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Old 11-06-2011, 10:05 AM   #1
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Default Defense never rests for Ravens & Steelers

Defense never rests for Ravens & Steelers
By Mike Bires mbires@timesonline.com | Posted: Saturday, November 5, 2011 11:45 pm

PITTSBURGH - If indeed the AFC North is the NFL's best division as some experts suggest, it's because of defense. Cincinnati and Cleveland are catching up to Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

"It's became a defensive division," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said.

At this stage of the season, that's true. It's Week 9 and the Ravens, Steelers, Bengals and Browns rank 1, 2, 4 and 5 in total defense.

On one hand, that's a mind-boggling statistic considering the problems the Bengals and Brown have had over the years. Then again, maybe they're so tired of losing to the Steelers and Ravens that they've wised up. Maybe they're trying to imitate the division's winningest teams since the AFC North was formed in 2002.

The NFL is a copycat league, so why not do as the Steelers and Ravens have done for so long? And that's get after it relentlessly and ferociously on defense.

"Defense is a means of survival in every division," said Terrell Suggs, the Ravens' outstanding outside linebacker.

Certainly defense has been a means of survival for the Steelers and Ravens. In the last eight years, they are the only NFL teams to finish in the top 10 in total defense all eight years.

Three times during that span, the Steelers have ranked No. 1 (2004, 2007 and 2008). The Ravens were first in 2006.

So the league's top two defenses taking center stage for tonight's AFC North showdown comes as no surprise. It's expected. It's the norm.

Of course, it's great players who make defenses great. That's why the jury is still out on the Bengals and Browns. They don't come close to having star power on defense like the Steelers and Ravens.

Baltimore has two sure-bet Hall of Famers in linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed. Suggs is a bona fide star with 72.5 career sacks and Haloti Ngata is a ferocious defensive lineman.

Among the Steelers' top defenders are strong safety Troy Polamalu and linebackers James Harrison, who returns tonight from an eye injury, and LaMarr Woodley, who won't play due to a hamstring pull.

Five times in the last 11 seasons, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year has come out of the AFC North - Lewis in 2000 and 2003, Reed in 2004, Harrison in 2008 and Polamalu last year.

Obviously, the Steelers know first-hand how great the Ravens are defensively this season. In their Week 1 35-7 romp of the Steelers, the Ravens created seven turnovers (four fumbles, three interceptions). Ben Roethlisberger was sacked four times and had a lowly 52.9 passer rating, easily his worst of the season.

"They have uniquely talented people at every level of their defense," coach Mike Tomlin said. "They are the best in the world right now."

As far as all four AFC North teams playing well defensively, Tomlin won't put the Bengals and Browns -- and even the Steelers for that matter -- in a class with the Ravens.

"I am not ready to speak on behalf of Cincinnati or Cleveland, but we are not ready to have that conversation right now," Tomlin said. "We are not even close to doing what they are doing."

Tomlin may change his tune if the Steelers win tonight thanks to their defense.
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