In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.
1. The Steelers’ run game the first seven weeks totaled 756 rushing yards, which averages out to a respectable 108 yards per game. But over the last five games, they’ve exploded for 789 rushing yards, good for 157.8 yards per game. What changed?
Honestly, I think it was the bye week. During Week 9 the Steelers, and mainly Matt Canada, were able to get into the lab and figure out what works well. Not only that, but they were able to tailor the offense around Kenny Pickett, not forcing Pickett to run plays/schemes which were built around Mitch Trubisky. Throw in the fact only two offensive linemen have missed snaps (no one has missed an entire game) and continuity has been HUGE. The line is opening up holes, and the Steelers running back committee is taking care of business. Lastly, don’t discount how the Steelers are running the ball in a variety of ways, including Kenny Pickett using his mobility.
2. How have you seen rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett evolve since being taken No. 20 overall? Furthermore, how has he looked since becoming the starter and is there confidence he is the present and future quarterback for the Steelers?
When Pickett was thrust into the lineup (Week 4 at halftime) he was the person in charge of a murderer’s row schedule. He had to face the likes of Miami, Buffalo and Philadelphia, all on the road. Now that the schedule has softened some, and the aforementioned changes at the bye week, Pickett is looking more comfortable. You can see how Canada and Pickett have come together to build an offense which works for everyone involved. Early in Pickett’s time at QB, he was throwing twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. While he still isn’t racking up the TD passes, he hasn’t thrown an INT in 128 pass attempts, dating back before the bye. He’s improving, albeit by baby steps and not leaps and bounds.
3. You’re suddenly the Ravens offensive coordinator. How are you scheming against the Steelers defense?
It starts by running the football. If you can have success on 1st and/or 2nd down running the ball, it will set up 3rd and manageable for the offense. Once I get the Steelers in these situations I will just continue to move the chains. I want to wear the defense down, and take time off the clock on our way to putting points on the board. Getting the run game going won’t allow the defensive front to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback, and it will also limit the opportunities for ballhawks like Minkah Fitzpatrick to disrupt the game in the back end. It all starts with establishing the run.
4. Who are two Steelers players (one offense/one defense) Ravens fans may not know about that could be difference-makers in Sunday’s game?
On offense I think it’s rookie undrafted free agent Jaylen Warren. While Warren is coming off a hamstring injury, he is the change-of-pace back the Steelers have wanted to spell Najee Harris. He doesn’t see the field at on, but when he does he is dynamic. He reminds me of a faster Maurice Jones-Drew with the ball in his hands, and he looks like all he needs is a glimmer of daylight to take a play the distance.
On defense I would point to cornerback Cam Sutton. Sutton might be known by some, but certainly not all. He will have opportunities in the secondary to make plays, and the Ravens offense should set up nicely for him to have a good game.
5. The Steelers are currently 2-point favorites over the Ravens according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you agree with the line or where would you place it?
Without Lamar Jackson I think this is a fair spread. Typically the home team gets 3-points, so the oddsmakers are saying while the Steelers are still getting that nod, they aren’t getting the full 3 points. The Steelers have won back-to-back games, and 3 out of 4, while the Ravens have stumbled offensively and won’t likely have their most important offensive player on Sunday. I think it’s fair, and I’ll take the Steelers giving the points.