Ben Roethlisberger was tough enough to defend three years ago. Now, given the makeup of the Steelers’ wide receiving corps, Pittsburgh’s quarterback has the ability to terrorize NFL secondaries.
Over the last three drafts, the Steelers have added three receivers with blazing speed, giving their passing game a big-play potential that might be unparalleled across the rest of the league.
Third-year wideout Mike Wallace runs a 4.33 40 and averaged 21 yards per catch last season, second-best in the NFL. Toss in second-year receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, who run a 4.40 and 4.47, respectively, and Pittsburgh has three legitimate deep threats that defenses have to account for.
The Ravens’ task tomorrow will be to keep those guys in front of them at all times, and limit the type of big-gainers that can easily change momentum and the outcome of the game.
“They can all fly; they’ve got a great group,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “They’ve got the wily, old veteran in Hines Ward, who does a lot of the dirty work for them and is still playing at a high level. With Wallace and Brown and the rest of that crew, they can all take the top off the secondary. So they’ve got a great group of receivers.
“We’ve got to do a good job of not only covering them for the first two-and-a-half seconds of the play, but if something breaks down and we have an extended play, we have to do a great job of plastering.”
While the Ravens are aware of the speed that the Steelers wideouts bring to the table, they’re far from scared of it. Instead, the mentality of a number of Baltimore’s defensive backs is: Bring it on, because we’ve got some speed, as well.
“We have to do our job, and that job is to slow those guys down, keep them out of the end zone, and cover them,” Reed said. “We’ve got fast guys around here, too. The only disadvantage for the defense is, for the secondary guys, we’re moving backwards at the start. But it’s part of the game. We knew that. We signed up for it. And we’re definitely ready for the mission.”
The two cornerbacks who will likely see the bulk of the playing time against Wallace and crew tomorrow will be Cary Williams - who’s poised to make just his second career start - and rookie Jimmy Smith. Both of those guys have the ability to turn on the jets; Williams ran a 4.43 leading up to the 2008 draft, while Smith has been clocked at 4.37.
Include nickel back Lardarius Webb, who has 4.4 speed, and the Ravens certainly have the ability, on paper at least, to match up and run with Pittsburgh’s stable of receivers.
“It’s tough, but we’ve got fast guys out there,” Harbaugh said. “We defend deep passes all the time. The challenge will be to defend it.”
Some might question whether two corners with just one NFL start under their collective belts will be able to hang with such a potent wide receiving corps. After watching Williams and Smith progress all camp, Pagano said he has no such concerns.
“I think they’re going to do great,” Pagano said. “You know, they’ve put the time in. They’ve done a great job preparing; they’re studying. We’ve still got a lot of time and preparation left, and I can’t wait to see them go out there and play. They’ve got talent - they can run. So, I think they’re going to do fine.”