On Sunday Night Football, the Baltimore Ravens will take on their arch-nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh (10-2) carries a seven-game winning streak and Baltimore (7-5) brings in a three-game winning streak. The game won’t decide the division winner this season, but if Baltimore wins, they could propel themselves into the playoffs.
Jeff Hartman is the managing editor for Behind the Steel Curtain, SB Nation’s Steelers website. He graduated from Shepherd University, a Division II school located in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He contributed to the school’s student-run newspaper, “The Pickett”.
Hartman began writing for Behind the Steel Curtain in May 2014 and became an editor in March 2015. He has also contributed to the Pittsburgh Sports Forum, Rant Sports and appeared on multiple radio shows. He now lives in Maryland, dodging Ravens fans.
Kyle J. Andrews: Pittsburgh was able to pull out a brutal victory on Monday against the Cincinnati Bengals. What does it say about the team?
Jeff Hartman (Behind the Steel Curtain): This isn't the first close game the Steelers have won in 2017. Unlike in past years, this team is gritty and able to scratch and claw their way to victory. Sometimes they cling to a lead, and like on Monday night, they show they can come back from 17-points down and win the game. They are just finding ways to win, which is usually a good sign of a championship caliber team.
KJA: Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal contusion when attempting to make a tackle on Monday Night Football. How has his injury affected Steelers faithful?
JH: First, at the moment I write this no one really knows what his injury is. There are rumors it is a contusion, some say a spinal concussion while others still fear some form of paralysis. It is all speculation at this point. As for how it impacted the fan base, it has shaken them to the core. This isn't a 3rd string undrafted player, but a first round draft pick who made the Pro Bowl in 2016. It is a huge loss for the team, but everyone is just worried about his well-being. The not knowing is killing the fans.
KJA: Shazier was one of the best players on Pittsburgh's defense. How much will his loss hurt Pittsburgh? How much will it allow for the team to rally around their injured comrade?
JH: The team will likely use Shazier's injury as a rallying cry, like they have the passing of the ambassador Dan Rooney before the season, but his loss on the field is near catastrophic. Shazier is the fastest linebacker in the NFL, and the entire Pittsburgh defensive scheme is based around his athleticism and speed in the middle. Players like that don't just grow on trees, and the Bengals exploited backups Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort after Shazier left. The team signed former Steeler Sean Spence, but again, he is a far cry from the player Shazier is.
KJA: The Steelers beat the Ravens 26-9 in Baltimore in Week 4. However, since reeling off three straight wins after the bye week, they are currently 7-5 going into Pittsburgh. How dangerous do you believe this Ravens team to be?
JH: This team is dangerous, but only because of their defense, in my opinion. The Ravens offense is improving, but I'm not sure if that says much considering how poor they played earlier this season. The one constant for Baltimore has been their defense, and their ability to create turnovers. If the Steelers can protect the football, and run the ball with Le'Veon Bell, they will neutralize the strength of this Baltimore defense. If they fail to do those two things, it could be a long day for the black-and-gold at Heinz Field.
KJA: Baltimore has been able to stop the pass, only allowing 198.6 yards per game (3rd in the NFL). Pittsburgh's passing offense has been deadly as well (264.5 yards per game), ranking fourth in the NFL. Something has to give right?
JH: The biggest difference is how the Steelers' passing attack has improved over the past four weeks. The team is putting the ball in the air, and they are scoring more points than they were when these two teams met earlier this season. This facet of the game boils down to the offensive line. If the Steelers' offensive line, who is still without Marcus Gilbert at RT due to a PED suspension, can keep Ben Roethlisberger clean, there is no doubt the Steelers have the depth and personnel to beat the Ravens' pass defense. The loss of Jimmy Smith is enticing, but the Steelers without JuJu Smith-Schuster also hurts on the other side of things...the two absences probably cancel each other out.
KJA: What is your opinion on the JuJu Smith-Schuster suspension? Is it fair or foul?
JH: The hit itself was flagged for both roughness and taunting. The taunting was a no-brainer, and I get why they flagged the block too. My personal opinion of the block is it was worthy of a flag and fine, but the suspension is just ridiculous...especially when George Iloka will be playing in Week 14 after taking a deliberate cheap shot on Antonio Brown, and Smith-Schuster has to watch.
KJA: With the injuries between both teams (Shazier, Joe Haden Jimmy Smith, Marshal Yanda, etc.) and Smith-Schuster's suspension, will their absences take anything away from this game?
JH: This game is always great, so I don't think it will take away from the rivalry, but I do think the absences of the aforementioned players will certainly hurt the product on the field. When all is said and done, when the Ravens and Steelers go head-to-head, it is usually a great game. I expect that to still be the case on Sunday night.
KJA: What is your prediction for Sunday night’s game?
JH: I think this game is a close one throughout, but the Steelers will be playing with a sense of purpose on multiple levels. They can clinch the division with a win Sunday, and will be playing for Ryan Shazier. The second half the Steelers flip the switch and get the job done.