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News » THE DEFENSE RESTS


THE DEFENSE RESTS


THE DEFENSE RESTS
The NFL's best defense in years?


Tell the truth.

You will be thrilled if the Steelers' defense is the better one on the field Sunday in Baltimore.

"I know how these games go," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said the other day. "The defense that makes the most plays is going to win the game."

We're biased. We're starting to think the Steelers' defense just might be the league's best since the Ravens' 2000 bunch. That talk is way premature, Foote said. "Until we win the Super Bowl, you can't say we're the best anything." Linebacker/defensive captain James Farrior agreed, although he did acknowledge, "I love these boys ... I think we have a chance to do some special things if we stay focused and don't lose our edge."

In Baltimore, they're thinking the same way about the Ravens' defense -- with good reason. The Steelers rank first in the NFL in run defense, pass defense and total defense, the Ravens third, second and second. The Steelers have a big edge in sacks -- 45-28 -- but the Ravens have more interceptions, 22-16. The Steelers haven't allowed 300 yards of offense in a game all season and held the powerful Dallas Cowboys to 289 in a 20-13 victory Sunday. The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 32 games and held Washington's Clinton Portis to 32 yards on 11 carries in a 24-10 victory Sunday night. The fourth-quarter touchdown they allowed the Redskins' Antwaan Randle El was the first they gave up in 13 quarters and 46 possessions.

If the Ravens' defense has an edge this week, it's that it is playing at home, at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Steelers have lost five in a row. Since '03, the Ravens have played the best home defense in the NFL, allowing the fewest yards and touchdowns, while getting the most interceptions and second-most sacks. Safety Ed Reed's 22-yard return of a fumble for a touchdown against the Redskins was the Ravens' 27th defensive touchdown since '03, most in the league.

We think Steelers linebacker James Harrison -- 15 sacks and seven forced fumbles -- is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. If not him, then safety Troy Polamalu, who has a league-best seven interceptions. But in Baltimore, they like Reed, the Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, who has four interceptions, a forced fumble and recovery and two touchdowns in the past three games. "Ed Reed has game-changing impact," Ravens rookie coach John Harbaugh told the Baltimore media after the Washington game.

Are you starting to think the game Sunday could end, 7-6?

Neither team needs additional motivation -- the game is for first place in the AFC North Division -- but each defense provides some, anyway.

The Steelers don't like Ravens linebackers Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs much. The Scott animosity goes back to a brutal -- but clean -- hit he put on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger two years ago and the way he gushed afterward about thoroughly enjoying the sensation of feeling the air rush out of Big Ben's body. Suggs didn't make any friends when he told a national radio show earlier this season that the Ravens had a bounty out on Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and running back Rashard Mendenhall when the teams played Sept. 29. A legitimate hit from Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis knocked Mendenhall out for the season that night with a broken shoulder.

For the Ravens' part, they can't be happy at the talk that the Steelers' defense has surpassed theirs. "The best in the world for a reason," Roethlisberger called the Steelers' defense Sunday after it ate Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo alive. The Ravens especially can't like the comparisons to their 2000 defense. Lewis figures to call that sacrilegious or silly nonsense or some such thing before the week is done.

In that Sept. 29 game, Lewis might have had the hit of the night, but the Steelers' defense made one more big play than the Ravens' in a 23-20 overtime victory. Harrison sacked rookie quarterback Joe Flacco late in the third quarter and teammate LaMarr Woodley picked up the resultant fumble and took it 7 yards for a touchdown. Harrison and Woodley combined for four of the Steelers' five sacks of Flacco.

"That's just those two at it again," Farrior said. "It's crazy how two people can totally change how you play."

Flacco has come a long way since that night. The Ravens have won seven of their past eight games in large part because he threw for 12 touchdowns and was intercepted just three times.

"The first time we played him, he wasn't afraid," Foote said. "You can tell when a quarterback is afraid. You love that. But he wasn't afraid. He impressed me."

That won't stop Harrison, Woodley and the rest from getting after Flacco Sunday.

You know, the way Suggs and Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce will be going after Roethlisberger.

I'm predicting 6-3, Steelers.

No, that's too many points.

How about 2-0?

b> DEFENSIVE LINE

/b>

Through Sunday's games, the Steelers and Ravens rank at or near the top in the NFL's total, passing and rushing defenses:

b> TOTAL DEFENSE

Rk.......Team......YPG

/b>

1......Steelers......241.9

2......Ravens......253.4

3......Titans......273.8

b> PASSING DEFENSE

Rk.......Team......YPG

/b>

1......Steelers......168.9

2......Ravens......176.4

3......Titans......181.4

b> RUSHING DEFENSE

/b>

b>Rk.......Team......YPG

/b>

1......Steelers......73.0

2......Vikings......73.3

3......Ravens......77.0

b> Steelers @ Ravens

/b>

? * 4:15 p.m. Sunday,

* TV: KDKA



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 10, 2008

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