Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers motivated for Ravens after Joe Flacco provides bulletin board material

The Pittsburgh Steelers look to make Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco regret his words when the AFC North rivals meet in Baltimore on Sunday.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers needed more incentive in their already-storied rivalry with the Baltimore Ravens, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco gave it to them.

The Steelers travel to Baltimore on Sunday for their second game of the season against their AFC North-rival Ravens. Their games are often physical, close contests, but Flacco, after the Ravens beat the Steelers 26-14 in their first meeting in Week 4, said that game didn’t feel like a traditional Pittsburgh-Baltimore matchup. It seemed, in Flacco’s words, too easy.

“I really just felt we could have 28, 30, 35 points up out there at halftime,” Flacco said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s not like today was the toughest Pittsburgh Steeler game I’ve ever played.”

Since that game on Sept. 30, however, the two teams have gone in opposite directions. Baltimore (4-4) has lost three of their last four games, giving up 36 points in a loss to Carolina last week. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has won three straight to take the AFC North lead at 4-2-1.

A big part of the Steelers success the past few weeks has been the play of running back James Conner. With their bye week come and gone with still no sign of Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers have counted on Conner to be the main focus of their offense. The second-year player from Pitt has rushed for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns each of the last three games.

Even with his strong play of late, Conner feels like he still has room to grow, something he’s working on each week.

“It’s definitely not easy,” he said this week, via the Steelers website. “I feel like I do a good job of preparing during the week. I think I’m just trying to get better every week. Nothing in this game comes easy.”

As for the steep learning curve that comes with competing at the NFL level, Conner says he’s learning something new with each game. “For sure, every game. I learned a lot from last game, and every week I’m just trying to do something a little bit more and learn a little bit more, too,” he said.

Getting Conner involved in the offense should be at the top of the Steelers list of priorities in their rematch with Baltimore. In their last meeting, he rushed just nine times for 19 yards as the Steelers quickly fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter. Pittsburgh was able to tie the game by halftime, but Baltimore kicked four second-half field goals to win. The Steelers ran the ball just 11 times in the game, compared to 47 pass attempts. A better start and more balanced offense are what they’re looking for this week.

“We just have to start faster,” Conner said. “They have a great defense, they’re one of the best defenses in football right now.”

Wide receiver Antonio Brown, a nine-year veteran of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry, says playing in Baltimore always presents challenges, but even the young players on the Steelers who don’t have experience with it recognize the importance of this game.

“Hostile environment. Fiery fans,” Brown said.

“We don’t have to say nothing. It’s all about our actions. These guys understand the magnitude of this game and what’s expected.”

The Steelers and Ravens kick off at 1 p.m. on Sunday on CBS.

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