Growth across the board

THEN AND NOW: Prior to the Steelers' initial meeting with Baltimore, guard Ramon Foster acknowledged the Ravens had demonstrated a better grasp of the rivalry in recent seasons.

"I think their understanding of playing this game has been a little bit better than ours in a sense of, it didn't matter what was going on, what the records were, they wanted to beat us," Foster said in November.

The Ravens beat the Steelers again on Nov. 6 for their fourth consecutive win and sixth in the last seven meetings in the series.

But when the rivalry resumes on Sunday at Heinz Field, Foster maintains the Steelers will be better positioned to provide what's required.

"I feel like now, the growth that we've had as a team, our players get it," he said. "They understand what's at stake here. The play has shown in recent weeks, young guys are growing up, old guys have led.

"That's how I feel about it right now."

The Steelers demonstrated the ability to avoid distraction and handle changing circumstances in last Sunday's win at Cincinnati.

Foster wants to see that approach repeated against the Ravens.

"The same thing, don't let outside forces control what you're doing, doing our job and staying on task," he said.

That, and make it as difficult as possible on edge-rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.

"We can't get behind because their two rushers on the outside are some of the best guys in the league," Foster cautioned. "Negative yards cannot happen, behind the chains cannot happen, second-and-12, stuff like that, we can't have it this week."

ARROW POINTING UP: The Steelers were 4-3 and coming off consecutive losses followed by a bye week the first time they engaged the Ravens.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 16 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.

This time, they've won five in a row.

"We're definitely riding the wave, there's no doubt about that," cornerback Stephon Tuitt said. "We have to continue to work because we realize this is big-time football. This is going to be a playoff atmosphere."

Center Maurkice Pouncey couldn't put a finger on what changed for the Steelers on the way from 4-5 to 9-5.

But he was certain the collective attitude and effort level never wavered.

"I just know we go to work every day and bust our butts," Pouncey said. "You keep your head down and keep working hard, usually good things happen.

"We're football players, we're competitors, nobody likes to lose. We had a little streak where we lost a couple games but we stayed tight as a team and kept working and we pushed through it."

BIG-PLAY CAPABLE: The Ravens' 21-14 victory over the Steelers in November was highlighted by wide receiver Mike Wallace's 95-yard, catch-and-run touchdown.

That's still the longest play the Steelers have allowed this season.

But of the 10 plays of 40 or more yards the Steelers have surrendered, only two of them have occurred during the current five-game winning streak (both at Buffalo, completions by quarterback Tyrod Taylor for 40 yards and a touchdown to tight end Charles Clay, and for 41 yards to running back LeSean McCoy).

"The most concerning thing is their explosive plays," Cockrell said of the Ravens. "We've done a good job in the last few weeks limiting those.

"It starts it up front, always. Those guys have been doing a great job applying pressure to the quarterback. And, of course, it starts with stoping the run. We've done that, we've made teams one-dimensional. I think we did a good job of making Cincinnati one-dimensional in the second half. We stop the run, we get pressure on the quarterback and it usually leads to good things for us on the back end."

GROWTH PERSONIFIED: Free safety Mike Mitchell assessed Sean Davis' development at strong safety as follows: "I'm a little less nervous now. At the beginning of the year I wasn't really sure I could trust him, as any rookie. There was one time, I asked him the call, he gave me the wrong call.

"Right now I could ask him and he would exactly tell me what we're doing, probably know what a lot of the other guys are doing. His maturity and growth from that standpoint has been outstanding, and (rookie cornerback) Artie (Burns) is no different."

HE SAID IT: "We look at past performances to learn and grow from. If we didn't look at those games and try to get better from them we'd be idiots, so I'm not going to say we haven't looked at them. But to try to dwell on those things, I think that's just stupid. We need to have our mind in the right spot, which is getting a big win on Sunday." _ Mitchell on the Ravens having won four in a row and six of seven against the Steelers.

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