By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have battled for AFC supremacy for a decade, and this season is no different.
However, with current quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, the Steelers have had a distinct advantage. Both teams have stifling defenses, but Roethlisberger has made more plays than Flacco.
In fact, it’s fair to say that Baltimore has been let down by their offense more often than not. Just ask Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
“Maybe they should think that until we show them otherwise,” Suggs said. “You can only go by the stats and if that’s what the stats say then the experts will pretty much go from that.
“But I know what we’re capable of doing. (Flacco) has become a leader for us, (and) he shows passion. He’s even got into a few tussling matches with me. The game defines how mature you are.”
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau commented on Roethlisberger and Flacco.
“(Flacco) has great arm strength, and he’s a better scrambler than people give him credit for,” LeBeau said. “People don’t talk about his ability to keep plays alive, but he’s done that very well. He’s very well-coached, and they have a very good offense. (But) I think we have the experience factor on our side in that comparison.”
Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had nothing but praise for Roethlisberger, considering the seventh-year quarterback completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions and a 97.0 quarterback rating. He has not thrown a pick in 158 straight passes.
“Ben’s playing extremely well, and we’re playing well around him,” Arians said. “Getting Heath (Miller) back and the younger guys play have helped, but he’s playing at a very high level. He’s playing as well as he has since I’ve been around. This definitely is his best year.”
Roethilsberger’s success is even more amazing when his four-game suspension is factored into the mix. Despite a new center and several new receivers to jell with, Roethlisberger has steadily improved. And the Steelers offense operated at a high level by the end of the season.
“It’s because you can talk about the offense, but these are the two best defenses,” Roethlisberger said. “They are great defenses with a lot of exotic-type blitzes and exotic looks. Both groups are veteran, so it’s all about the offense that makes the least amount of mistakes.”
That’s where Roethlisberger has outplayed Flacco. Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons talked about the containing the Ravens QB.
“We’re just going to have to disguise well and maybe stay around the line of scrimmage so Flacco doesn’t know who’s coming when we’re going to blitz,” Timmons said. “There has to be some way and somehow that we can rattle him, and if we can do that we’ll be able to control things.”
All the Steelers defensive players noted Flacco’s strong arm when asked to discuss the Ravens signal-caller. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor even said he was among the most-underrated quarterbacks in the league, but not by the Steelers, who Flacco burned for 40 quick yards to beat them in Game 4 this season.
“He’s a smart guy, and he can put the ball anywhere on the field,” Taylor said. “So, he’s somebody we have to deal with. There’s no question that from the top on up, he’s a solid quarterback. He’s level-headed and knows where he wants to throw the ball. He can hit the right spots.
“So, we have to be aware of that. And after a few years in the league, he’s much better now than he was as an NFL rookie. He really took it to us earlier this season and threw for some yardage against us down there with a couple deep balls. But we had some communication problems.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh probably said it best when comparing his quarterback to Roethlisberger.
“We’re hoping to get Joe to that kind of a perch where he can take over games just by his talent and personality,” Harbaugh said. “He’s played really well all year, minus that play where Troy got us with that (sack and fumble by Flacco). But the truth is that probably he has to win a championship. That’s probably the key. Joe talks about that sometimes, and he’s playing to that level. But you have to win it all, I think.”
Roethlisberger and the Steelers are hopeful that doesn’t happen anytime soon for Flacco and the Ravens.