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fordfixer
10-02-2010, 02:29 AM
Ravens hope to avoid flag day vs. Steelers
Penalties proved to be their undoing last season
http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/rave ... 3345.story (http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/ravens/bs-sp-ravens-1002-20101001,0,863345.story)

By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

1:11 a.m. EDT, October 2, 2010

Bit by bit, flag by nasty flag, the Ravens unraveled in Pittsburgh in December.

They had the Steelers on the run. They had wiped out a pair of 10-point deficits. They had even taken the lead twice -- albeit briefly -- before penalties erased go-ahead touchdowns.

To say the Steelers stole the game is probably misleading. To say the Ravens gave it away is not far from the truth.

Pittsburgh week comes with some hard lessons, and last year's 23-20 loss was one in self-destruction for the Ravens. But it's a lesson that could serve them well Sunday when they revisit Heinz Field and renew their rivalry with the 3-0 Steelers.

"I've been watching this game for a long time, before I even came here," Ravens tackle Michael Oher said, "so I understand the rivalry, I understand how heated it is. I'm pretty sure that brings out a lot of everything."

Last year, it brought out the worst in the Ravens. In a season split with Pittsburgh, the Ravens were guilty of 20 penalties -- for a staggering 193 yards -- and those gaffes nearly cost Baltimore a playoff spot.

The December loss was among the most galling in Ravens history.

They were flagged for 11 penalties for 113 yards. They lost a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown by Domonique Foxworth in the third quarter to a penalty on Terrell Suggs for an illegal block. Nine minutes later, a 32-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee was negated by a holding call against Kelley Washington. Then, in a fourth-quarter meltdown, the Ravens were hit with six penalties, including two on one play.

The coup de grace was an illegal contact call against cornerback Frank Walker, wiping out a 38-yard interception return by Tom Zbikowski to the Pittsburgh 42 in the final two minutes.

Washington and Walker are gone and still unemployed. But in the wake of that loss, the Ravens had to rededicate themselves to maintaining poise in the heat of the moment, even a Pittsburgh moment.

Asked this week how the Ravens could tamp down 20 penalties without losing aggressiveness, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison suggested it will come down to mental discipline.

"The thing you do is, you play as aggressively and you play with as much passion [as always] in a huge game like that, but at the same time, all the things we worked on since camp about dumb penalties, you keep that in your mind," Mattison said.

"We've worked so much on that, I don't believe that will happen. I think we'll play with the same passion, the same way the Ravens play. But we've worked very hard on that other part."

The Ravens were called for 10 different penalties in the December game -- twice for personal fouls, twice for illegal contact and twice for penalties that were declined.

Last week, they had eight penalties for 60 yards in a victory over Cleveland, including one when Oher defended teammate Todd Heap on a dead-ball foul and slugged the Browns' Robaire Smith. (Oher drew a $5,000 fine for hitting Smith on the helmet, and Zbikowski got the same fine for throwing Browns running back Peyton Hillis down out of bounds.)

Against the Cincinnati Bengals the week before, Suggs was tagged with a dubious roughing the passer penalty that ultimately earned coach John Harbaugh a $15,000 fine for impermissibly touching an official on the chest in an effort to define the "strike zone" of a pass rusher on a quarterback.

This week, Suggs said penalties can sometimes motivate a team in an emotional game.

"Sometimes you've got to let your emotions fly," the linebacker said. "Sometimes a penalty like that can rally your team. It all depends on the situation of the game. If it's early in the game, a good personal foul might be exactly what a team needs. If your coach kind of 'chop sueys' a ref, it might be what your team needs.

"It all depends on the game. But if it's in a pivotal point in the game -- if it's third down ? and if you've got a clear shot at the quarterback, and if it's one of those iffy things, you probably don't take the shot just to make sure you don't put it in the hands of the ref. ? You've got to be really into this game. It's more mental than physical."

Harbaugh doesn't want any penalties. His answer to the penalty problem: "You play with great technique, attention to detail," he said. "We want to be 100 percent passionate about what we do. We want to be 100 percent in control in what we do. [The Steelers] bring that out in you. That's kind of what they do. It's part of their plan. So we've got to understand that."

On the rash of penalties the Ravens have drawn against Pittsburgh, Oher said, "I'm just going to go out there and play the game."

Asked whether that meant he wasn't going to hit anybody this week, he said, "That's what 'play the game' means."