Terrell Suggs may be one of the NFL’s best hype men.
Still, even the ever-chatty Baltimore Ravens linebacker sounded like he was trying to convince himself that his team’s rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers remains as contentious as ever.
“I have a feeling the whole NFL, if they’re not playing, even if they are playing in the Sunday night game, they will catch a glimpse of this game,” Suggs said.
Maybe, but if they do, they’ll be more likely to see a watered-down version of a once white-hot rift that has cooled considerably.
Pittsburgh’s tumble from the league’s elite combined with Baltimore’s Super Bowl title and the abrupt departure of franchise fixtures Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have left both teams still searching for an identity.
That search has overshadowed what once was a twice-annual battle for AFC North supremacy. Now the Ravens (3-3) and Steelers (1-4) find themselves looking up at frontrunning Cincinnati (4-2) as Halloween approaches.
Pittsburgh ended its worst start in 45 years with a victory over the Jets last week. Any momentum can quickly be erased if the Steelers can’t back it up. In a way, the opponent is nearly beside the point.
“Now that it’s Baltimore and it’s the AFC North, it means a little bit more,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “But we’re still in a pretty big hole.”
Five things to look for as two teams try not to become even more distant specks in Cincinnati’s rearview mirror:
RUNNING ON EMPTY? Baltimore’s Ray Rice has been one of the league’s most productive and successful backs since he came into the NFL in 2008. Suddenly, it’s all gone. Rice is averaging 39.2 yards rushing per game and an abysmal 2.8 yards per carry, and is splitting time with Bernard Pierce.
It’s gotten so bad coach John Harbaugh joked his team’s struggles running the ball are dragging down the league average. He’s not far off. The Ravens are 27th in the league in rushing.
Then again, the Steelers are even worse. Pittsburgh is 31st, though there have been signs of life since rookie Le’Veon Bell returned from a sprained foot last month.
HOT AT HEINZ: The Steelers have the NFL’s fourth-best home record since Heinz Field opened in 2001. It hardly matters when the Ravens are in town.
Baltimore has won the last three regular-season meetings in Pittsburgh, including a 13-10 victory last November that kickstarted a 2-5 finish by the Steelers and propelled the Ravens to a division title and eventually a world championship.
Suggs doesn’t think his team has any kind of magic formula. The road team is 5-1 in the last six regular-season meetings.
“I don’t know, luck I guess,” he said. “They’ve also had some success on our home field as well. It’ll just be one of those games. It can go either way.”
PROTECTING BEN: Suggs has sacked Roethlisberger 15 1-2 times in his career, by far the most by a Pittsburgh opponent. The frequent meetings in the backfield have built up a mutual respect between one of the NFL’s fiercest pass rushers and one of the league’s toughest QBs to tackle quarterbacks.
They figure to see plenty of each other Sunday. The Steelers are allowing nearly four sacks a game, though coach Mike Tomlin stresses he’s not overly concerned about the pounding Roethlisberger is receiving.
“Quarterbacks get hit,” Tomlin said. “That’s that nature of the game. That’s why people rush people. That’s why they employ people like Suggs and (Elvis) Dumervil. It’s our job to minimize that.”
STREAKING BROWN: Since having an onfield discussion with offensive coordinator Todd Haley about his role during a loss to Cincinnati in Week 2, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has put together the most productive streak in team history.
Brown has 30 receptions over the last three games and even completed a pass last week against the Jets. He is quickly becoming the No. 1 receiver the Steelers envisioned when they let speedy Mike Wallace walk in free agency last spring.
“I did all right (last week), but I think I left a couple plays out there and could have been a little better on a couple more routes,” Brown said. “I just have to continue to find ways to get better.”
CONFOUNDING INCONSISTENCY: The Ravens insist they’re not in the midst of a Super Bowl hangover, though at times it certainly looks like one. Their first six weeks include a 21-point romp over Houston and a three-point loss to Buffalo.
“Sometimes it just seems like we’re missing pieces here and there,” Suggs said. “There are other times it seems like we can be one of the best teams in the NFL.”
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Terrell Suggs may be one of the NFL’s best hype men.
Pirates, Jays rained out
The Toronto Blue Jays' spring training game at the Pittsburgh Pirates was rained out Thursday.
The game will not be made up.
Pirates rough up Blue Jays’ Morrow
Brandon Morrow allowed five runs and six hits over three innings in the Toronto Blue Jays’ 6-4 loss Wednesday to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Morrow was making his second appearance since a season-ending forearm injury last May. On Feb. 28, the right-hander gave up two hits and one run in two relief innings.
Steelers sign Polamalu, cut Foote
Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller are doing their part to help the Pittsburgh Steelers get under the 2014 salary cap.
The eight-time Pro Bowl safety and the venerable tight end both signed new three-year contracts with the team on Wednesday designed to give the Steelers some cap relief before the new league year begins next week.
Pens pick up pair of forwards
The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t go for the big splash at the trade deadline this time.
General manager Ray Shero believes the little ripples his team made instead can be just as effective as the franchise pursues its fourth Stanley Cup.
Penguins snap out of slump
Matt Niskanen scored his second goal of the game 7:29 into the third period, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 3-1 on Tuesday night to snap a three-game skid.
Niskanen and the Penguins helped ruin the return of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne in his first game since Oct. 22 following an E. coli infection in his surgically repaired left hip.
Morton throws three scoreless innings in Pirates victory
Charlie Morton allowed one hit in three scoreless innings, helping the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.
Morton did not strike out a batter, but he kept Detroit off the bases during his short stint, aside from Don Kelly’s second-inning double.
Alvarez, Martin hit two-run shots in Bucs’ win
Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin hit two-run homers off Brandon Workman, who started in place of injured Jake Peavy, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Boston Red Sox 7-6 Monday.
Pittsburgh leadoff batter Starling Marte reached on an infield single in the first that stopped an 0-for-9 start, and Alvarez homered to right off Workman with two outs.
- Pirates topple Phillies and Burnett
Blackhawks hammer Pens
The swirling snow and frigid conditions made it even more fun for Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Toews had two goals and an assist at a picturesque Soldier Field, and the Blackhawks beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 on Saturday night in the finale of the NHL Stadium Series.
Bucs tie Rays in 10 innings
Wandy Rodriguez had a solid spring training debut while facing major league batters for the first time in nearly nine months, and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays played to a 2-all tie in 10 innings.
Rodriguez worked one inning for the Pirates, did not allow a hit and struck out two. It was a good first step back for the left-hander, who missed most of last season due to persistent forearm pain.
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- Pirates, Jays rained out