McNair presents major worry for Steelers

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor


Associated Press

PITTSBURGH - No NFL quarterback knows the Pittsburgh Steelers as well as Steve McNair does.
McNair, the longtime Tennessee Titans star now with the Baltimore Ravens, has opposed the Steelers 14 times since breaking into the NFL 11 years ago. He's won in the playoffs against them, an overtime game in Nashville in January 2003, and has been difficult to defend because of his size and arm strength.
To Steelers coach Bill Cowher, it is obvious that McNair has made a difference to the Ravens (8-2), who lead the Steelers (4-6) by four games with six to play in the AFC North. The teams play Sunday in Baltimore, the first of their two games in the next five weeks.
"Just the confidence they have, you can see in some of the comeback wins," Cowher said. "These are big. They were down by almost 20 points to Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, and they came back and got that win. They're a very confident football team."
For all the games he's played against them, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound McNair rarely has had this chance - effectively ending the Steelers' season by beating them. The Super Bowl champion Steelers probably can't afford another loss if they're to return to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
"Good teams bring out the best in you, and that's what Pittsburgh has done in my career, going against those guys," McNair said. "When you can have a team like Pittsburgh with the players and personnel they have, you get up for those games because of the greatness they have on defense. I think that's what makes this so special."
McNair has 2,452 yards passing in 13 regular-season games against the Steelers, with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also has rushed for 311 yards, although the 33-year-old does not abandon the pocket nearly as much as he did early in his career.
Perhaps this is McNair's most impressive statistic: his teams have won 10 of the 14 games they've played against Pittsburgh, counting the playoffs, though he did not start every game.
"He's the same guy," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "He's hard to bring down. He can get the ball off. He stays in the pocket. He scrambles to bide his time and runs when he needs to run."
Is he playing as well as he did with Tennessee?
"Yep, if not better," Haggans said, pointing to the Ravens' success this season with McNair. "Eight and two. That's it."
Although it might seem the win-or-else Steelers have a greater sense of urgency to win Sunday than the Ravens, McNair said that's not true.
Even a losing-record Steelers team presents challenges, he said, and the Ravens don't want to open up an AFC North race they lead by three games over Cincinnati (5-5).
McNair hasn't played the Steelers since Pittsburgh's 34-7 season-opening victory over Tennessee last year.
"We know what to expect out of Pittsburgh. If you can't get ready for this game, then you don't need to be a part of this league," McNair said. "When you think Baltimore and Pittsburgh, that means a lot by itself. People are going to come in and give a little extra effort to prepare themselves this week."
McNair's familiarity with the Steelers' blitz schemes and coverages is an advantage most quarterbacks don't have.
"He's experienced, and he's playing well," Haggans said. "He's tough. He played with a lot of injuries in Tennessee, so you know he plays with a lot of guts, a lot of heart. He really loves this game."