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Scouting Report: Ravens Will Try to Run the Football At All Costs

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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.

Ravens’ Schemes

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.

Steelers Opponents

Report: Ryan Switzer Re-Signs with Cleveland Browns on One-Year Deal

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Ryan Switzer is resigning with the Cleveland Browns on a one-year deal, according to a report by ESPN’s Field Yates.

Switzer was signed to Cleveland’s practice squad on Oct. 1, but did not appear in a game this past season.

He had spent the previous two seasons with Pittsburgh, but was cut back in September. Switzer caught 44 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown during his Steelers tenure.

A Charleston, West Virginia native, Switzer was a start during his collegiate career at North Carolina, Over four seasons, Switzer caught 243 passes for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns, while also returning 99 punts for 1,082 yards and seven scores.

He was originally selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.

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Steelers Opponents

Offseason Primer: Cleveland Browns to Build on First Trip to Playoffs with Baker Mayfield & Co.

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Coming off a dream season that saw the franchise reach an 11-5 record and win its first playoff game in 27 years, the Cleveland Browns enter an offseason of optimism ready to reload and hungry for more.

While the roster was relatively unchanged from the one that underachieved in 2019, the difference for the 2020 Browns was first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski, who helped Cleveland reach its full potential and unlocked quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield had an excellent season under Stefanski’s leadership and play calling, passing for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns with a career-low eight interceptions. Mayfield’s protection of the football was his most crucial improvement, as he tossed just two interceptions over Cleveland’s final eleven games.

Surprisingly, Mayfield’s play truly took off after the Browns lost star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a torn ACL. In addition to the decreasing turnovers, he threw 20 touchdowns to close out the regular season and in Cleveland’s two playoff games, all without Beckham.

The Browns also recommitted to their punishing ground game in Beckham’s absence. Running back Nick Chubb was dominant in 2020, rushing for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns, while averaging an insane 5.6 yards per carry. His backfield partner Kareem Hunt was no slouch either, 1,145 scrimmage yards and eleven total touchdowns of his own. The backs were great, but the credit must first be given the outstanding Browns offensive line that boasted at least three All-Pro selections.

Cleveland’s success in Beckham’s absence raises an interesting dilemma. Do the Browns need Beckham? Would it behoove them to trade Beckham and his $15,750,000 cap hit away this offseason? Such a move would not only free up additional cap space, but also likely provide a hefty return as well, considering the assets clubs have recently acquired when trading away star wideouts.

Cap space and assets gained in a potential deal for Beckham would allow the Browns to immediately address their porous secondary, which surrendered six 300-yard passing games this season. Beyond cornerback Denzel Ward, Cleveland can improve across the board in back end. If they decide against resigning corner back Kevin Johnson and safety Andrew Sendejo, they could look to boost their secondary via trade, free agency or April’s raft.

The Browns’ defense was led by edge rusher Myles Garrett, who had another dominant season solidifying himself as one of the NFL’s best players. Garrett posed 12 sacks, ten tackles-for-loss and four forced fumbles in 2020, while also recovering a pair of fumbles. By all accounts, the defensive end will be a menace for years to come.

With a renewed confidence that they have finally put their decades of mediocrity behind them, the Browns will look to reload through the free agency and their seven draft picks, as they continue to purse their first ever AFC North title.

Notable Free Agents:

DE Olivier Vernon
CB Kevin Johnson
CB Terrance Mitchell
S Karl Joseph
ILB B.J. Goodson
RT Kendall Lamm
SS Andrew Sendejo
OLB Malcolm Smith
WR Jojo Natson
DT Larry Ogunjobi
K Cody Parkey
WR Rashard Higgins
OLB Elijah Lee
WR Taywan Taylor
WR KhaDarel Hodge (Restricted)
DT Vincent Taylor
WR Marvin Hall
LB Tae Davis
CB Tavierre Thomas (Restricted)
S Tedric Thompson

Cap Commitments:

Cleveland has an active cap of $192,084,011 entering the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac. The Browns have the 13th-most cap space in the league at $12,775,658.

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Steelers Opponents

Offseason Primer: Ravens Still Looking for Weapons for Lamar Jackson, with Cap Space to Spend

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With their 2020 season ended in the Divisional round by the Buffalo Bills last Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens look ahead attempting to retool, reload and continue the growth and maturation of quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Jackson took a step back from his 2019 campaign that made him the youngest MVP in NFL history, passing for 2,757 yards and 26 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He did rush for seven scores and eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground for the second-straight season, becoming the first quarterback in league history to do so.

Entering this offseason, Baltimore’s primary objective should be to acquire Jackson a true No. 1 receiver on the outside. While wide receiver Marquis “Hollywood” Brown caught a career-high eight touchdowns, the Ravens failed to have a pass catcher reach 800 receiving yards. If they do not address the need through the draft, notable options in free agency will likely include, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown.

Baltimore’s run game was dominant again last season, as they led the league with 3,071 yards. Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins appears to be a budding star, rushing for 805 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. His emergence factored into the Raven’s decision to cut veteran running back Mark Ingram on Tuesday.

Turning to the defensive side, the Ravens were stout in 2020 under defensive coordinator Don Martindale. The unit ranked second in scoring defense at 18.9 points allowed per game, and had 22 takeaways. Cornerback Marlin Humphrey led the league with eight forced fumbles, while his partner Marcus Peters had four interceptions and four forced fumbles of his own. Lastly, rookie linebacker Patrick Queen had a strong showing as well with 106 total tackles, nine tackles-for-loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

The Ravens already own the sixth-most cap space in the league, but could create more if they decide to part ways with some of their more expensive veterans, especially on the defensive side. 34-year-old defensive end Calais Campbell and 31-year-old defensive tackle Brandon Williams are both making north of $10 million next season, but such such moves could significantly hinder Baltimore’s front with edge rushers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue both entering free agency.

Baltimore clearly has plenty of tough decisions to make and different paths they may choose to follow as they look to continue the quest for their franchise’s third Super Bowl.

Notable Free Agents:

OLB Matthew Judon
DE Yannick Ngakoue
WR Willie Sneed
RB Mark Ingram
DE Derek Wolfe
C Matt Skura
QB Robert Griffin III
SS Anthony Levine
WR Chris Moore
OLB Tyus Bowser
OLB Pernell McPhee
LS Morgan Cox
G D.J. Fluker
CB Tramon Williams
WR Dez Bryant
DE Jihad Ward
DT Justin Ellis
SS Jordan Richards
TE Eric Tomlinson
WR DeAndrew White
RB Gus Edwards (Restricted)
P Johnny Townsend (Restricted)
CB Devontae Harris
LB Chris Board (Restricted)

Cap Commitments:

Baltimore has an active cap of $136,542,293 entering the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac. The Ravens have the sixth-most cap space in the league at $28,604,089.

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