The 2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 2-1 Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon in a Week 4 matchup and ahead of that game kicking off, there are several key storylines worth pointing out.
Below are what I consider to be the top five storylines for both teams ahead of Sunday’s game that will kickoff at 1:00 p.m. EST.
Return of two defensive starters – I was going to make this first storyline about the Week 3 National Anthem antics but figured most of you are ready to move on from that subject. Besides, I think it’s obvious it’s been a huge storyline this past week. Instead, I thought it would be better to focus first on the possible return this week of two of the Steelers defensive starters, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Tuiit, who has missed the last two Steelers games with a biceps injury, practiced fully this past week and is now slated to make his return to the field on Sunday. If his first two defensive plays of the 2017 regular season are any indication, Tuitt figures to be an impactful player against the Ravens and their offensive line which is now without the services of right guard Marshal Yanda. If that’s not enough to get you excited, Watt, the team’s first-round draft pick this year, is also expected to return on Sunday after missing the team’s Week 3 game with a groin injury. Watt will likely face former Ravens first-round draft pick, tackle Ronnie Stanley, quite a bit on Sunday and that matchup, which we’ll likely see for several years to come, should be fun to watch.
Big Ben reeling himself in – Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been overly great in the team’s first three regular season games and this past week he admitted he needs to reel himself in a little bit and start taking what opposing defenses give him in addition to not locking in too much on wide receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger hasn’t been great with his deep ball so far this season and the fact that the Steelers offense has faced way too many third and longs in their first three games hasn’t helped matters. It will be interesting to see if Roethlisberger can have a more rhythmic performance Sunday against the Ravens in Baltimore, which is a place he’s struggled some in the past.
Ravens missing a big defensive player – The Ravens have had more than their fair share of injuries so far this year and last week in their blowout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars they lost starting defensive end Brent Urban for a considerable amount of time to a Lisfranc injury. Pardon my pun, but to add insult to injury, the Ravens will also be without the services of starting defensive tackle Brandon Williams on Sunday against the Steelers as he’ll miss a second consecutive game with a foot injury. Williams is one of the league’s top defensive tackles and with him missing Sunday’s the game, the Steelers offense should be expected to finally get their running game on track and especially when it comes to rushes between the tackles. Without Williams on the field last Sunday in London, England, the Ravens defense allowed 166 rushing yards to the Jaguars and their offensive line isn’t nearly as good as the Steelers front five.
Hunter helper? – After being inactive for the Steelers first three regular season games, wide receiver Justin Hunter will reportedly make his Black and Gold debut Sunday in Baltimore. Hunter, who was signed to a one-year free agent contract this past March, is not only a player who can stretch the field much like fellow wide receiver Martavis Bryant, he’s also a fairly dependable red zone producer complete with great size and leaping ability. Assuming he does ultimately dress Sunday in Baltimore, Hunter isn’t likely to play a large number of offensive snaps, but with that said, he’ll be worth paying close attention to whenever he is on the field. If he can produce in his debut, assuming that happens, Hunter might find himself a weekly Steelers offensive fixture for the time being.
What can Brown do for return game? – If we are to believe what Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers said this past week, Brown will be the team’s punt returner Sunday in Baltimore. In the Steelers first three regular season games, Rogers really hasn’t done much of anything as the team’s punt returner and his muff last Sunday in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears ultimately led to the game’s first score. Brown, while not likely considered by many as being a Pro Bowl-caliber punt returner, has had his share of nice returns during his career and thus it will be interesting to see if he can ultimately provide the Steelers one or two field-flippers Sunday in Baltimore in addition to doing what he normally does on a week in and week out basis as a wide receiver.