Hey, look, it’s Sunday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing. I remember that. It seems like a while ago since their last game, made to seem even longer when you consider that it’s now been four weeks since they last won a game, riding a two-game losing streak into their bye week.
But at least they’re not in their opponents’ shoes, that being the Baltimore Ravens. The 3-4 AFC North rivals have not won a game since September, riding a four-game skid and also coming off of their bye week. The Ravens have a quick turnaround after this one, hosting the Browns on Thursday night.
But that’s their problem. The Steelers have their own problems, and that starts with figuring out whether or not their franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is going to play. Late-night reports have him being a true game-time decision, so this is obviously going to be a story that will be monitored pretty much up to game time, because he may dress even if he doesn’t start.
If he doesn’t start, of course, Landry Jones will, and he is coming off a game in which he did some good things. If he starts today, he should have a wide receiver stable much closer to full capacity than the one he had against the Patriots, essentially missing three of their top four targets.
Even the pecking order has reportedly been jumbled, however, so it will be something to monitor to see how, when, and how frequently each target plays. It will even be worth keeping an eye on whether or not Antonio Brown gets time off, because even he is coming off an injury.
But the main attraction is going to be the division of labor between Darrius Heyward-Bey, Markus Wheaton, and Sammie Coates. While DHB has moved up on the depth chart, Coates was the de facto starter at the beginning of the year, but has been dealing with a fractured finger. Wheaton has been in and out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury, but was supposed to be the number two entering this season.
In terms of, you know, actual game-related things, the Ravens are expected to be down a couple members of the secondary. Baltimore usually knows how to cover Pittsburgh’s passing game, particularly the deep routes, but the injuries could create opportunities they usually don’t get here.
That could be particularly important given how poorly they usually do against the run, and Brandon Williams has only continued to get better, as arguably the best nose tackle in the game.
Cameron Heyward’s return and the domino effect that has on the whole of the defense after missing two games is a major storyline, as is the possible absence of William Gay, with Artie Burns starting, as I touched on earlier this morning. Heyward had an impressive consecutive game streak, but Gay’s is at 151.
One thing I want to mention on special teams is that the Ravens have been one of the teams that have tried to make opponents return kicks this year. Justin Tucker can boom them as well as anybody, but the Ravens register a touchback on just 60 percent of their kickoffs this year. And they average less than 20 yards per return. So Justin Gilbert may get an opportunity or two.