It’s been nearly seven weeks since the Pittsburgh Steelers lost 21-14 on the road to the Baltimore Ravens and boy a lot has changed since then.
For starters, when the Steelers lost to the Ravens in Baltimore, tight end Ladarius Green was still on Reserve/PUP and linebacker Bud Dupree was still on the Reserve/Injured list. If not having two current starters for that game wasn’t enough, the Steelers were also without the services of fullback Roosevelt Nix for that early November game due to a back injury.
Those three players aside, the Steelers offense was handicapped early in that game against the Ravens thanks to center Maurkice Pouncey suffering an early thumb injury and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey sustaining a foot injury. While Pouncey was able to play 19 total snaps against the Ravens before ultimately leaving the game for good, Heyward-Bey played just five snaps before exiting.
Will Heyward-Bey be able to return this Sunday and does it even matter if he can’t? Also, what kind of impact can backup running back DeAngelo Williams have on Sunday being as it looks like he might finally be able to play? He played just one snap against the Ravens back in Week 9.
Here’s something else to consider. Linebacker James Harrison only played 38 of a possible 70 snaps against the Ravens back in Week 9 while rookie safety Sean Davis played just 27 total snaps on defense as fellow safety Robert Golden was still starting then. Both Harrison and Davis are now fully entrenched as every-down players.
While rookie cornerback Artie Burns did play every snap against the Ravens in the first meeting between the two teams, it was his first career start. He has since improved since getting beat by Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace for a 95-yard touchdown that included safety Mike Mitchell not doing his part on that play.
Let’s also not forget that while Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier also played every snap in that game against the Ravens, it marked the first time he had done that since injuring a knee in the week 3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Oh, it’s also important to remember that rookie defensive tackle Javon Hargrave also only played 27 total snaps against the Ravens the last time around.
In short, when the Steelers host the Ravens on Christmas night, they’ll essentially do so with an entirely different defensive lineup and one that has really gotten accustomed to playing together. This is now a defense that has not given up more than 20 points a game over the course of their last five games.
Sure, the Steelers defense that held the Ravens to essentially 15 points back in November more than did their job, but this Sunday that unit should be expected to play even better even if starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt ultimately misses the game. The only question at this point is whether or not the offense can hold up their end of the deal in the rematch.
With it currently looking like Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith might ultimately sit out Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown both must be licking their lips. If Green can overcome his concussion by Sunday, having him on the field certainly won’t hurt.
Yes, much has changed since the Steelers last played the Ravens and hopefully those changes result in a different outcome in this second meeting between the two AFC North rivals.