Just when the Ravens got a taste of playing in front of their home fans and getting dressed in their own locker room, they head back on the road to face their most hated rival.
Baltimore visits the Pittsburgh Steelers for its third road tilt in four games amid a stretch where the Ravens are only home once in six weeks with the upcoming bye week included. This also begins a run of three straight contests against AFC North opponents, a crucial set of games that could define what kind of season the Ravens will have.
Baltimore heads to Heinz Field having had plenty of recent success there. The Ravens have won their last three regular season games in Pittsburgh, but did lose a road playoff game at the Steelers in 2011.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs is among those excited about playing in Pittsburgh.
“I like it there. It’s what a football atmosphere should be,” he said. “You’re playing in a stadium against a team that has so much tradition, and what their reputation is - that’s what football is. That’s what a football game should be - like you said, the heated animosity between the two teams, the rivalry and the tradition and the past of the two teams. You’ve got to love all that and what carries into this game.”
This week’s matchup has a slightly different feel since neither the Ravens nor Steelers are first in the division in Week 7. Baltimore is tied for second at 3-3 while Pittsburgh is in the AFC North cellar at 1-4. But the Steelers are coming off their first win following an eyebrow-raising 0-4 start.
“They’re still the Steelers,” wideout Torrey Smith said. “A lot of people are going to talk about their record and the way they’ve been playing so far. They’ve lost some tough games, but they’re still a great team. They still have their playmakers on offense. And defensively, Troy Polamalu has been looking way better. You can tell that he’s healthy, and he’s flying around. It’s going to be a challenge. They lost some guys, but at the same time, they develop and draft guys well. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Coach John Harbaugh noted an important difference in the Steelers last week. Pittsburgh did not commit a turnover last week after piling up at least one in each of its first four contests and 11 overall.
The Steelers’ lack of a running game has also been one of their main issues, as they rank 31st in the league with 61 yards on the ground per contest.
So Pittsburgh is one of the few NFL teams struggling to run the ball even more than the Ravens, who are 27th in the league with just 72.7 rushing yards per game.
It has been the ongoing storyline for the Ravens in recent weeks as games keep passing after another without Baltimore being able to make a consistent leap forward in that area.
“It’s not just a one-person problem,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “That’s the thing that we just have to get worked out. I think we have everything we need to be an outstanding running football team. We’ve just got to make certain that we do it on every single play.”
Ray Rice has more yards from scrimmage than anyone else in the NFL since 2009. But this year, he has a lowly 284 through five games played. He’s the first to tell anyone that has to change. The star tailback indicated Friday that his confidence hasn’t been shaken by the Ravens’ inability to run.
“Honestly, I’m just looking forward to Sunday. It’s the Pittsburgh Steelers, great rivalry, and this is a great game to be a part of. It’s old-school football,” Rice told reporters. “We’re just looking forward to going out and getting a win. But in terms of running the ball, like I’ve said week-in and week-out, execution level has to be better. And you’ll see the changes that will be made on Sunday.”
Rice, who missed one game with a left hip injury, said there’s “no way” he could be considered full strength, but that he doesn’t notice it while running. He wouldn’t call himself frustrated by the hip ailment or his rough year either.
“I don’t have frustration,” he told reporters. “Like I said, not winning football games enough. Honestly, it’s just getting to the next week. I’ve dealt with my own adversity with my injury, but I’m back. Looking forward to this game, getting back from the bye week, getting some time away, and then I’ll come back the second half of the year ready to roll again. But I’ve been through a lot of adversity in my life. This is an injury I’m going through. It’s not going to faze me. It’s one of those things ... I’ve played through some stuff. This is the first year I’ve had to deal with something like this. But I’m back. I feel pretty good.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin knows that both teams have had a hard time running the ball, but he doesn’t anticipate that diminishing the physicality of the contest.
“We’re at the very early stages of the season from a rushing and statistical standpoint. We are where we are at this point,” Tomlin said. “We desire to be better, but I don’t think it defines us. I’m sure that is their mentality, as well. I’m sure it’s not going to change the attention of the two teams with how they formulate plans.”
Now the Ravens hope to change their side of those running struggles while taking down one of the most important teams on their schedule.
Caldwell said the offense is exploring any changes necessary to get where it wants to go.
“We look at every single aspect when things aren’t going well. This business - that’s the great thing about it - is a meritocracy,” he said. “It’s how well you perform; it’s a performance business. When you’re not performing, you better look at every single thing that you’re doing to see if you can find out what the answer is and not just sit on your hands and say that it’s going to be OK.
“We look at everything from a scheme standpoint, personnel - the whole bit. We’ve got to make the necessary adjustments to see if we can get this thing rolling.”