Written By: Roy Countryman @PreacherBoyRoy
After posting their first victory of the season last Monday night against a divisional foe the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers have squarely placed themselves back into contention for the AFC North crown, sitting only one game back behind the Browns and this week’s opponent the Baltimore Ravens. This slugfest is known league-wide for its big hits, and nail-biting finishes, but this year it seems to have a different feel to it after so many of the big names in this hated rivalry have either left town (Terrell Suggs/Joe Flacco/Antonio Brown), are injured (Ben Roethlisberger), or retired (Ray Lewis/Ed Reed/Hines Ward/Troy Polamalu). That is not to say though that this matchup won’t still have some flashes of the throwback games.
The Ravens come limping into Heinz Field after a brutal game against the Cleveland Browns where it seemed like their defense couldn’t slow them down at all. They will need to lean on the veteran presences they have on that side of the ball to right the ship, while their offense tries to punch the Steelers defense in the mouth with their smashmouth style running game. The Steelers will need to continually build momentum on defense after last week's dominant performance with 8 Sacks as well as the ability to force turnovers early on this season. On the offensive side of the ball, they will need to take the training wheels off the play calling and allow their young QB to push the ball down the field in order to keep the Ravens D from loading the box and shutting down the running game.
Jimmy Smith (CB): Out (Knee)
Matt Skura (C): Questionable (Knee)
Cyrus Jones (CB/PR): Questionable (Foot)
Brandon Williams (IDL): Questionable (Knee)
Analysis: Smith is dealing with a multi-week knee injury and wasn’t expected to be available for this contest. Skura is a key injury for the Ravens as he missed the last two days of practice this week after he injured his knee. He has played every snap on offense this year and is a key communicator along the interior. I believe he will be a game-time decision who we will find out if he is available after warmups. In the event he misses, Bradley Bozeman (LG) will most likely shuffle to C, and either James Hurst or rookie OG, Ben Powers will be inserted into the lineup. Cyrus Jones was a late add to the injury report on Friday which is never a good thing, and he truly has a 50/50 chance of playing. Brandon Williams was a late scratch last week and his absence was a big reason they could not contain the Browns rushing attack, but he was able to practice in full for consecutive practices to end the week to put him on track to start Sunday at his customary NT spot.
Roosevelt Nix (FB): Out (Knee)
Anthony Chickillo (OLB): Out (Foot)
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR): Questionable (Toe)
Vance McDonald (TE): Questionable (Shoulder)
Vince Williams (ILB): Questionable (Hamstring)
Analysis: Nix and Chikillo have been dealing with multi-week absencs due to different injuries, but they should soon be able to start working their way back. JuJu did very little this week in practice, actually only suiting up on Friday, in what he described as doing the bare minimum to get prepped for this week's game after reaggravating a toe injury from earlier this season. If he is unable to go it would be a big knock to the Steelers chances of being able to win this game, but if so look for James Washington to step up in his stead. McDonald had a similar trajectory as Smith-Schuster as he is dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of action last week, but with him sneaking in a full practice on Friday it gives him a decent chance of being able to start on Sunday. Vince Williams missed the last two contests due to a pesky hamstring injury, but he returned with a full pallet of practice this week and he is slated to return to his playing spot, and just in time as he excels at stuffing the run, which the Ravens are #1 in the NFL at. Also of note, although not listed on the final injury report was James Conner who dealt with a tweaked ankle, and only got in a full session on Friday, so monitor his snap count.
Which Team Has The Advantage?
By Positional Groups
Five Matchups to keep an eye on:
Marquise Brown (WR) vs. Steven Nelson (CB)
Vince Williams (ILB) vs. Mark Ingram (RB)
Bradley Bozeman (C/LG) vs. Cameron Heyward (DT)
Michael Pierce (DT) vs. Ramon Foster (LG)
Earl Thomas (FS) vs. Mason Rudolph (QB)
Outlook: Holywood Brown has been Lamar Jackson’s favorite target so far this season, but he will have his hands full with Steven Nelson who is making the Steelers brass look smart with his shutdown pass defense so far this season. Nelson likes to get physical with his assignments throughout the duration of the route, and the slender Brown may not be able to gain much separation. Mark Ingram is a bull in a china shop kind of runner, and Williams in addition to the combo of Mark Barron and Devin Bush will need to bring their pads with them when they try to tackle him, or else this will be a long game. Bozeman will draw a tough assignment either way if he will be lined up at his usual LG spot or slid inside for an injured Matt Skura, because he will primarily tussle with the grizzled and emphatic pass-rushing force of Cameron Heyward who is coming off a big game against Cincinnati and will look to keep the momentum rolling for this defense. On the offensive side of the ball, there will be a battle in the trenches of gargantuan proportions with the Big Ragu (Ramon Foster) and the immovable rock (Michael Pierce), whoever gets the best of this matchup may be the deciding factor if the Steelers offense will be able to consistently run the ball. If they cannot, then young QB, Mason Rudolph will need to be bold and try to move the ball down the field in order to offset any type of over adjustment to try and void the running game. Rudolph will need to be diligent in cycling through his reads because he will be going toe to toe with one of the best ballhawks in the NFL in Earl Thomas, and he will try to bait him into some bad throws.
Ravens 27, Steelers 24.