The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their eleventh regular season game of 2020 Sunday afternoon at home at Heinz Field against the Baltimore Ravens as they look to notch their eleventh consecutive win. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with another home win against the Ravens and move to 11-0 on the season.
Snell Watt The Running Game Is Cooking – The Ravens defensive front will be without several starters and depth players on Wednesday due to COVID. Not only will Calais Campbell, Jihad Ward and Justin Madubuike all expected to miss Wednesdays game, Brandon Williams, the team’s plugger in the middle, will also miss the contest as well with an ankle injury despite being activated from the COVID-19 list on Tuesday. If that’s not enough, linebacker Matthew Judon is also currently on the COVID-19 list. While the Steelers running game hasn’t been great in the last several games, perhaps a fresh running back in Benny Snell Jr. can help get that jumpstarted against a decimated Ravens defensive front. Running back James Conner will miss the game after testing positive for the virus so it’s Snell’s time to shine. Rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. should get a few carries on Wednesday and perhaps even running back Wendell Smallwood as well if he’s elevated from the practice squad hours ahead of the game. While Steelers fullback Derek Watt hasn’t played very many offensive snaps so far in his first season with the team, there should be an opportunity to get him 15-20 such snaps on Wednesday as a lead blocker. There’s no excuse for the Steelers to not be able to run against the ravens on Wednesday. None. Use that pre snap motion and Watt occasionally and make it happen.
Ground Raven – The Ravens offense has done a great job of running the football against the Steelers the last several games and that needs to end Wednesday at Heinz Field. The Ravens won’t have starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, so that’s one big ground threat already taken care of. The Ravens are currently expected to get top running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram back from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday and if that happens, both should see action against the Steelers, as should Gus Edwards, who has had his share of run successes against the Steelers the last two games. While the ravens offense might have their full stable of running backs on Wednesday, their offensive line will be missing players and most notably at the center position, where one of two rookies, Ben Bredeson or Trystan Colon-Castillo, will likely be making a first career start. If he even plays, right tackle D.J. Fluker won’t be his normal self as not only is he fresh off the COVID-19 list as of Tuesday, but he’s also dealing with back spasms. The Ravens also will need to elevate some tight ends from their practice squad for Wednesday and none of them are excellent run blockers. Oh, and fullback Patrick Ricard is currently on the COVID-19 list as well. All told, the Steelers defense needs to swell out to stop the run on Wednesday with their base defense and make backup quarterback Robert Griffin III beat them through the air without having the services of tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Willie Snead, both of whom will miss the game because of them also being on the COVID-19 list.
No Downtown Hollywood Brown – While the Ravens will be done several key pieces on both sides of the football on Wednesday, they’ll still have dynamic wide receiver Marquise Brown, who has eight explosive play receptions of 20 yards or longer on the season. The ravens will need a few explosive plays in this game to win it and if the Steelers main focus defensively is to take away the Baltimore running game, Brown is going to need special attention most of the game and that means occasionally making sure he’s bracketed. He’s going to have a few catches on Wednesday and so the Steelers defense needs to make sure that he’s gotten to the ground quickly not long after he makes a reception.
Extra Special Special Teams – How will the Ravens look on special teams on Wednesday with so many players sidelined on the COVID-19 list? Were about to find out for sure and that inexperienced on Baltimore’s side might present a few opposites for the Steelers to have some nice returns or maybe potentially block a punt. Sure, the Steelers won’t have special teams coordinator Danny Smith on Wednesday but they will have their usual core third-phase players. Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud has come close to home-running a return a few times this season and would be nice to see him maybe finally score on Sunday against the Ravens. The ravens have the best kicker and punter in the NFL in Justin Tucker and Sam Koch so that’s already a big advantage for them. The Ravens usual long snapper Morgan Cox looks likely to miss the Wednesday game because of him being on the COVID list so that might be a small advantage the Steelers can exploit on punts and field goal attempts. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is a master at special teams so the Steelers need to be on the lookout for some sort of trickeration that would steal a possession away. Don’t trust Harbaugh as far as you can throw him on Wednesday even though he’ll be down several players.
Get To 3 on 3 – If the Steelers defense plays like they should on Wednesday, the Ravens offense should be faced with quite a few third downs throughout the contest. Heading into this Wednesday game, Andrews and Snead lead the Ravens in third down receptions as the two have combined for 24 of the 49 in total. They obviously won’t be playing on Wednesday. Next on the third down weapon list is the aforementioned Brown, who should get a lot of attention on all three downs on Wednesday at Heinz Field. Next on the list is Dobbins, who obviously is a running back. Griffin, by the way, has attempted just one third down pass this season and with him playing behind a makeshift offensive line and not having top eligibles such as Andrews and Snead at his disposal, the Steelers defense should be able to get after him on third downs during Wednesday’s game. Griffin still has some escapability left in him, however, so the Steelers defense will need some degree of rush lane integrity to avoid RGIII from converting on third with his legs.