OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Most weeks, Monday Night Football is little more than background noise for John Harbaugh, but the Ravens coach said he’d be watching closely with the Pittsburgh Steelers on the national stage.
Using a coaching eye, Harbaugh received a live look at the Ravens’ arch nemesis before preparations continued for the first of two meetings with the AFC North adversary in a matchup many believe to be the NFL’s best rivalry.
“It’s the best week of the year, because it’s where we feel our most comfortable, probably,” Harbaugh said. “It’s where I feel the most comfortable and I think our players and coaches feel the same way, because it’s a defining type of a rivalry. It means so much to both teams. We like being in this week, we love playing these guys, we love the preparation for these guys. I’d say it’s the best week of the year — both [games].”
As is the case most seasons, the fate of the AFC North will likely come down to the two head-to-head meetings as the Ravens entered Week 10 with a one-game advantage over Pittsburgh in the division. The names have changed over the years, but the games remain a marquee attraction as Pittsburgh and Baltimore meet in a nationally televised prime-time game for the sixth straight year.
This season brings an interesting wrinkle as the Ravens and Steelers meet twice over the next three weeks, a decision that’s brought much criticism from each fan base who’d prefer to have more time between the games due to the physical toll they take on each team. Harbaugh admitted the timing of his team’s two meetings with the Steelers did grab his attention when the schedule was released in late April, but he appeared more than willing to embrace the challenge during his Monday press conference in Owings Mills.
“Really, there are always quirks in the schedule,” Harbaugh said. “Every team’s got them. That’s kind of a quirk for us. We play them and then sandwiched around a trip to San Diego. That will be a big challenge for us, but everybody’s got those challenges this year. That’s ours. We just have to deal with it and make it good.”
The Ravens have won two straight regular-season meetings at Heinz Field but suffered a playoff loss in Pittsburgh to end the 2010 season. With Baltimore experiencing struggles on the road this season, Sunday night’s performance will be very telling in explaining how serious a Super Bowl contender the Ravens really are at this point.
Counting two postseason games, the Ravens are 4-6 against Pittsburgh in the Harbaugh era. The 50-year-old coach hopes to continue his team’s recent success playing on the road in the bitter rivalry.
“If you love football, there’s no greater place to be,” Harbaugh said. “Playing there in that great stadium against that great organization, those games have always been great games. We’ve always felt like it’s a rivalry. We’ll continue to consider it to be a great rivalry.”
Changing of the (left) guard?
In preparing for Sunday’s showdown with the Steelers, the Ravens will be faced with a decision at the left guard position where second-year offensive lineman Jah Reid played well in place of veteran Bobbie Williams.
Taking Williams’ place on the third offensive series of the game, Reid played in 50 of the team’s 64 offensive snaps and received positive reviews after the 55-20 win over the Oakland Raiders. When asked whether Reid had supplanted Williams, who was limited in practice last week with a sore ankle, Harbaugh would not name a starter against the Steelers.
“I don’t know who will get the bulk of it, but we anticipate both of those guys playing in there,” Harbaugh said. “Jah’s got some versatility at some other positions, too. Of course, Bobbie can play the right guard as well, so it’s good to have some flexibility there.”
Reid excelled in run blocking, getting to the second level to spring running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on several positive runs. Drafted as an offensive tackle in the third round of last year’s draft, Reid has made the transition inside despite dealing with a calf injury for the better part of several months.
“A lot of good things and some other things that he can get better at,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a very physical player, he’s really athletic, he can bend, he can get his pads down. And that’s not easy to do for a guy his size. He played well. There were some pass protection technique issues that he had with pass-set things he’s got to continue to work on that he knows about. All in all, he played pretty well.”
Go, Jacoby, go