbaugh said. "He runs all the routes; he's not just a deep threat, he's a route runner; reverses; as a punt returner, as we saw in the Cincinnati game last week. He's a multi-dimensional guy that can score at any point in time."

The Ravens aren't backing down, however.

"I love playing the best," Webb said. "You're always going to see a great Baltimore-Pittsburgh game, and it's going to be one."

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