Let Lamar Run
The Ravens are reeling. At home in Week 11 versus the Titans, the injury-riddled Ravens appeared to lose heart in the fourth quarter. Derrick Henry imposed his will on a Ravens’ defensive line that sorely missed Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams. Star WR A.J. Brown embarrassed a handful of Ravens defenders as he broke their tackles on the way to the end zone.
Perhaps the most demoralizing sequence of the game, though, was the Ravens’ three and out drive to start overtime. For so many reasons, the Ravens’ offense has been less than spectacular in recent weeks. To make things worse, Week 11 star J.K. Dobbins (along with Mark Ingram) will miss the game against the Steelers after testing positive for COVID-19. The Steelers have a great defense. Their pass rush is phenomenal and they rank in the top five in quite a few defensive categories. The Ravens are in for a serious challenge on Sunday, but anything can happen. Lamar Jackson’s legs are one of the biggest reasons that the Ravens might have a chance to leave Pittsburgh with a win.
Greg Roman should give his star QB more chances to keep the ball and show off the speed and open-field cutting ability that make him special. Likewise, Lamar shouldn’t hesitate to take yards that are available to him on designed passing plays.
Expand Dez’s Role
For the majority of the 2020 season, the Ravens’ passing game has been lackluster. Marquise Brown is, to this point, one of the Ravens’ biggest disappointments this year. Miles Boykin and rookie WRs Devin Duvernay and James Proche have been virtually invisible. Willie Snead has come up big in recent weeks, but it’s not enough to carry the day. In nearly every meaningful receiving category, Mark Andrews leads the way.
In his first real action in years, Dez Bryant was the team’s best WR against the Titans. Bryant took four passes, all caught behind the line of scrimmage, for a total of 28 yards. Against the Steelers, the Ravens need to expand Bryant’s role. Bryant’s size and strength make him difficult for smaller CBs to tackle so short passes like “smoke” screens can be very effective. But, the Ravens’ offense needs a spark and throwing some slants or fades to Bryant could be an effective way to spark a sputtering aerial attack.
Throw to Hill
Against the Titans, it was clear that Dobbins had taken over as the Ravens’ number one option at running back. Dobbins looked explosive and brought an element to the offense that none of the other Ravens’ backs could provide. As mentioned above, both Dobbins and Ingram will miss Thursday night’s game against the Steelers after being placed on the NFL’s COVID-19 list. This means that Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and likely practice squad call up Ty’Son Williams will be the Ravens’ Thanksgiving options at RB.
The Ravens’ offense was already struggling. Now they are without their top two RBs. Edwards will likely get the majority of the carries on Thursday night. His downhill, battering ram style could work against a Steelers’ defense that struggled to stop Baltimore’s ground attack in their first meeting this season. While Edwards will get the bulk of the work, Justice Hill will need to have a role in the offense.
With Hill’s speed and the pass catching ability that he demonstrated at Oklahoma State, he needs to be involved in the passing game against the Steelers.
Increase Ngakoue’s Snaps
When Ravens’ General Manager Eric DeCosta made a midseason trade for pass rush specialist Yannick Ngakoue, Ravens’ fans were thrilled. After years of wishing that the Maryland native and former Terp would wear purple, their dreams came true. Trading for Ngakoue was a move made to make the Ravens’ pass rush more dangerous. In early season games, particularly against the Chiefs, it was obvious that the Ravens didn’t have the talent on their defensive line to affect the opposing QB without blitzing.
Since coming to Baltimore during the Ravens’ bye week, Ngakoue has been a nice piece for Wink Martindale’s defense. But Martindale, and Ravens’ fans, are hoping for more out of their new pass rusher. Last week against the Titans’ heavy rushing attack, Ngakoue recorded his first sack as a Raven. Despite playing his lowest percentage of defensive snaps, it was widely considered his best performance. Against the Steelers, the Ravens’ defense must put the pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. Ngakoue should see his snap count go up against Pittsburgh.
A few big plays from the defense could be the Ravens’ best chance of pulling off the upset.
Heavy on the Defensive Backs
Roethlisberger and the 2020 Steelers like the throw the ball. A lot. In fact, Roethlisberger ranks 4th in the NFL in pass attempts through 11 weeks. In their first battle of the year against the Ravens, Roethlisberger and the Steelers broke out a new wrinkle. In the second half of the game, Pittsburgh went into a hurry up offense and started throwing the ball all over the field. Roethlisberger said after the game that he was rushing his guys to the line of scrimmage and telling them which routes to run like it was backyard football. Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin disputed the details of Roethlisberger’s claim after the game.
Whatever the case, I’d expect the Steelers spread out and throw the ball a ton against the Ravens on Sunday. Martindale’s best course of action against the Steelers’ spread offense would be to flood the field with defensive backs.
Adding more speed to the field and flooding the zones should be effective against Pittsburgh.
Make a Big Play
This game against the Steelers was always going to be tough. The Steelers are one of the two best teams in the AFC. The game is in Pittsburgh. The Ravens are coming off a tough loss to the Titans and trying to figure out how to deal with injuries up and down both the defensive and offensive lines.
That was all before COVID-19 hit the Ravens. After the game against the Titans, we learned about positive tests from Dobbins and Ingram. Then, on Wednesday, we learned of more positive tests and saw the announcement from the NFL that the game would be postponed until Sunday to allow the league and the Ravens to get a handle on the situation. Thursday, Jihad Ward was added to the list of positive tests.
There will likely continue to be developments after this article is published. We don’t know who will suit up for the Ravens on Sunday. If they lose too many more players, the game has the potential to be ugly for Baltimore. Luckily for the Ravens, the NFL is truly an “Any Given Sunday” type of league. Weird things happen all the time. If the Ravens play the Steelers without some of their starters and key pieces, they’re going to have to make a few big plays to turn the game. If the opportunity presents itself, Ravens’ defenders should go for the strip or try to jump a route for an interception.
A risk like that could be the difference on Sunday.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Steelers’ OLB T.J. Watt versus Ravens’ RT D.J. Fluker/Will Holden
T.J. Watt is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He is also one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Currently, Watt is tied for 2nd in the NFL in sacks and tackles for loss. He is also blowing away the rest of the field with 30 quarterback hits. Watt’s stats and his importance on a topflight unit on an undefeated team make him a front runner for defensive player of the year. If the Ravens have a chance to win in Pittsburgh, the offensive line needs to protect Lamar Jackson. D.J. Fluker and/or Will Holden will need to be outstanding against Watt.