As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X-Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Here’s our X-Factor for Sunday’s regular season finale against the Baltimore Ravens.
X-FACTOR(s): DIONTAE JOHNSON & CHASE CLAYPOOL
Wide receivers have to step up this week. Happy Diontae Johnson is back, making a bleak passing game look a little less so. The Baltimore Ravens’ front seven has largely been untouched by injury. It’s their secondary that has been ravaged by the injury bug. By basically all metrics, they have the worst pass defense in the league. That happens when you lose studs like Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. It’s forced the Ravens to become a more passive, zone-heavy team, unable to man up as often because they simply lack the talent.
Johnson and Claypool need to take advantage, something they didn’t do in Monday night’s win over the Cleveland Browns. No, Ben Roethlisberger did not play well, far from it, but Johnson nor Claypool did him any favors.
Johnson dropped passes and his YAC was limited, sometimes going in the wrong direction, while Claypool didn’t win a single jump ball or contested grab. Expecting him to win them all is unreasonable, but he needed to make at least a play Monday night. He dropped passes and failed to finish plays. That’s how you wind up with Roethlisberger’s historically inefficient performance, the first QB in NFL history to attempt 45+ passes and throw for the 123 yards he did.
If those guys can’t win against this depleted Ravens’ group, then I don’t know who they can win against. Johnson has enjoyed a solid third season but faded down the stretch, almost like his Pro Bowl exclusion got into his head. Claypool has been inconsistent – at best- since Day One, and overall, his sophomore year has been disappointing.
But he can go out on a high note by Moss’ing some poor Ravens’ cornerback on a go-ball downfield. It’d go a long ways to securing victory.
The way to win this game is through the air, and the top guys to do that are Johnson and Claypool.