The Baltimore Ravens (6-4) plans to become the first team to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0) was severely undermined when 22 players were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list, including 12 that tested postive. Offensively that includes QB Lamar Jackson, RB Mark Ingram, RB J.K. Dobbins, FB Patrick Ricard, WR Willie Snead, center Patrick Mekari, RG D.J. Fluker and TE Mark Andrews, who are all essential to the Ravens dynamic and versital offense. They also will be without the services of pass rushers DE Calais Campbell, NT Brandon Williams, LB Pernell McPhee and LB Matthew Judon because they were placed on that list. The Steelers also placed RB James Conner, DE Stephon Tuitt, DT Isaiah Buggs and offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins were also placed on the same list, following the news of Conner, quarterbacks coach Matt Canada and special teams coach Danny Smith all testing positive.
All of these postive tests results caused the game to be pushed back twice, first from Thanksgiving Night to Sunday at 1:15 pm and finally to Tuesday night at 8 pm on NBC. The entire football world will be watching this situation closely, but the NFL still plans to treat us to a rare Tuesday night showdown with major playoff implications.
RG3’s Return to NFL and Ravens New Look Offense:
The Ravens offense will look very different tomorrow night with the abscene of the nine starters I mentioned above. Ravens fans should be particularly concerned about their offense losing not only their starting QB, but five key receiving threats that can burn you with their speed. Oh and let’s not forget what Jackson, Ingram, Dobbins, Ricard, Andrews, Mekari and Fluker do in the ground game. Baltimore rushed 47 times for 265 yards, including 31 carries for 178 yards by Jackson and Dobbins. Losing Andrews and Snead means your taking away two of Jackson’s favorite targets in the passing game who are the top two receivers on the team in catches and 1st and 3rd respectively in yards receiving. This team is built on their ability to use RPO’s, to keep teams guessing whether they will run or pass. Take that away and you make their offense one dimensional.
Now before I get to why, this is a bad matchup for the Ravens, I think we need to go back in time and talk about RG3. Tuesday night’s game will only be his second start since week 17 of 2016 against the Steelers. It is great to see him back on the field starting after his career was flipped on its head, when he suffered a devastating knee injury at the end of his rookie season in 2012. His best seasons came in Washington, when he passed for 8,097 yards and 40 touchdowns. His rookie season he rushed for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns but because of a recurring knee issue that stemmed from his torn ACL and LCL, which he attempted to play through during the playoffs (before making it worse), he never fully gained his explosiveness with his legs. This led to him going to the Cleveland Browns in 2016 for one season but then was out of football for a year before the Ravens signed him in 2018.
RG3 was finally given a chance to start during the Ravens’ week 17 game against the Steelers last season, when Baltimore rested all it’s starters with the #1 seed secured. He finished that contest completing 11/21 passes for 96 yards and a pick. He also added 50 yards rushing on 8 carries. Remember this was against a Steelers team that was fighting for it’s playoff lives, but without QB Ben Roethlisberger. They won that game 28-10 but it was thanks to 223 yards rushing, a blocked punt recovered in the end zone and 4 field goals by kicker Justin Tucker. Add that to the Steelers scoring just 10 points and finishing with 186 total yards and missing Big Ben, this game didn’t impact Baltimore’s season. That is not the case this year and he has his toughest test yet ahead of him.
Steelers Steel Curtain D 2020 Edition:
The Steelers defense had a field day with Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s offense in their week 8 matchup. Yes it’s true the Ravens scored 24 points in that contest, but 17 of the points came in the first half. Their second half possessions consisted of 2 turnovers, 2 punts and one touchdown. Spoiler alert: that’s the perfect formula to lose a game. Pittsburgh’s defense collected 2 interceptions and sacked Jackson 4 times in this game. These stats should surprise nobody, as the Steelers have collected 38 sacks and 98 quarterback hits this year (both tops in the NFL). Their front seven is playing at an elite level, with pass rushers TJ Watt and Bud Dupree leading the team with 17 sacks combined. They are relentless and if you don’t secure the football they will punch it out and cause havoc in your backfield. Expect more of the same on Tuesday night.
With all of the pieces Baltimore is missing offensively and the fact that Lamar Jackson normally takes all the first team snaps, it makes me wonder how much chemistry the Ravens remaining weapons, have with RG3. If they aren’t on the same page, turnovers might start piling up and that can’t happen in this type of matchup because the Steelers feast on mistakes. Griffin clearly knows the system but his lack of game time with these receivers are going to be a huge story to watch. This team’s attention to detail, ability to study film and be on the same page will be put to the test with little practice together. This could get ugly fast. Watch his chemistry with both Dez Bryant and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and see if I’m correct.
