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The Ravens record under Brian Billick has only one blemish in 46 games when the team jumps out in front by 14 points.  To get such a lead against the Steelers and avoid a dog fight that might linger into Thursday’s game against the Bengals, the Ravens looked to their trigger man Steve McNair.  On the Ravens’ opening series McNair was 4 of 4 for 51 yards including a 20 yard scoring strike to Todd Heap.  After the next two series which McNair guided to help gain back the field position advantage, the Ravens were able to pin the Steelers at their own 5.  At the 4:25 mark of the second quarter after a couple of passes mixed with some power running, the Ravens took a 14-0 lead and the will of the Steelers.  The rout was on. 
During the balance of his day McNair was simply asked to move the chains, manage the game and systematically break down the Steelers.  He did exactly that.
To beat the Steelers physically, a tall task no matter the year, a team has to attack with smash mouth football.  If the Steelers can out-physical you chances are you will lose.  The Ravens made a statement with their running game.  They were much more physical than the Steelers at the point of attack.  They looked hungrier, grittier and more determined and that clearly was indicative in the performances of Jamal Lewis and Ovie Mughelli.  While they didn’t set the world on fire with highlight reel runs, they brought the wood and beat up a tough Steelers’ rushing defense (ranked 8th in the NFL).  The pair teamed up to take away the Steelers mojo during their second quarter touchdown drive.  For all intents and purposes, the game ended when Jamal Lewis behind an extreme jumbo package that included 3 tackles (Adam Terry as an eligible receiver) and Quinn Sypniewski, scored from a yard out.  Jamal Lewis’ 8 yard run during the second quarter TD drive was a microcosm of the game.  When he ran over safety Ryan Clark at the end of the play he sent a message – dominate!  And the Ravens did.  If the Ravens running game can be this physical on a consistent basis, watch out!
Heap, Mason, Clayton and company weren’t called on to do much after the break but even the most novice of viewers might conclude they could have done much more if Brian Billick chose to go that route.  He didn’t.  When called upon, the receivers were flawless always in command of down and distance and looking to add yards after the catch.  This unit also helped to support the running game, an area in which Todd Heap has improved dramatically.   
This unit picked up where they left off in the second half of the Falcons game – controlling the football game.  The Steelers are known to bring a variety of blitz packages designed to confuse an offensive line and create missed assignments.  The Ravens picked up all blitzes particularly in the game’s first 25 minutes.  McNair was not sacked on the day and was hurried once.  On the ground, the offensive line was able to get it done even during rather obvious running downs.  While 114 yards rushing on 35 attempts isn’t stellar under most circumstances, it is when the Ravens play the Steelers – almost always a traditional heavyweight brawl.  Those tough yards are like body blows to set up the knockout punch.  The Ravens clearly delivered many more body blows out rushing the Steelers by 93 yards on a net basis and controlling the clock with a plus 9:32 in time of possession.  The O-line was vital to making that happen.
The Steelers rushed for 21 net yards, the worst rushing performance by the Steelers during the Bill Cowher era.  This unit was relentless whether attacking the ball carrier or when harassing Ben Roethlisberger.  Terrell Suggs’ transformation into a complete player is nearly finished.  He supported the run extremely well and was tied with Ray Lewis for the team lead in tackles.  He had 2 QB sacks and 2 hurries and just flat out abused Marvel Smith.  He even nearly picked off a pass to Heath Miller along the Steelers’ sideline.  Trevor Pryce was a force on the interior line contributing 2 sacks and 2 hurries while being held often without the benefit of the call.  Jarret Johnson was disruptive providing his usual high motor and relentless pursuit.  He had 3 tackles, a ½ sack plus a hurry.
Ray Lewis’ return to the lineup certainly made a difference.  He had 6 tackles and a sack and was outstanding recognizing and defending one of the Steelers’ staples – the screen pass.  Bart Scott delivered what should be the lead on ESPN’s “Jacked Up” segment tonight.  He contributed 1 ½ sacks including the crushing blow on Roethlisberger which left the Steelers’ QB gasping for breath.  He also defended the pass well with one pass defended and the shutout clinching interception.  Adalius Thomas added a sack and showcased his athleticism as he pulled away from the pack on his 57 yard fumble recovery return.
Corey Ivy’s passion and grit make him another excellent off season addition to the Ravens roster.  Ivy was often matched up against Ravens’ nemesis Hines Ward helping to limit Ward to just 4 catches for 33 yards.  His read and recognition skills were sharp on his interception of a Roethlisberger screen pass.  Ivy also effectively disguised coverage on a slot receiver to surprise Roethlisberger with a blind side blitz off the edge forcing a sack, fumble and Thomas’ eventual fumble recovery for a score.  Chris McAlister was very solid in coverage, breaking up plays with tight coverage while supporting the run very well, once taking down Willie Parker for a one yard gain on a corner blitz.  McAlister adjusted during the play after coming off his initial target, Roethlisberger.  Samari Rolle picked it up a notch and was solid in coverage.  He was the beneficiary of over the top coverage from centerfielder Ed Reed.  As a unit, the downfield coverage in obvious passing situations helped the team to achieve the shut out and to enable the front seven to reek havoc on Roethlisberger.
B.J. Sams couldn’t get it untracked against a rather weak Steelers special teams unit but that was largely due to the several blocking in the back penalties, Mughelli and Dennis Haley being the primary culprits.  Sam Koch was inconsistent although he did boom a 55 yarder deep into Steelers territory and he continued his season long ability to pin the opponent inside the 20.  Koch added 2 more punts inside the 20 to bump his seasonal total to 20.  The Ravens were decent in punt coverage limiting Santonio Holmes to an average of 10.7 yards but they were very good in kick coverage, holding Najeh Davenport to an average return of 15 yards.  Matt Stover was solid and helped his cause with a couple of touchbacks and kickoffs on average that reached the 3 yard line.
