The 10-2 Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 7-5 Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field Sunday night in a Week 14 divisional 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 the Sunday night game that will kick off at 8:30 p.m. EST in Pittsburgh.
Shalieve – The top story this past week has obviously been the health of Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a serious back injury during the team’s Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Since suffering his injury, Shazier has reportedly undergone a spinal stabilization surgery and is currently surrounded in the hospital by his immediate family and friends. The outpouring of visible support from his fellow teammates, other NFL players and Steelers fans this past week has been great to see. Shazier’s immediate well-being, and not his football future, should be the primary focus right now. Please keep him and his family in your thoughts and or prayers moving forward. Several Steelers players will reportedly were cleats Sunday night that show support for Shazier and his recovery and there’s a rumor floating around that an all-Shazier Renegade montage might be played Sunday night in his honor.
No good JuJu for Smith-Schuster – As a result of his illegal block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and subsequent taunting of him that immediately followed it, Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was issued a one-game suspension by the league. While the rookie quickly appealed his suspension, it was denied just as fast and now the wide receiver will be forced to sit out the team’s Sunday night game against the Ravens. To make the league’s optics on illegal hits look even worse, Bengals safety George Iloka had the one-game suspension that he was issued this week by the league for his Monday night illegal hit to the head of wide receiver Antonio Brown overturned. The league got it all wrong this past week and especially when you consider that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski received just a one-game suspension as a result of him purposefully trying to injure Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’davious White following an interception this past Sunday.
Mad Mike – Steelers safety Mike Mitchell issued a legendary and well-needed locker room rant on Wednesday that included him taking shots at the NFL for the way they not only handle player discipline, but their overall stance on illegal hits. Mitchell made it known that NFL players are well-aware of what they are signing up for when they play professional football in that while serious injuries are certainly unfortunate, it’s understood that they are part of the game. Even if you don’t agree with everything that Mitchell said this past week, you have to admire his conviction in his beliefs as well as his passion for the game. His rant certainly received national attention.
Spence returns; Moats crosses over – Due the injuries suffered Monday night by Shazier and fellow Steelers linebacker Tyler Matakevich, the team quickly signed free agent inside linebacker Sean Spence to the 53-man roster earlier in the week. Spence, the Steelers former third-round draft pick, played earlier this season with the Indianapolis Colts after playing for the Tennessee Titans in 2016. Even though Spence has started for the Steelers in the past when Shazier has been out injured, it appears as though the team will let Arthur Moats start alongside Vince Williams Sunday night against the Ravens. While Moats has played exclusively at outside linebacker since signing with the team several years ago, he did play inside some during his first four years in the league with the Buffalo Bills. It will now be interesting to see how the Steelers inside linebackers play Sunday night against the Ravens and if Moats, Spence and fellow inside linebacker L.J. Fort all see the field some in an attempt to fill the big shoes of Shazier.
Jimmy’s down – After suffering a torn Achilles this past Sunday, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was placed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list. With Smith now out of the picture, Ravens rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey will start Sunday night against the Steelers and he made it clear this past week that he expects the Pittsburgh offense to attack him early and often during the game. In short, expect Humphrey to see quite a bit of Brown and fellow Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant Sunday night. Bryant has had a disappointing season overall and thus it would be nice to see him have a big game Sunday night against the Ravens and against what figures to be a decent matchup for him on the outside.