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Ravens at Steelers: 5 players to watch

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens-Training Camp Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens will now face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The Ravens will be shorthanded, as they placed seven players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week. Here are five players to watch:

Gus Edwards

After deploying a frustrating running back committee for the majority of the season, it appeared that J.K. Dobbins was finally going to be utilized as the lead back. Last Sunday, Dobbins led the Ravens with 15 carries. It was the first time this season that any Ravens’ running back has recorded at least 15 carries with Mark Ingram active. However, both Dobbins and Ingram tested positive for COVID-19.

With Ingram and Dobbins both ruled out for Sunday’s game, the Ravens will rely on Gus Edwards. Honestly, I have a lot of confidence in Edwards, who is one of the most overqualified backup running backs in the league. Coincidentally, Edwards has actually started in the Ravens’ last two games against the Steelers, and he has a good track record against them. Earlier this season, he rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and in Week 17 of last season, he gained 130 yards on 21 carries. Despite facing an elite defense, Edwards’ efficiency did not waver, as he still averaged 5.9 yards per carry across those two games. There will be uncertainty at a number of positions for the Ravens on Sunday, but they should still be secure at running back with Edwards.

Marquise Brown

The Ravens betted on Brown developing into their number one wide receiver this offseason, and it has not paid off. Over the past four games, he only has a combined six receptions for 55 yards, despite being targeted 17 times. This season, his worst performances have come in the biggest games.

Week 3 vs. Chiefs: 6 targets, 2 receptions, 13 yards

Week 8 vs. Steelers: 2 targets, 1 reception, 2 yards, 1 touchdown

Week 11 vs. Titans: 3 targets, 0 receptions, 0 yards

His overall numbers are not looking much better. For the season, Brown has a catch percentage of 54.2. That is the lowest mark on the team (minimum 10 targets). Brown has also not been very explosive after the catch, which is surprising considering his speed. He is averaging only 3.8 yards after the catch per reception, which is last among the Ravens’ wide receivers. He is also tied for the team lead in drops and is leading in interceptions when targeted. To make matters even stranger, Brown has regressed in literally every metric I just discussed compared to his rookie season. His catch percentage is down over 10 percent, and he already has more drops.

Conversely, third-round pick Devin Duvernay has a catch percentage of 75 percent, and he has continually made plays, when given the opportunity. Oddly, Duvernay only played 13 offensive snaps last week. Lamar Jackson did throw an interception, when targeting Duvernay on a deep route in that game. To be fair, Jackson did overthrow him, but Duvernay could have made a better effort to get the ball. Nevertheless, I would not turn away from the rookie over one mistake, when he has been very effective within his limited role for the season as a whole. Look, the Ravens are going to have to make some changes on offense soon. This is a team that was built to win now. Either, Brown needs to step up and play at a higher level or the coaching staff needs to give more opportunities to Duvernay and fellow rookie James Proche. Honestly, the best case scenario would be both.

On Sunday, Brown will have his final opportunity of the regular season to have a big game against a contender. Hopefully, he can break out of this slump.

Trystan Colon-Castillo and Bradley Bozeman

The Ravens will be without both Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura against the Steelers, so they will have to find a new starting center. Colon-Castillo is the only true center remaining on the active roster. The undrafted rookie has not played a snap on offense yet. Starting guard Bradley Bozeman played center in college, so he could always shift over to center temporarily.

Regardless, the new starting center will have a tough matchup against the Steelers defensive line. Tyson Alualu is PFF’s second-highest graded interior defender. Cameron Heyward is PFF’s fourth-highest graded interior defender, and he also has the highest run-defense grade among interior defenders. Collectively, the Steelers are leading the league in sacks with 38.

Justin Ellis

Brandon Williams is one of the most impactful players on the Ravens defense, especially against the run. Unfortunately, he will be out for a third straight game. In his absence, the Ravens have turned to Justin Ellis. He has played in over 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in the past two games. Still, Ellis really has not made a large impact. Hopefully, he can have a breakout game on Sunday.