Rex Ryan’s game plan was superb.  He choked off the run, forced Roethlisberger into tough third down conversions (1 of 12) and took away the Steelers’ bread and butter play – the screen pass.  The Ravens adeptly disguised their pass rushing schemes and they were able to get to Roethlisberger often sending only 4 which forced the Steelers QB to hold the ball a bit longer.  Employing the physical and stout Corey Ivy to match up against Ward in the slot was a stroke of genius.
Offensively the Ravens were able to create the kind of balance (35 rushes and 27 passes) that they will need to advance in the playoffs.  Through multiple sets the Ravens attacked from all angles with efficiency.  Billick even leaned on Ovie Mughelli to get some tough needed yards out of the I-formation.  Billick was able to employ all of his offensive weapons and that is something that opponents will now have to scheme and game plan for in the future.  That bodes well for the Ravens going down the stretch when they’ll want and need productive first down plays that generate four plus yards, thus enabling them to tap into their entire playbook on second down.  What a great exclamation point by Billick to bring in Kyle Boller with 10:43 left in the game and then have him throw a couple of passes to get a feel for the game.  That is a bold statement that says, “Game over!”
OTHER NOTABLES & QUOTABLES: Yesterday’s game was like a smorgasbord for the Ravens front seven, producing 9 sacks and 9 hurries.  Even when Roethlisberger was able to get off a pass 9 of his 21 completions went for 9 yards or less…Roethlisberger went back to pass a total of 50 times and finished the game with a QB rating of 46.2.  Heading into the game the Steelers’ QB rating was 72.3…“That’s probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life, I truly feel that way,” Roethlisberger said when recalling the thunderous sack by Bart Scott. “I didn’t see the guy coming. He came clean and I just kind of remember my head hitting the ground.”  Terrell Suggs had this to say about the play: "I was 30 yards downfield and I heard it.  But Bart’s been doing that since he’s been here. That’s why he’s the mad backer."… "It’s just good to put Pittsburgh out of its misery," Scott said in a pleased Ravens locker room. "When you can do that, it’s gratifying."…in the other locker room things weren’t so gratifying.  "A very pitiful performance out there today," coach Bill Cowher said. "I accept full responsibility for that. They outplayed us, they outcoached us. It was very disappointing."  Hines Ward chimed in saying, "To get shut out like we did is embarrassing."  It was the Steelers worst shutout since 1993, when they lost to the Rams by the same score. "We didn’t show up today," Ward proclaimed. "We had guys with their heads down, very uncharacteristic. They started fast and we just couldn’t get out of that."…One has to wonder if the Steelers have lost their identity on offense.  With Jerome Bettis, the Steelers had the ability to get the tough physical yards.  With Willie Parker they do not.  With Antwaan Randle El the Steelers had a measure of unpredictability.  They seem to have lost their offensive swagger and element of danger…"Oh, man, it’s just frustrating," said RB Willie Parker. "We just can’t get it going. Their defense over there, Ray [Lewis] has them boys right. We just couldn’t identify the blitz."  LB Larry Foote added, "They had our number in every area — defense, offense and special teams. Defensively, they played more physical than we did. We just didn’t match them.”
In a poll on the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s website, the question was asked, “Looking for a silver lining in the Steelers’ loss to Baltimore?  Which of these take the edge off the pain?  The options and the corresponding percentage of the vote are:
  1. Santonio Holmes didn’t fumble any punt returns (12%)
  2. Charlie Batch’s passer rating was a whooping 108.3 (1%)
  3. The Steelers didn’t lose to Kyle Boller (2%)
  4. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t need an ambulance to leave M&T Bank Stadium (32%)
  5. B.J. Sams didn’t add insult to injury with a return for a TD (6%)
  6. Bill Cowher is one game closer to retirement (40%)
The 12th man yesterday was outstanding – an A+!  Pat yourselves on the back. Your intensity was matched by the Ravens and the results were certainly rewarding.  The towels provided by Verizon were an in-your-face statement to the few thousand Steelers fans in attendance.  Perhaps the best thing for Ravens fans during the game was that the Steelers’ fans had absolutely no reason to wave those yellow towels.  So they decided to wave them when the Steelers were on offense.  Hello?  Thanks for the assistance…What is up with the street vendors and the plane company that decided to sell Terrible Towels and fly the banner that read, “Baltimore is Steelers’ Country.”  Be sure to thank these folks who sold their souls to the arch rival – boycott their products…Big league throw from Kyle Boller yesterday on that sideline rope to Derrick Mason in the fourth quarter.  As a friend of mine said, “That one had sparks on it!”…Jeff B’s ribs are the finest in town and available only in Lot H2.  Trust me I know these things!…Hey I need a little advice.  One of the guys in our group sold his tickets on Ebay.  Apparently the two men were undecorated Steelers’ fans who were as quiet as mice.  But how should we treat our group’s Benedict Arnold for not at least giving our group the opportunity to purchase them?  We once referred to him as JZ, his initials.  I’m now thinking Jezebel.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Join the GAMETIME crew, Ravens mascot Poe, Ravens cheerleaders and other surprises at Della Rose’s Avenue Tavern in White Marsh prior to the Ravens @ the Bengals on Thursday Nov. 30 at 6:30PM.  There will be authentic autographed memorabilia given away and there is a free sign up for a Toyota raffle — the prize being a brand new 2007 Yaris!

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts "The Fanimal" also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi


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