The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their sixteenth and final regular season game of 2019 on the road on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens with a chance to get to 9-7 and possibly get in as the No. 6 seed in the AFC should another game go their way in Week 17. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their ninth win of 2019 against the Ravens on Sunday.
Quit streaking – The Steelers have now turned the football over at least once in 23 consecutive games and that’s embarrassing. Quarterback Devlin Hodges has six interceptions in the Steelers last two games and five of them have come in plus territory. Even though the Steelers are playing the Ravens B-team on Sunday, that opposing offensive unit is good enough to cash in on turnovers. Sunday in Baltimore needs to be the day that this horrible Steelers steak finally comes to an end.
Snell what Benny and Whyte can cook up on the ground – The Steelers have not run the ball well at all this season and on Sunday in Baltimore they won’t have top running back James Conner once again due to injury. In the three previous games that Conner missed due to injury the Steelers trio of Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels and Kerrith Whyte Jr. managed to get the job done. Sunday in Baltimore might be a good time to see what Snell can do as the lead back. He probably needs at least 15 carries on Sunday against the Ravens for the Steelers to win. Whyte has also been impressive in his limited work since being signed so he should get a handful of carries as well to compliment Snell. Run success rates on Sunday better be good and starting early in the game.
Read RG3’s read – While the Ravens will sit starting quarterback Lamar Jackson on Sunday in Baltimore, they’ll still run a lot of read-options with veteran backup quarterback Robert Griffin III under center. Overall, the Steelers defense did a good job of limiting Jackson on the hoof on those reads in the Week 5 game against the Ravens in Pittsburgh. While Griffin is not as dynamic as Jackson, he can still bust a few long runs with his legs if not properly contained. The Steelers defense needs to be fundamentally sound against the Ravens read-option on Sunday that will feature Griffin and running back Gus Edwards most of the game.
Good JuJu – Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster returned to action last Sunday and he should be even healthier this weekend. Smith-Schuster should be the focal point of the offense on Sunday and in the middle of the field as much as possible. Smith-Schuster has shown during his short NFL career that he can make things happen after the catch and getting him the football in space will give him a great chance to create big plays. Smith-Schuster fumbled away the football against the Ravens in overtime in the Week 5 game between the two teams and that resulted in a loss. He’ll be looking to atone for that mistake on Sunday. I bet he does.
Don’t let Gus be the bus – While Edwards will get the start on Sunday in place of resting starting running back Mark Ingram, it’s important to remember that Gus hasn’t been a slouch this season. Edwards enters Sunday with a yards per carry average of 5.2 on 112 carries. The Ravens will attempt to get Edwards going early and often via power and inside zone runs that often times will include two or more tight ends being on the field and the offense thrives on staying ahead of the chains on early downs via runs of 4 yards or longer. The Steelers should know what to expect on Sunday from the Ravens offense and solid gap integrity and key reading will go a long way in making sure Gus doesn’t take any long bus rides during the contest. If Edwards gets going early on the ground, it could be a long day for the Steelers defense.
Takeaways a must – The Steelers defense and/or special teams units must find a way to create a few turnovers on Sunday in Baltimore. The Steelers offense has been mostly awful this season and the unit has scored just one touchdown in seven of the team’s last eight games. Hodges and company will need a few short fields to work on Sunday and defensive or special teams touchdown certainly would save the offense a lot of work. Griffin is likely to be a little rusty on Sunday so perhaps he’ll make a few mistakes that the Steelers defense can capitalize on. Additionally, Ravens rookie quarterback Trace McSorely might see action in the second half of Sunday’s game and if that’s the case, hopefully the Steelers defense can get a turnover or two off him should he indeed see action.
Get balls out early – The Ravens love to blitz on defense as no team has done it more than they have this season. The Steelers offense has also failed to handle a lot of opposing blitzes from defenses the last two weeks so expect Baltimore defensive coordinator Don Martindale to be a copycat on Sunday. The Steelers will have B.J. Finney starting at center on Sunday against the Ravens in place of an injured Maurkice Pouncey and that’s another dynamic that the offense must work around in Baltimore. Guard Ramon Foster and tackle Matt Feiler haven’t had great showings against the blitz the last few weeks and the same goes for Hodges at quarterback. Ideally, Hodges will have better pre-snap reads this week along with better alerts and hots to help him out when numbers come. Execution up front as to who has who must also be a lot better on Sunday as the offensive line has been severely out-schemed the last few games. It’s fine for Hodges to remain aggressive overall, however, he must be more willing to get the football out to underneath targets a lot quicker than he has the last few starts when pressure presents itself. The Steelers offense likely won’t be able to overcome sacks on Sunday so that unit better not allow any.