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01-13-2009, 09:55 AM
On the Beat: Baltimore could use break
By Mike Bires
Times Sports Staff
Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 12:07 AM EST


Baltimore coach John Harbaugh often describes the players he coaches as “warriors” and “mighty men.” And with the way the Ravens have gotten to the AFC Championship Game, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

That’s especially true of the Ravens’ defense, which ranked second in the NFL this season behind the Steelers.

But after the physical slugfest the Ravens won Saturday in Tennessee, you have to wonder how much they have left in their tank. This Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Ravens will be playing for their 18th consecutive weekend with a break.

Due to an early-season hurricane, their Sept. 14 game at Houston was postponed. The NFL hierarchy then decided that lost weekend would serve as the bye for both the Texans and Ravens. The game was made up Nov. 9 when they were supposed to be off.

Unlike the Steelers who were off on wild-card weekend, the Ravens had to play on Jan. 4 in Miami. Then they played six days later in Tennessee.

Don’t think for a moment that the Ravens won’t be fired up when they take on the rival Steelers for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Ray Lewis wouldn’t have it any other way.

But not only are the Ravens playing on tired legs, they’re banged up.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered a strained shoulder in Tennessee. Cornerback Samari Rolle left with a groin pull. Tackle Willie Anderson left with a stinger in his neck. Safety Jim Leonhard left with a concussion. Running back Le’Ron McClain did return to the game after he limped of the field with an ankle injury. But you have to wonder how effective he and the rest of the banged up Ravens will be against the healthy Steelers.

* There is no way the Steelers should look past the Ravens. But for fans and the media, why not?

If the Steelers can beat the Ravens for the third time this year, we’re in for an intriguing Super Bowl.

It could be Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia in the first all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.

Or it could be Pittsburgh vs. Arizona in a game which would feature all three men who were finalists for the Steelers’ vacancy when Bill Cowher resigned after the 2006. Mike Tomlin vs. Ken Whisenhunt and his assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm. How’s that for high drama?

* It was very encouraging to see the Steelers’ offensive line to open up holes for Willie Parker and to see “Fast Willie” rush for 146 yards Sunday against the Chargers. It was also encouraging for the way the O-line protected Ben Roethlisberger.

But let’s keep this in perspective.

The Chargers’ defense isn’t very good. The one the Steelers will face this week is.

In two games against the Chargers this season, Parker combined for 261 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry.

In Parker’s last two starts against Baltimore, he gained 89 yards and averaged only 2.4 yards per carry.

True, the Steelers’ offensive line has gotten better and better this year but the true test comes Sunday.

http://www.timesonline.com/articles/2009/01/13/sports/steelers/doc496c218778af2273163103.txt