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Resuming a recognizable rivalry

There's a Tomlin-ism, it seems, a smattering of wit and wisdom dispensed in an often memorable and occasionally lyrical fashion from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to his players, that's appropriate for every game.

Especially when the game in question is a Steelers-Ravens game.

"The one that really sticks out is, 'It's a big-man week,'" Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward offered. "He tells us, 'Big men gotta run and little men gotta hit, but we're gonna follow our big people.'

"I feel like in this type of game, the physicality of the front line of both groups is gonna be very influential in who wins this game."

It seems as if it always is when the Steelers and Ravens get together.

It's a storied rivalry that's normally as physical as it is hotly contested.


Since John Harbaugh took over as the head coach in Baltimore in 2008 (Tomlin's second season with the Steelers), the Ravens lead the at-least-twice-annually series of division rivals by the slimmest of margins at 14-13 (including the postseason).

Of those 27 games, 19 have been decided by seven points or fewer, 16 by four points or fewer and 14 by three points or fewer.

The games have required overtime to decide four times, including Baltimore's 26-23 victory on Oct. 6, 2019 at Heinz Field.

And on three occasions, the two teams have met in the playoffs (the Steelers hold a 2-1 postseason advantage).

Invariably, there's at least one compelling matchup that stands out above the others, and this time is no different.

The Ravens' No. 1-ranked running game will be tested by the Steelers' No. 1 total defense and No. 2 rushing defense, and vice versa.

But these games have traditionally been about competing for competition's sake at least as much as they have exploiting matchups or what's at stake.

There's often a physicality and an emotion present that exceeds what's typically seen from week to week.

"Football in its truest form," is how Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger described it.

Added Harbaugh: "Certainly tough and hard-hitting, but it's always been very clean football. I think both sides are very proud of that."

They also have respective track records of which both should be proud.

Harbaugh has won four AFC North Division championships, appeared in three AFC Championship games and won one Super Bowl. (XLVII)

Tomlin has won six AFC North titles (the first in 2007, prior to Harbaugh's arrival in Baltimore), reached three AFC Championship games, appeared in two Super Bowls (XLIII and XLV) and won one (XLIII).

Since 2008 the Steelers are second in the NFL with 137 victories (regular and postseason) and the Ravens are fourth with 133.

Neither team has achieved what it has without rising to the occasion when necessary, without the big men running and the little men hitting when that's what's required.

Especially when the rubber meets the road in stadiums with the lights on.

No matter how hot it gets in the kitchen.