Posted by ESPN's Sal Paolantonio
WESTMINSTER, Md. -- You can't blame the Ravens for being a little obsessed with the world champion Steelers -- after all, Baltimore lost all three games to Pittsburgh in 2008.
A three-point loss at Heinz Field on Monday night in Week 4, a night when rookie quarterback Joe Flacco came of age.
In Week 14, a heart-breaking loss in Baltimore, referee Walt Coleman ruled that Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes crossed the goal line with 43 seconds left -- a call that many in the Ravens organization still stew about.
And then a beatdown in the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field, when young Flacco was just 13-of-30 passing with three picks and no touchdown passes.
So, it's no surprise that when you ask the Ravens venerable general manager, Ozzie Newsome, what it will take to beat the Steelers this season, he has two quick responses: "Get No. 7 down," and "Be better in the passing game." Before we address sacking Ben Roethlisberger, let's talk about Flacco.
The Ravens finished 28th in the league in passing. That doesn't tell the whole story. During the regular season, Flacco completed a gaudy 60 percent of his passes -- very good for a rookie. But in the playoffs, his completion rate plummeted to 44 percent against three nasty defenses: Miami, Tennessee and Pittsburgh. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the lowest completion percentage (with a minimum 50 attempts) for any quarterback in the postseason in 10 years. (Mark Brunell completed just 40 percent of his passes for the Jaguars in 1998.)
And in three games against the Steelers, Flacco had just one touchdown pass last season -- a dinky 4-yarder to tight end Daniel Wilcox. The strong-armed rookie was just unable to solve Dick LeBeau's pass defense.
"We've got to be more consistent in the passing game, move the chains, control the tempo on offense with balance," said Newsome.
Newsome said that won't matter if the Ravens defense, which finished second in the league to Pittsburgh last season, does not do a better job of sacking Roethlisberger.
"We've got to get No. 7 on the ground," said Newsome, without missing a beat. "We get clean shots at him, but we're not getting him down. I remember we used to have trouble getting to Steve McNair and bringing him down. But Roethlisberger is much tougher. His movement out of the pocket, his ability to throw on the run is what killed us."
The Ravens finished just 11th in the league last year with 34 sacks -- primarily because their primary pass-rusher, Terrell Suggs, has just 13 sacks in the last two seasons.
In all three games against the Ravens last season, using his creativity to stay alive in the pocket, Roethlisberger hit Holmes with killer touchdown passes that proved to be the margin of difference between the play of the two quarterbacks, and the score.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh insisted that his training camp was focused on many things, but he did admit one this: The Ravens' defense is learning to make sure the quarterback goes down. "We are working here a lot on the scramble drill," said Harbaugh. In other words, when the opposing quarterback starts to move out of the pocket, the defense has certain rules of engagement: engage and, hopefully bring down.
Sal Paolantonio is an ESPN bureau reporter based in Philadelphia.