Steelers-Ravens: A gentler, safer rivalry
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens prefer a grind-it-out, physical brand of football, but have been using pass-first offenses this season because of rule changes in the NFL.
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers and Ravens are known for having one of the most physical, intense rivalries in the NFL.
Perhaps no play typifies that aggressive, hard-hitting nature more than Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark’s hit on Baltimore’s Willis McGahee in the Steelers’ 23-14 win in the 2008 AFC Championship at Heinz Field.
McGahee, Baltimore’s 230-pound running back, had just caught a short pass over the middle and turned upfield when Clark closed on him, launching himself shoulder-first. The two hit in a massive collision that knocked out McGahee and left Clark lying on the field holding his head.
It’s the kind of play – with helmet-to-helmet contact – that the NFL is attempting to legislate out of the game. It’s also the kind of play that has left the rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens a little less physical in recent years.
“You can take away the big hits downfield on the receivers, but it’s still a physical game in the lines,” said Steelers cornerback William Gay. “That’s where it’s going to be obvious.”
The Steelers (1-4) and Ravens (3-3) will meet again Sunday at Heinz Field.
The NFL has made a number of changes to improve player safety and eliminate hits to the head on “defenseless” players. Many of those changes seemed to directly target the Steelers and Ravens.
“To some extent, the rivalry has changed, partly because of the rules of the game,” said Clark. “There won’t be any hits like I had on McGahee. That’s illegal. They can’t do some of the things they used to do defensively. The rules on the back end have made it a more pass-oriented game … a more perimeter game.”
The Steelers and Ravens are the leading examples of how things have changed. The trademark style of both teams for many years was a physical, run-oriented offensive attack and a defensive scheme that was equally as physical.
This season, Pittsburgh is averaging 3.1 yards per rushing attempt. Baltimore has been even worse at 2.7 per carry. Both teams have morphed into pass-oriented offenses.
“Over the course of the years, the league has wanted to open the game more and more and make it more exciting,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
But has it come at the expense of one of the NFL’s top rivalries?
The Steelers and Ravens played two close games last year, with Baltimore winning 13-10 in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers winning 23-20 in Baltimore.
The games still featured physical play, just not as much as in the past.
“The game is still as physical as any played in the NFL today,” said Clark. “We can’t compare it to games (years ago) because it’s a different era. There are different rules, even though those games aren’t that far back. The way the NFL has gone, the rules are different. As far as games that will be played this weekend, it’s sure to be one of the more physical games on the docket.”
Linebacker Jarvis Jones (head) did not practice Wednesday. ... Defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs) was limited in practice. … Linebacker LaMarr Woodley (knee) was a full participant. … The Steelers signed wide receiver Devon Wiley to the practice squad. Wylie was a fourth-round draft pick of Kansas City in 2012, catching six passes for 56 yards. He spent part of this season on Arizona’s practice squad.