OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Alejandro Villanueva is about to experience the other side of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry.
Perhaps that's why he's a little hesitant to give this particular clash any more fuel than it already has.
“I come from a country where there’s a true rivalry between two giants, in Real Madrid and Barcelona,” said Villanueva, who grew up in Spain. “That’s a rivalry that’s tearing the country apart. This is just two good teams that happen to play each other twice a year, usually in the cold, from working towns, so everybody just wants to be the most blue-collar, if you will.”
After six years with Pittsburgh, Villanueva joined the Ravens this season, and the offensive lineman goes up against his old team for the first time when Baltimore visits the Steelers on Sunday. The stakes are high, as they often are between these teams, and Villanueva knows better than most what type of game it will probably be.
“I always saw the Brazilian players on Real Madrid and Barcelona just completely ignoring everything else that came with the rivalry, and I feel somewhat like that,” he said. "This rivalry, to me, is a tough game. It’s a tremendous defense. They both want to run the ball and play defense, so it’s always going to be low-scoring. ... Fans are going to get into it. But unfortunately, I cannot provide any further hype to the rivalry.”
Although he won't fan the flames too much, Villanueva can still offer a unique perspective. The Baltimore-Pittsburgh matchup is remarkable not only because it pits two successful franchises from the same division against each other — but because each organization is a model of stability.
This will be the 30th meeting, including postseason, between Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“Usually, you have one team doing very good in a (division), and usually, all the rest of the quarterbacks and head coaches get fired after a certain amount of time,” Villanueva said. "Look at the AFC East, for example: Bill Belichick has been punishing that (division). But I think in the AFC North, you’ve got Coach Tomlin, and you’ve got Coach Harbaugh that are just resisting to give in to each other.”
The previous time these teams faced each other, Baltimore was decimated because of a COVID-19 outbreak. That game last year was put off from Thanksgiving and wasn't played until a Wednesday in early December. Pittsburgh won 19-14.
“It was an awesome game for us, because the roster was completely decimated," Villanueva said. “But it was also very tough, because then we had to play, I think, three games in 14 days.”
It was actually three games in 12 days, and the Steelers lost the next two after beating Baltimore. Pittsburgh has struggled ever since then, and this season's Steelers (5-5-1) could really use a win this weekend if they want to remain a threat to catch the AFC North-leading Ravens (8-3).
Villanueva joked that he'd probably be more fired up for this matchup if center Maurkice Pouncey, his former teammate on Pittsburgh's offensive line, were still with the Steelers.
“If Maurkice Pouncey was playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, that game is not happening. That game would turn into blows between me and him," he said. “I’d probably line up at nose, and he’ll line up at D-end, and it’s going to be unsportsmanlike conduct the whole game.”
NOTES: Ravens DT Calais Campbell (concussion) was a full participant at practice Thursday. So were C Bradley Bozeman (shin), LB Patrick Queen (ribs) and CB Jimmy Smith (neck). ... FB Patrick Ricard (foot/thigh) missed practice along with TE Nick Boyle (knee), CB Marlon Humphrey (illness), LB Odafe Oweh (shoulder), T Cedric Ogbuehi (thigh) and CBs Chris Westry (thigh) and Tavon Young (illness).
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Noah Trister, The Associated Press