With the Ravens having already clinched a playoff berth and aiming to keep their AFC North championship hopes alive while hosting Pittsburgh on Sunday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Baltimore-Pittsburgh lacks the sizzle it enjoyed a decade ago, but it’s difficult to believe this will mark the first prime-time meeting since 2018 when Terrell Suggs, Antonio Brown, Joe Flacco, and Maurkice Pouncey played in it. Of course, a scheduled 2020 Thanksgiving night game was postponed to a Wednesday afternoon.
2. Lamar Jackson will miss another game, which isn’t shocking if you ignore the conjecture, acknowledge the trickiness of a PCL injury and its impact on a mobile quarterback, and remember the Ravens have already clinched a playoff spot. But Jackson getting back on the practice field very soon is critical.
3. Baltimore was fine without Marcus Peters against Atlanta last week as Marlon Humphrey frequently shadowed rookie Blake London, but Pittsburgh has a more potent group of pass-catching targets. Brandon Stephens will be under more pressure to hold up on the outside this week.
4. The Ravens ran for 215 yards in the first meeting, the most the Steelers have allowed all season by a wide margin. While I have a difficult time believing Pittsburgh will be gashed to that degree again, Baltimore didn’t have standout right guard Kevin Zeitler in Week 14.
5. Kenny Pickett was knocked out of the first meeting with a concussion after only eight snaps, adding some intrigue to the rematch. Three interceptions forgave the fact that Steelers backup Mitchell Trubisky averaged 9.2 yards per pass attempt in that 16-14 final.
6. The takeaways also masked the Ravens’ shaky tackling in that first game with several misses keeping drives alive. Yes, that is nitpicking, but the defense is playing with little margin for error right now because of Baltimore’s offensive woes and can’t count on picking off three passes again.
7. The challenge T.J. Watt poses is a given, but it’s ridiculous that he received a Pro Bowl nod over Alex Highsmith, who has 12 sacks and challenged Ronnie Stanley in the first meeting. The Ravens clearly won’t want to pass much, which is why an early lead is crucial.
8. Humphrey described himself as a “liability” in the first meeting after rookie receiver George Pickens burned him a few times. The Pro Bowl cornerback is clearly carrying some extra motivation to excel in the rematch of graduates from Hoover High in Alabama.
9. Per Sharp Football, Baltimore has scored a touchdown on a league-worst 9.7% of its drives and has allowed a touchdown on a league-low 10.2% of opponent drives since its Week 10 bye. I’d feel better about the former stat if it hadn’t come against such an underwhelming slate of opponents.
10. Most podium interviews are perfectly fine and forgettable, but I really appreciated the candor with which J.K. Dobbins spoke about his progress and recovery from such a serious knee injury, which included mention of it happening in a preseason game. It’s easy to root for the third-year running back.
11. After ranking first in special teams efficiency for most of the season, the Ravens have fallen to fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric and rank an unimpressive 25th since the Week 10 bye. That can’t make John Harbaugh happy.
12. I’m hardly the first to suggest this, but has there been a gloomier outside vibe for a Ravens playoff team than this year? I certainly understand the angst, but no one was planning a trip to New Orleans late in the 2012 regular season either. You truly never know.