2011 NFL Preview: Back(ers) in Black, Gold ... and Purple
Friday, September 09, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers and Ravens always have something else going for them when they meet besides close games, brutal hitting and a division title on the line. They have great linebackers, lots of them.
"The Steelers and Ravens, I think, are by far the quality linebackers of this league," said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "When you look at the Pro Bowl team, somehow it's those two teams, all four guys."
He's not far off. The Steelers have had six linebackers make 13 Pro Bowl teams over the past 10 years. The Ravens have had five linebackers make 16 Pro Bowl teams in the past decade. Each has had a linebacker as NFL defensive player of the year in the previous 10 years -- Ray Lewis of Baltimore in 2003 (he also earned the award in '00) and James Harrison in '08.
"I think over the years you look at how these teams are built with their front seven, that's always been the staple for both teams," Lewis said this week. "For years and years, you look at the draft and the guys they bring in every year, and it's always a boatload of talent at the linebacker position. One of the reasons is because of the different types of blitz schemes and things that we do.
"These are two franchises that truly believe in their linebackers."
The Steelers' starting four contains three who have made Pro Bowls -- Harrison, James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley -- and Lawrence Timmons, whom the Steelers believe will get there soon. The Ravens have a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Lewis, another Pro Bowler in Terrell Suggs and two others that Arians says are underrated and disruptive, Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain.
"Oh, God, it's like watching us play," Arians said of the Ravens linebackers. "Our defenses are so similar. They play a little bit more even front than we do but those four guys ... the guy who is underrated is Jarret Johnson. His motor is nonstop. He's going full force. McClain is kind of like Timmons, he's a fast guy. And Ray and Farrior, you can't fool them."