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QB woes vary for Steelers, Ravens

November 20, 2005|By DAVID GINSBURG

BALTIMORE - The Pittsburgh Steelers are so banged up at quarterback, wide receiver Antwaan Randle El took snaps as the backup this week and was seeking clearance to wear a helmet with a headset.

The Baltimore Ravens also have issues at quarterback, though their problems on offense extend well beyond the uneven play of Kyle Boller.

Given the fact Baltimore (2-7) has lost four straight, averages a league-low 11.1 points and hasn't scored a touchdown in 11 consecutive quarters, the Steelers (7-2) could probably put 255-pound running back Jerome Bettis behind center today and make a game of it when the AFC North rivals meet for the second time in four weeks.

Pittsburgh starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger damaged cartilage in his knee Oct. 31 during the Steelers' 20-19 victory over Baltimore. His replacement, Charlie Batch, helped beat Green Bay the following week, but broke a bone in his hand last Sunday against Cleveland.

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So Steelers coach Bill Cowher will likely turn to Tommy Maddox, who threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in his last start, a 23-17 loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 16. If Maddox starts, the backups will be Roethlisberger and Randle El, who played quarterback in college at Indiana.

"Regardless of who's in there, the other 10 guys have to rally around him and make plays," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. "We have confidence in Tommy, I have confidence in Tommy. He's done it before. We're not going to base the whole thing off one game."

Even if he plays exceptionally well today, Maddox knows he won't retain the starting job. He is, however, delighted to get a second chance.

"I'm excited to get back out there," he said. "But I don't think you can ever go into a game thinking you've got to prove something."

Like it or not, that's the position Boller is in. Now in his third season, Boller has yet to show he can make an impact as Baltimore's starting quarterback. The former first-round draft pick hoped to make that kind of impression this season, but a toe injury in the opener against Indianapolis forced him to miss seven games.

Boller returned last week and threw three interceptions in a 30-3 loss at Jacksonville, a performance that did little to enhance the possibility he will retain the job beyond this season.

"If you throw three picks, there must be something wrong. I'm looking to improve on everything I do," he said.

Off to the worst start in franchise history, the Ravens have been reduced to playing the spoiler's role. Beating Pittsburgh won't salvage a terribly disappointing season, but it would do wonders for a team that hasn't won in a month.

"Everybody looks at us and, at this point, they think we're not a team they have to worry about," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "It will be our joy and happiness to beat teams that think they can come in here and dominate us. We want to win badly."

So do the Steelers, who are tied atop the division with the Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh isn't taking Baltimore lightly, considering that it took a beat-the-clock drive by Roethlisberger to subdue the Ravens at Pittsburgh on Halloween.

"It's a very good defense," Maddox said. "They run around and play well at home, with the noise and the turf there, so we're going to have to be ready on Sunday."

Whether it's Maddox or Roethlisberger, or even Randle El, at quarterback, the Ravens know they first must stop the run if they're to pull off an upset.

"We're looking forward to stepping up to the challenge no matter who plays quarterback," linebacker Bart Scott said. "There's no secret to their success - they're going to run the ball, pound it down our throats, and try to throw it when we present opportunities. We just have to bring a physical, nasty attitude to the field."

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