Gameday has finally arrived for the Steelers and Ravens matchup. It is not even certain if there will be a game today pending on the point of care rapid tests that the Ravens take today, but for now, it seems like there will be a 3:40 game at Heinz Field on a Wednesday afternoon. In one of the weirder games of the year, the Ravens will miss Lamar Jackson, Calais Campbell, Mark Andrews, Matt Judon, both of their Top-2 centers, and more thanks to positive COVID-19 tests. The Steelers will be without James Conner and Stephon Tuitt as well. It will be far from the game that was imagined to be a Thanksgiving night clash. Instead, it will be a football matinee.
The Ravens, as it would seem likely, need to stick to the running game. That is their strength, even if they are missing Jackson and the top two centers. Just like last season in Week 17, the Steelers and Ravens both knew it would be a run heavy gameplan with Robert Griffin III taking over at quarterback. It seems hard to find anything that would change the nature of that story this week. The Ravens are missing Willie Snead and Mark Andrews, so while they can spread the Steelers out and try to execute some double moves, it would seem that running a smash mouth game would be their best path to victory.
Just taking a look back at that Week 17 game from last year, it is easy to see why the Ravens still had success pounding the rock. The Steelers like to do a mesh charge against the Ravens, where they simply force edge players like Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt to charge and hit the quarterback regardless. That puts a lot of stress on the linebackers and fill players to make the right play against the zone read or read option with no edge contain. Right here is a great example of that. The Ravens win up front, Watt charges too far up field, and a massive line opens up as a result. It would be smart for the Steelers to tame this mesh charge this week and go for a more disciplined approach instead.
Similarly, the Ravens like to give off a lot of false keys in the running game. This is a power run that gives the linebackers the false key of the pulling guard to open up the backside of the defense for the quarterback to sneak it right behind the linebackers that are flowing the opposite way. This read option stuff that the Ravens use is a lot more than just what it is at face value. The Ravens mess with the normal keys and take advantage of errors off of those misaligned keys too.
Defensively is where it gets weird for the Ravens. In the secondary, not much should change since this is the one group on the team that has mostly been spared from the COVID-19 fiasco. They still have their Top-3 cornerbacks and can play their aggressive man coverage defense. It was that defense with a hint of trap coverages that put a snow blanket on the Steelers receivers in the first half. It is a tough projection as to what they do defensively with a dismantled offensive line, but knowing they have some playmakers on the back end of the defense, blitzing Ben Roethlisberger to try and force a turnover is probably the way they will go. Expect an aggressive Ravens defense.
Players to Watch
QB Robert Griffin III
With Lamar Jackson on the sideline, the Ravens will turn to former top pick of the Washington Football Team in Robert Griffin III. Griffin III led the Ravens to victory against the Steelers last year in Week 17, so this is by no means a nail in the coffin of the Ravens for this week. Griffin III still has his mobility, but obviously has lost some of that special dynamic ability after his devastating torn ACL injury his rookie season. The arm talent is still there, but he is prone to making some errant decisions and thus turnovers. Still, his legs are where he will likely make the most impact today given the Ravens’ heavy reliance on the running game under Greg Roman.
CB Marlon Humphrey
The Ravens star cornerback and their best player today, Humphrey is a big key piece the Ravens have defensively to utilize. With a depleted defensive line, the Ravens secondary will hold the brunt of the burden to stop the Steelers offense today. Humphrey will likely match up against JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot. Last time these two battled, Smith-Schuster broke out in the second half with Humphrey having little answers to Smith-Schuster’s brand of physicality at the catch point and in and out of his breaks. It will take a big game from Humphrey to keep the Ravens defense in this one.
OT Orlando Brown Jr
After losing Ronnie Stanley for the season in the last Steelers-Ravens game, Baltimore has put a heavy reliance upon Orlando Brown Jr to be the leader along this offensive line. He has stepped up in a big way and continues to prove himself as one of the finest tackles the league has to offer. With a heavy running game likely coming this week in addition to star pass rushers in T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, Brown is a critical player to watch for Baltimore. If he can hold up, the Ravens have a crutch offensively to lean upon.
Matchups to Watch
Everything in trenches
This game will be won and lost in the trenches on both sides of the football. On both accounts, the Steelers should have the advantage. If they can not run the ball against the undermanned Ravens defensive line they may never be able to run the ball. Even without James Conner, there is no excuse for not being able to get push this week. The Steelers on paper should be able to do as they wish. Defensively, even without Stephon Tuitt, having the elite run stuffer in Tyson Alualu should be able to ease the blow to a degree. The Ravens are missing their centers, and that should mean Alualu has a mismatch up front, too. The Steelers will very likely not completely shut down the Ravens running game, but they should be able to mitigate it.
Steelers receivers vs Ravens cornerbacks
The game will be played on an icy, wet Heinz Field, but the Steelers should be able to throw the football still with success. It was the adjustment to 01 personnel that won the Steelers the first matchup. With 20 throws out of the empty 01 personnel, the Steelers marched up and down the field even against the impressive Ravens secondary. Baltimore will likely have a specific gameplan to try and slow that down, but it is tough to slow it down without being able to match it talent for talent. If the Steelers can work that mode of the offense into the game, the Ravens will have a long day. The Steelers receivers simply have to win their one-on-one matchups.