The 5: Steelers to watch in second meeting with 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.
After grabbing a team win against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers enter their second AFC North meeting with the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 of the 2022 NFL regular system with a boost in morale. The implications are clear in what this divisional rivalry game means for both teams’ shots at postseason play.
We take a look at Steelers to watch as Pittsburgh prepares to overcome the mistakes that made the first game between these two teams a two-point affair.
Under scrutiny all season, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers has certainly appeared unfazed by fan sentiment, expressions from opponents, less-than-ideal situations, and gamesmanship. In fact, when news was released that the NFL had flexed the game time on Sunday to place the Steelers and Ravens in the primetime night spot, he seemed to fully embrace it.
“When I got the call the other night that the game was flexed, I didn’t hate that. I love that… If your games are not getting flexed this time of year, you’re not doing it right.” – Mike Tomlin
This isn’t the first statement that Tomlin has made indicating that it’s business as usual for the Steelers. He recently addressed the media and told them he wasn’t focused on the fact that he hadn’t had a losing season as Pittsburgh’s head coach, even though he was aware it was a discussion point.
“Although we do respect their environment and the hostility of that environment [in Baltimore] on Sunday Night Football, we’re not going to hate the fact that we’re there,” Tomlin added. “We’re going to embrace that and smile in the face of the adversity that those variables create.”
It was mistakes (including three Mitchell Trubisky interceptions), a lack of defensive discipline against the Ravens’ run game, and unfortunate injuries that led to Pittsburgh’s implosion previously. The Steelers have since filled several chinks in their armor, however. Part of that has been due to a level of accountability and maturity Tomlin has consistently repeated – almost as a mantra – and has been reminding his players of leading up to this game.
“We’re familiar with (Baltimore). They’re familiar with us. I think we’re all familiar with being in significant games… They’re an awesome dance partner. It’s just good to be in a significant game.” – Mike Tomlin
— Barstool Yinzers (@BarstoolBurgh) December 27, 2022
There’s one guy in black and gold who’s been paying extra attention to detail this season, and it’s no surprise that, as a team captain, he has been as much about accountability as Tomlin has been. Cameron Heyward, as a veteran, has led by example from his position on the defensive line.
The AFC Defensive Player of the Week for last week’s play against the Raiders, Heyward helped lead a Steelers defensive effort that shut down the Raiders offense, including Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams, while allowing just ten points. He recorded seven tackles (three for a loss), 2.0 sacks, and one pass defense in the win.
Watch for Heyward to rally his teammates to keep the Ravens from running the ball as easily, or for as many yards, as they did in Week 14.
“We’re still in the hunt. We just got to take it one game at a time. But I like to think we just keep getting better and better as the weeks go on.” – Cam Heyward
The rookie quarterback was harassed early in Week 14 by the Ravens defense and forced out of the game due to a concussion after being taken to the turf by Roquan Smith. He can’t allow nerves or the past dictate his performance on Sunday night.
Pickett certainly stood up in a critical moment and orchestrated a game-winning drive against the Raiders that showed how much he’s grown over the course of the season. This game will be a similar situation, and if the young signal caller held up then, he certainly is capable of meeting the challenge the Ravens present.
QB Kenny Pickett spoke to the media about our Week 17 matchup against the Ravens + more. pic.twitter.com/371tAnI4a9
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 28, 2022
The second-year back has looked more like himself in the past couple of weeks. That is, the Steelers running back appears healthy, ready to grab as many ground yards as possible, and make defenders pay for going head-to-head with him.
Running against the Ravens opened the offense up in Week 14, and if Harris can stay hot – and find opportunities in the pass game, as well, this week – the Steelers should be able to do a better job of controlling time of possession and forcing Baltimore to play their assignments.
While Harris remains the primary back, the addition of Jaylen Warren has been complimentary to how well the offense operates. With Harris and Warren available, watch for the ground game to get established to give Pickett opportunities to get the ball downfield as he’s found a new rhythm with his receivers.
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year is due for a big game. Since returning from injury, the Steelers defense certainly has more bite. While Watt’s stats aren’t near what they were last season, opponents have invested plenty of double teams against him to prevent his ability to disrupt drives single-handedly.
Watt always seems to find another gear in critical situations. Regardless of whether it is Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley in at quarterback, they’d better account for Watt on every snap or risk disaster.