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Steelers attacking Ravens 'rover' problem

| Friday, Nov. 2, 2007

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians left little to the imagination on Thursday when he was asked how the Steelers intended to attack the Baltimore Ravens.

"We're going to run the ball," he said.

Arians didn't mean the Steelers were going to attempt to run; he's planning on running successfully on Monday night.

"Make no bones about that. We're going to run the football," he said.

That's something the Steelers tried a combined 29 times against the Ravens last season.

Those carries produced a grand total of 84 rushing yards (a 2.9 average) in 27-0 and 31-7 losses.

Running back Willie Parker accounted for 23 of the carries and 51 of the rushing yards.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the Steelers' leading rusher in the second game with 33 yards on four scrambles.

Execution was one problem. Intent was another, Arians maintained.

"We took a pass-first mentality to Baltimore, and it backfired, obviously," he said.

The passing game didn't exactly click against the swarming Baltimore defense, either.

Roethlisberger was sacked a combined 14 times, one of which knocked him from the game for one play on Nov. 27 at M&T Bank Stadium and another of which resulted in a fumble that was returned 57 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Adalius Thomas.

The Nov. 27 encounter offered the Steelers their first look at Baltimore's "rover package," which featured players standing up and moving around, seemingly haphazardly, prior to snaps, and Thomas winding up at defensive end, linebacker or safety.

Max Starks, the starting right tackle for that game, said the Steelers were surprised and didn't adjust well.

"We weren't as prepared the first time around for the different types of blitzes they came up with," Starks said. "They had some new ones, all the 'jailhouse' blitzes and Adalius Thomas dropping as a safety when he's usually a rush-end. So it was just some different stuff, and we weren't as prepared for it, and our sideline preparation wasn't as good."

Arians pinned the Steelers' problems on recognition rather than preparation.

"The receivers, the quarterback and the offensive line were not on the same page," Arians said. "They had us in a mindset quickly where confusion set in and they rattled all of us.

"It was something we addressed all summer and have addressed this week."

The Steelers began working on playing against the "rover package" this past offseason, right about the time they began incorporating it into their defensive approach.

Dick LeBeau had used some "rover" principles during his first tour of duty as the Steelers' defensive coordinator in the mid-1990s, but not to the extent Baltimore did last season or the Steelers have this season.

"When you have a problem, other teams are going to copy it. This is a copy-cat league," Arians said. "We've seen some of it. We've seen a ton of it in training camp. We're very similar. So we know this (offensive) system works.

"It's one thing to have a hat on a hat; you still have to block the cat. They're pretty good pass-rushers."

The hat-on-a-hat thing is a problem the Steelers never solved against Baltimore, on both sides of the ball.

"They were more physical than we were," Steelers safety Tyrone Carter said. "It showed on tape."

Added tight end heath Miller: "The bottom line was they were more physical than we were. When you watch the film, it's pretty evident."

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis saw it that way, too.

"Definitely," he said. "I don't have to confirm that. When you turn on the film ...

"The most physical team in this game always wins."

Steelers guard Alan Faneca wouldn't admit the Ravens handled the Steelers physically, but he acknowledged the Steelers' obvious problems.

"I would definitely say that it came off that way," Faneca said. "When we're missing guys blocking and we're giving up sacks and it doesn't look pretty out there, it definitely comes off that way."

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