In preparing for Sunday’s primetime matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman and I sat down for our second small Q&A for one another’s publications.
1. After some turnover concerns out of Pickett in his early stretch (eight interceptions in first five games), Pickett has been rather protective with the ball with only one interception in the past six games. Were the first few games unlucky? Did something change or is Pickett being conservative with the ball, or even too conservative?
During the team’s Week 9 bye you can tell the message was made loud and clear — protect the football. Pickett has come out since Week 10, and done just that. Up until the interception during the Raiders game in Week 16, he hadn’t thrown an interception since the bye. What started out as just Pickett being extremely careful with the football has turned into him learning how to both move the ball, and not jeopardize the team in the process. Pickett isn’t taking unnecessary risks, but he also isn’t limiting the offense either.
2. Another model of consistency for the Steelers lately has been the defense, which has allowed fewer than 20 points in the past five games. Did the Bengals game spark something or were there changes made after the Week 11 game? What are you seeing?
The Steelers are getting back to the basics, and that means they are stopping the run and are tackling better. However, as the Ravens saw in Week 14, they are still susceptible to having days where they get gashed on the ground. The Steelers ultimately are a defense which is based on a very simple philosophy. Stop the run, get you in obvious down and distances, and then attack. This isn’t the Dick LeBeau defense where they can out-trick you as much as out-work you. This is a different unit, and one which is predicated on the aforementioned criteria.
3. The Mike Tomlin streak is on the line this season as the Steelers must run the table to keep from going under .500. Is this something Steelers fans are rooting for, or is there a desire from the fanbase to stumble and gain better draft picks? Or, does none of it matter?
There are those fans who want the team to have a better draft pick(s) in the upcoming draft. After all, the team is in a rebuild; however, most fans want to see the team win. The vast majority of the fan base is relatively sick and tired of Tomlin’s non-losing season streak. It isn’t that they don’t find it impressive, but how it just feels like they are celebrating mediocrity. Not winning division titles or advancing in the playoffs, that latter hasn’t been done in a long time, but just winning more than you lose. If it ends this season, I doubt many will lose sleep over it.
4. As you asked me, I also am curious about your thoughts on this rivalry that many have claimed ‘isn’t the same’ anymore or has changed. What say you?
Yeah, this rivalry is a shell of its former self. Gone are the days when Joey Porter reportedly stormed on the Ravens’ bus to go after the players. Gone are the days when Ed Reed had to keep his head on a swivel to see if Hines Ward was going to ear-hole him on a run play. Gone are the days when Ray Lewis shattered Rashard Mendenhall’s scapula his rookie season. The Steelers and Ravens were never dirty about it, but they wanted to take the other person out. This wasn’t Vontaze Burfict and that dirty Bengals defense, but two teams who couldn’t stand one another. Now it seems much more respectful, and while that’s nice, I do miss the good ol’ days sometimes.
5. The Steelers are 2.5-point underdogs in this matchup according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you agree with the line? If so, why? If not, where would you place it?
I think this is a fair line for both teams. There is a lot of indecision surrounding Lamar Jackson’s availability, and that has to have oddsmakers wondering where to set the line. The Steelers aren’t playing out of this world, but much better than they were earlier in the season. Likewise, the Ravens aren’t boat racing anyone either, so this should be a low-scoring, and close, affair. I know, shocker, right?