Here are some of the key matchups for Sunday’s game.
Ravens’ cornerbacks vs. Steelers’ wide receivers
Baltimore’s lengthy injury report on Friday listed five cornerbacks as questionable for Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh: Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett, Tavon Young, Chris Westry, and Jimmy Smith. Humphrey and Young both missed practice with an illness. It is worth noting that quarterback Lamar Jackson missed the Week 11 game against the Chicago Bears due to an illness, although it is currently unclear if this is the same illness affecting the pair of cornerbacks. Both Averett and Westry were limited participants while Smith missed practice with a newly reported ankle injury.
Regardless of who suits up for Baltimore on Sunday, the Ravens’ defense will have their hands full with a talented group of wide receivers opposite of them — most notably Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. Pittsburgh’s top duo of wideouts has seen a combined 178 targets for 1,417 yards from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger so far this season.
Baltimore’s defense has appeared to turn a corner in recent weeks and is playing at a much higher level than earlier in the season, but busted coverages still seem to pop up too frequently — something a quarterback of 18 years will be keen on exploiting.
Quarterbacks vs. the blitz
Both Roethlisberger and Jackson will likely see a fair amount of blitzes thrown their way this week. In Roethlisberger’s case, the Ravens have blitzed 38.4% of the time — third-most in the NFL, according to pro-football-reference.com. Through 12 weeks, Roethlisberger has the fastest time to throw (2.43 seconds) among all quarterbacks, according to Next Gen Stats. It will be hard for Baltimore’s blitzes to get home in time if Roethlisberger continues to get rid of the ball quickly.
On the flip side, Jackson has struggled to counter opposing blitzes this season, posting a PFF grade of 59.7 when blitzed. While the Steelers have blitzed significantly less this season (23.1%) than in 2020 (40.3%), they will likely dial up the pressure against Jackson to see if he continues to falter against extra rushers.
T.J. Watt vs. Patrick Mekari
After being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week, All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt has since been activated and is now eligible to play on Sunday. Right tackle Patrick Mekari will now have his hands full with one of the best pass rushers in the game. Through 12 weeks, Watt is second only to Myles Garrett in sacks with 12.5. The fifth-year edge rusher has the ability to completely wreck drives.
Mekari has played well at right tackle for the Ravens this season, even after returning from an ankle injury. The short-armed tackle will need plenty of help against Watt this week, however. Tight end Nick Boyle is questionable to play, meaning help will have to come from elsewhere. Players who can be used to help double-team or chip Watt include tight end Eric Tomlinson, fullback Patrick Ricard, or even running backs Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray. Baltimore would be foolish to leave Mekari on an island against Watt in passing situations.