I also don’t anticipate Baltimore’s running game to be that strong because of who’s missing on that side of the ball. Yes I know Gus Edwards finished week 8 with 16 carries for 87 yards and a rushing TD, but he wasn’t the lead back. It’s one thing to be a complimentary back and put up those numbers, but he will have to do it without two key offensive linemen and his lead blocker in FB Patrick Ricard. You can throw out the fact that the Steelers are allowing 4.3 yards per carry (17th) and 103.4 yards per game with the Ravens not at full strength. It’s going to be a long night for this rushing attack and RG3.
Big Ben’s High Flying Offense vs Baltimore’s Short Handed Defense:
The Steelers have no such problem with their passing game and QB Ben Roethlisberger resume speaks for itself. Winning 2 Super Bowls and throwing for 387 career touchdowns are just two of his mind blowing stats that leave NFL fans in awe but this year there’s something different. We all know how he can make any throw and keep plays alive with his physical scrambling ability that drives defenses insane trying to sack or tackle him. But then you add a receiving corps who have 4 different players with 30+ catches and that’s a deadly combination that’s hard to stop. This amazing season makes Steelers fans say, “Antonio Brown, who?”
The most impressive of his receivers is rookie Chase Claypool. How awesome is it having a rookie catch 39 passes for 559 yards and hitting paydirt 8 times? Big Ben loves throwing to him and it seems like everytime I hear his name on a highlight film he’s parking himself in the end zone, after making another defense look foolish. His best performance of the year came when he torched the Philadelphia Eagles with 7 receptions for 110 yards and 4 total scores. I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon and even if Baltimore closes in on him, his other teammates have proven capable of stepping up. I am especially confident with that statement when you consider the abscene of Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Pernell McPhee and Matthew Judonon along the front seven. All four players have been a huge part of applying pressure and stopping the run game and I just don’t know how you can replace them. Brace yourselves Ravens fans this Steelers offense can strike from anywhere on the field and they will keep coming all night.
The last time these two teams faced off, Claypool was the 2nd leading receiver behind JuJu Smith-Schuster (7 catches for 67 yards) but still made a huge impact on the game. He hauled in 5 catches for 42 yards but did score one of his 8 touchdowns as well. The fact that Claypool can seemingly beat anyone with his tremendous speed one on one is going to be crucial. Don’t forget about TE Eric Ebron or WR Diontae Johnson who have both shown the ability to get open when called upon as well. Remember this is the same Ravens defense that struggled to contain the Kansas City Chiefs, who also have a variety of weapons and score in bunches. There’s a reason this team’s undefeated and the weapons at Big Ben’s disposal are a big reason why.
One other storyline to watch is how the Ravens‘ run defense can hold up. Ravens fans everywhere probably still have nightmares about what Titans lead back Derrick Henry did to them last week. While the Steelers will miss their top two backs, including lead back James Conner, who has accounted for 790 total yards and 5 rushing touchdowns this season, they will be moving forward with Benny Snell Jr and Anthony McFarland Jr. Snell is more of the power back that will deliver punishing runs and earn extra yards after first contact. Look for the Steelers to use him to ware down Baltimore’s front seven, who will probably wear down as the game goes on with their offense struggling to stay on the field. Don’t be fooled though just because Snell is a power back doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of breaking a big run either. McFarland on the other hand is more known for his speed and hasn’t had the chance to prove himself this season with only 95 total yards this season. After seeing what Rex Burkhead did two weeks ago to this defense two weeks ago, this could be an intreguing X-Factor to keep an eye on, when Big Ben’s receivers are covered. Expect these guys to see quite a few touches against a depleted Baltimore front seven. A strong running game will keep Big Ben from being hit and cut down on the 4 turnovers the Steelers committed in their first matchup.
Final Thoughts Ravens vs. Steelers:
I believe that the number of offensive weapons the Steelers have on offense and the Steelers relentless pass rush will prevail on Thanksgiving and give Steelers fans joy all across the world. There is just too much talent and big play ability for them to lose this game. The Ravens have too many question marks on both sides of the ball and it’s just a matter of who’s players I trust more and which team has been more consistent the entire season. The Steelers undefeated record speaks for itself and that will reach 11-0 this week. Steelers win 35-10.
Who do you think will win this crucial AFC North matchup? Leave your thoughts below or on the CruelFan Facebook page.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com