Ravens pose serious threat to Steelers

| Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007

All that positive reinforcement for Mike Tomlin's task-at-hand mandate generated by the big win in Cincinnati couldn't have arrived at a better time.

The Ravens are coming.

Yeah, those guys.

The team that tattooed the Steelers twice a year ago, 27-0 and 31-7.

The team that sacked Ben Roethlisberger 14 times in two games.

The team that held Willie Parker to 51 yards rushing on 23 carries (no, Parker didn't miss a game; those were the two-game totals).

The team that went 13-3, while the Steelers were 8-8.

The team that was superior enough to dominate the Steelers twice even as the Steelers were compiling a We-Told-You-We-Weren't-This-Bad 6-2 second half of the 2006 campaign.

Tomlin was in Minnesota a year ago, so he'll have no first-hand recollection of the carnage.

But even had he suffered through those two Baltimore debacles with the rest of the Steelers, Tomlin's focus would no doubt remain locked on the here and now as the Steelers count down the days to Baltimore's Monday night invasion.

That's a good thing.

There is, after all, no sense rehashing ancient history.

The problem is, studying recent history as it relates to Baltimore might not be all that beneficial, either.

At 4-3, the Ravens already have matched last season's loss total, so the temptation exists to suspect that with the free-agent departure of Adalius Thomas, so went the Baltimore mystique.

But when factoring in how banged up the Ravens have been, and how head coach Brian Billick expects to have all of his starters available Monday night, that 4-3 record looks less like an indictment and more like a validation of the Ravens as a still-dangerous congregation.

Baltimore's problems started in the regular-season opener when it lost offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and quarterback Steve McNair.

The offensive line was so patched together Oct. 7 at San Francisco that the Ravens relied on three rookies, a second-year pro and a third-year player for two-plus quarters.

The Ravens won that one somehow.

They won another round of "What's My Line?" the following week against St. Louis.

The 49ers and Rams, of course, are hardly the Patriots and Colts.

Still, imagine the Steelers' predicament should they find themselves without the services of Marvel Smith, Sean Mahan and Willie Colon, and with Kendall Simmons moving from guard to center for extended stretches.

The Ravens also have been without tight end Todd Heap, defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle much more than they'd prefer.

And they've been forced to deal with McNair being either unavailable or forced to leave early in five of their seven games.

Against such a backdrop, a 4-3 record doesn't look half bad. It's enough to have positioned the Ravens to within a victory over the Steelers of dramatically altering the landscape in the AFC North.

The Bengals had just such an opportunity last Sunday.

The difference between the Bengals and the Ravens is the Ravens will know what to do with it.

For the Steelers, that will make eliminating any and all potential distractions and focusing solely on the challenge at hand all the more critical.

This will be the most daunting one they've faced.

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