The 5: Steelers to watch as hosts to the Ravens

Every week, ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ games, Steel City Underground analyzes the depth chart, injury reports, and key matchups against their upcoming opponent in order to point out “The 5” – Steelers players to watch.

This week, the forum was opened in the Steel City Underground back rooms to talk about the upcoming game as the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens in a division rivalry during Week 14 of the 2022 NFL regular season. While one of our team typically picks “The 5” Steelers players, skill groups, key matchups, or areas of the team fans should watch for in the upcoming game, this week we have offerings from four team members.

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Pat Freiermuth

(SCU team member: Jae Greenwald)

Throughout the course of this season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it feels as if every skill position has been under the media spotlight at one point or another.

The receivers group has experienced the trading of Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears, the production of Diontae Johnson, and most recently, the frustrations of George Pickens to get through. The offensive backfield has witnessed the emergence of Jaylen Warren, the effectiveness of Najee Harris before and after the ‘Bye Week’, and the resurgence of “Benny Snell Football”. The quarterback room is self-explanatory.

However, the group that I want to give their flowers to is this young tight end group, and especially the growth of their leader, Pat Freiermuth.

Freiermuth has slowly and quietly taken this year to transform into one of the most reliable and lethal tight ends in all of football. Leading the Steelers in receiving yards with 597, and only trailing the mighty Travis Kelce in games with 70+ receiving yards (Kelce – 7, Freiermuth – 5). Freiermuth will have his work cut out for him on Sunday against the Ravens, both in the run game against the second-best run defense (yards per game) of Baltimore, as well as in the pass game against a talented linebacker group and secondary.

I think that Freiermuth will feast on the Ravens in a big rivalry game, cementing him in the hearts of Steelers fans everywhere. Prediction: 7 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD. Book it!

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Alex HighSmith

(SCU team member: Christina Rivers)

There’s a lot of chatter that Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson‘s injury that forced him out of the game last week may – or may not be – as serious as initially believed. I don’t see it making much of a difference because the strongest indications are that he won’t be active on Sunday to face Pittsburgh. This comes after Jackson fired off an ill-timed, inappropriate Tweet in response to a fan’s criticism recently. That means an already erratic Ravens team will likely start Tyler Huntley.

The Ravens’ offensive line got a jump in rankings to No. 2 by PFF entering Week 14, with Ronnie Stanley, Ben Powers, Tyler Linderbaum, Kevin Zeitler, and Morgan Moses as the projected starters (left tackle to right tackle).

With the focus seemingly always falling on T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith has taken big strides in the pass rush and pressure aspect of his game this season. Heading into Sunday, Highsmith has recorded 10.0 sacks, eight tackles for a loss, 44 combined tackles, 15 QB hits, and four forced fumbles.

Linderbaum has given up the Ravens line’s most pressures this season, with 19. That seems to say it will be the interior defensive line of the Steelers that will be the ones to watch, but Baltimore is aware and will likely add more double-teams there to assist. That opens the door for Highsmith to hunt Huntley, pun intended, in one-on-one situations against the blind side and when the quarterback is sprung out of the pocket or scrambles of his own accord.

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George Pickens

(SCU team member: Terry Fletcher)

He’s not happy. He sees the targets for Diontae Johnson, who continues to drop balls, go backwards after the catch instead of forward, and then the fumble (although reversed on replay), while, when George is targeted, he makes almost every catch, is a combat catch winner…

Pickens will want to make a statement after this past week with only 2 targets.

(SCU founder: Joe Kuzma)

Pickens, who leads eligible Steelers receivers in YPC with 13.8, is being double-teamed and became the focus of opposing defenses. This has opened things up for his teammates, such as Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth.

Pickens, in only his 12th game as a pro, is already ascending becoming the top receiving threat on the Steelers.

Source: Overreactions from Steelers Nation: George Pickens’ “antics”

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Kenny Pickett

(SCU team member: Christina Rivers)

Baltimore has been fielding a decent defense this season, and they’ll be looking for opportunities to put pressure on the Steelers’ rookie quarterback in Pickett. They’ve allowed opponents just 5.4 yards/play this season, a 67.59 completion percentage, 31.31 third-down conversion percentage, and 55.26 red zone scoring percentage. They have logged 37 sacks this season with Justin Houston grabbing 9.0.

Baltimore hasn’t been blitzing on as many defensive snaps this season, or as in near past seasons under defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald: but they’re disguising their schemes well. The Ravens are blitzing on 20.4 percent of their snaps, though, ranking at 22nd in the NFL.

Pickett may only have nine career NFL games under his belt, but PFF has the rookie completing 72.1 percent of his passes and grabbing three touchdown throws against the blitz.

Pickett has shown a willingness to hang-in in the face of pressure in order to make a play, even if he’s been taken to the turf after the throw. Pickett’s challenge this week will be in identifying if the Ravens are sending any of their interior linebackers or defensive backs, something they’ve been very successful with this season.

If Pickett is able to make reads well, he should be able to manage the Steelers offense effectively and find open targets. Watch for the run game of Pittsburgh to be used to help him find rhythm and timing with his tight ends and receivers.

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The defensive backfield

If there’s one thing that has stood out as questionable on this season’s Ravens stat sheet, it has been the way their receivers have been playing. There are arguments that it’s due to Jackson’s play style as much as there are arguments that it is due to the way the offense, as a whole, is schemed.

The Steelers have been seeing some special production from their defensive backfield this season, and that group could very well be a difference maker in this Week 14 AFC North game.

Minkah Fitzpatrick sealed the win for the Steelers in Week 13 against the Atlanta Falcons. Several players in the secondary have made big plays.

This quote, though…

“I was talking to my girlfriend ‘Wilson.’ I miss her. I haven’t touched her in a couple of weeks. I need an interception soon.” – Levi Wallace on getting ‘Wilson’ back in his hands this week (via Teresa Varley)

Let’s watch and see if Wallace gets to hold his ‘girlfriend’ or not on Sunday, or if someone else will rattle the Ravens receivers and get some love of their own.

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