Ravens won’t let personnel uncertainty affect offensive preparation

At first, we were told that three of the Steelers’ four starting linebackers - Pro Bowlers James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior - will not play this Sunday night against the Ravens because of injury.

Then, all three returned to practice yesterday in a limited capacity.

Then, Harrison (who just two days earlier had tweeted that he won’t be able to play against Baltimore) said he hopes to suit up for that Sunday night showdown despite an eye injury which has kept him out the last four games.

I don’t know what the heck to believe anymore.

Fans and reporters might be trying to track down the latest information about the status of Harrison, Woodley and Farrior leading up to Sunday’s crucial matchup between these AFC North rivals, but the Ravens claim they aren’t stressing about who will line up as part of Pittsburgh’s defense.

“I don’t think it changes anything,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They play the same defense. If (Harrison, Woodley and Farrior are) not in there, they’ll put other guys in there. They’ll be playing the same positions; they’ll just have different numbers. We’ll have to block them just as well. And they’ll be very good players. If it’s those guys wearing those numbers, we’ll have to block those guys. And, that’s really how you look at it. So, they’ll play who they’ll play.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin created a bit of a buzz earlier this week when he said that due to the injuries in his team’s linebacking corps, the coaches could decide to switch up the look of their unit and change from their traditional 3-4 alignment (three defensive linemen and four linebackers) to a 4-3 front.

Ravens_offensive_line-sidebar-Steelers.jpgTomlin even suggested that legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau could transition to a 4-2 defense, using only two linebackers with five defensive backs on the field in Pittsburgh’s base defense.

The Ravens aren’t buying any of that talk of grand schematic adjustments; they expect Pittsburgh to stick with that patented 3-4 base look and rotate in the guys next up on the depth chart.

“Look at last week: Farrior didn’t play last week when they played against the New England Patriots. Woodley got the hamstring, and Harrison didn’t play,” running back Ray Rice said. “It didn’t change their approach when they played New England, so I don’t think their coach will change anything when they play us. They’re going to still be a physical defense, and they have leaders out there.

“One thing about the NFL, it’s always the next man up. It’s easy to try to pinpoint the guys who are going to be out, because they’re big-name guys, they’re proven in this league. But anybody can tell you that the next man’s waiting for an opportunity. So, those guys will be fired up, and what better way to come out and try to make a name (for) yourself (than) against the Ravens? I don’t think their coach will change things.”

Center Matt Birk was willing to acknowledge that the injuries to Harrison, Woodley and Farrior create a few more questions than there would be during a normal Steelers week, and there’s an air of uncertainty surrounding who Pittsburgh will send out there and how they’ll line up.

The key, Birk says, is relying on the tape from the last few weeks while also keeping in mind what type of schemes LeBeau and the Steelers have utilized in past matchups between these two teams.

“Who knows? Who knows what you’re going to get?” Birk said. “Certainly, they’ve had guys miss time, but defensively, they haven’t missed a beat. ... We’re just going to prepare. You go through the film, you see what they’ve done this year. Obviously, we play them so often that we know a lot of stuff, but you’re always going to get a wrinkle or two, something you might not see on film, you might not practice for. But that’s where your preparation comes into play. You just have to sometimes expect the unexpected.”

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