PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Ravens-Steelers rivalry started only nine years ago, so it’s still a little early to call it one of the NFL’s most storied or significant.

The loudest and nastiest, it often is.

Since the former AFC Central slimmed down from six teams to four and became the AFC North in 2001, either the Ravens (2003) or Steelers (2001, 2002, 2004) have won the division every season – and that was after the Ravens won the Super Bowl during the Central’s final season.

That competition, and the personalities that drive it, have made for a cantankerous rivalry that very much resembles the Browns vs. Steelers – partly because the Ravens themselves are the former Browns, relocating from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996. The twice yearly games always mean something even when they mean nothing, and neither team wants to be outplayed or outcoached, outtalked or outthought.

“These are two teams that respect each other but have a genuine dislike for one another,” Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.

They let it be known, too, with cross-state yapping that often begins on Monday and lasts until well after gametime. Steelers guard Alan Faneca points to an end-of-season game in 2003 when the Ravens (10-6) were headed to the playoffs and the Steelers (6-10) weren’t as proof of how much the two teams dislike losing to each other. Baltimore won 13-10, but only after the game went into overtime.

“They were already in and weren’t playing for a better spot in the playoffs, and they played all their starters,” Faneca said. “It’s just the kind of game it is. There’s that dislike, there’s that respect factor. I think (Ravens coach Brian) Billick was saying, “What are we going to do in the playoffs if we don’t do it now?”‘

But as Monday night’s Ravens-Steelers game approaches, there seems to be something missing besides the Ravens’ oft-invisible offense and the usual trash talking. As Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said, “For whatever reason, the chemistry’s not there” in Baltimore.

The edge doesn’t seem to be there, either, mostly because the Ravens (2-4) are having too many problems merely scoring points to get sidetracked into another talkfest. And the Steelers (4-2), who were upset at home by Jacksonville two weeks ago, are more concerned with division leader Cincinnati (5-2) than the Ravens after closing in on first place by beating the Bengals 27-13 last week.

Also, the Ravens go into the first of two meetings with Pittsburgh in four weeks without the last two NFL defensive players of the year, safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis, and without much of an offense to make up for their absence.

“Well, you know it is different that what people are used to, but I’ll tell you what,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, “when they come and play the Steelers, they’re going to bring that Ravens defense and that Ravens offense that they normally bring.”

That’s been Baltimore’s biggest problem: that offense, which hasn’t scored a touchdown in seven quarters.

They couldn’t score a touchdown in a 10-6 loss Sunday in rainy Chicago, partly because former 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis was held to 34 yards on 15 carries and still hasn’t had a 100-yard game since last season.

“But he has been one of the two best running backs in the league over the last four years, and it may take something like this to get him back to where he’s been,” Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen said.

Tight end Todd Heap said the Ravens plan to do exactly that.

“That’s what our offense is based around,” he said.

“We want to get Jamal involved and open up some holes for him. That’s going to be a focus for him, getting on the right track this week.”

The Steelers were the exact opposite against the Bengals, throwing little – Roethlisberger was 9-of-14 for two touchdowns – and running a lot. Willie Parker (131) yards and Jerome Bettis (56 yards) helped the running game get 221 of the Steelers’ 304 yards, running so effectively Roethlisberger didn’t attempt a pass in the fourth quarter.

“They’re going to start with their running game and we want to stop that,” the Ravens’ Will Demps said.

The Ravens also dismiss the talk that, with an ineffective offense and a wounded defense, they have no chance against the team they like to beat the most.

“If there’s any one game that you look forward to, this is the one,” Heap said.

AP-ES-10-27-05 1922EDT

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