The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their seventeenth and final regular season game of 2021 on the road on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and they’ll enter that contest marked as an underdog. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game on Sunday in Baltimore to come away with their ninth win of the 2021 season.
Use Your Healthy Johnson – The Ravens’ secondary is decimated at this point and even more so than a few weeks ago when these two teams met in Pittsburgh. In that last game against the Ravens, wide receiver Diontae Johnson was targeted 11 times in total on his way to catching eight passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens’ defense has given up a lot of explosive plays this season and there’s no reason to think that Johnson can’t deliver a few of those long ones on Sunday if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger feeds him early and often. Johnson missed practice time this week on the Reserve/COVID-19 list but he should be ready to play on Sunday just the same.
Be On The Mark – The Ravens won’t have quarterback Lamar Jackson on Sunday, but they will have tight end Mark Andrews, who leads the team in receptions with 99 for 1276 yards and nine touchdowns. A few weeks ago, the Steelers’ defense kept Andrews in check to the tune of four catches 50 yards. If the unit can manage to limit Andrews to a similar stat line on Sunday, it would go a long way in helping the team leave Baltimore with a win. Andrews will have some catches in this game. He just can’t have 100 yards worth and a touchdown or two.
Up The Watt-age – Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has been a game-wrecker all season when he’s on the field for a good portion of plays. In fact, the Steelers are 8-2 this season when Watt plays 79% or more of the total defensive snaps in a game. Watt needs just one and half sacks to break the official NFL single-season record on Sunday against the Ravens. On top of that, no team has been sacked as much as Baltimore (54) has this season. Watt had 3.5 sacks in his first meeting against the Ravens. He’ll face Ravens’ right tackle Patrick Mekari on Sunday and he has been slowed by a hand injury of late. Watt needs to give him a handful on Sunday and wreck the Ravens’ game plan right from the start of the contest.
Thirds Of Prey – The Steelers’ offense has had issues on third downs this season and especially when 6 or more yards is needed. In fact, the unit has converted just 24.8% of third and 6 and longer this season. Conversely, the Ravens’ offense has also struggled in those same situations as that unit has converted just 25.4% of the time. Defensively, the Steelers and Ravens are also very similar when it comes to getting off the field on third and 6 or longer. The Steelers’ defense has allowed first downs 26.2% of the time on third and 6 or more while the Ravens’ defense has allowed first downs 24.4% of the time. The Ravens have been slightly better than the Steelers have been on both sides of the football. If they are better than the Steelers on Sunday in both of these third down stats, they will likely beat Pittsburgh.
Watch For Another Running Raven – The Ravens won’t have Jackson on Sunday, but they will have Tyler Huntley, who can also make plays happen with his legs. Huntley isn’t as dynamic as Jackson is when he takes off with the football, but he still has managed to rush for 222 yards so far this season in just six games played in. Of the quarterbacks with 35 or more rushes this season, Huntley has the highest yards per rush average at 6.34. The Steelers’ defense must be careful in man-coverage situations on Sunday as that is likely when Huntley can burn the unit for a big play with his legs. The Steelers’ defense must rush with gap integrity on Sunday as well to make sure that Huntley cannot escape the pocket. A Huntley scramble or two could surely impact Sunday’s game and thus the Steelers’ defense better be cognizant of that fact. Huntley’s not Jackson, but he’s a Raven that can run effectively just the same.