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Ravens vs. Steelers potential X factors: Undersized playmakers could have big impacts

This early season divisional clash could be decided by key contributions from handful of players in all three phases.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens are staying on the road in Week 5 where they will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon. They are heading into the matchup as favorites against their longtime AFC North division rivals, who are looking to rebound following a lopsided loss to the Houston Texans last week.

In almost every game, there is a play or two made that helped swing the momentum back into a team’s favor or extend their lead to put an opponent away for good. There are a handful of select players who aren’t being talked about as much ahead of this game that could be pivotal in determining the outcome of the contest.

Below are some of those individual players that could prove to be deciding factors.

WR Zay Flowers

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The first-round rookie will be playing in his first Ravens vs. Steelers rivalry game of his career. Both he and Monken will certainly be trying to make it one to remember. With the return of 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman and potentially three-time Pro Bowl veteran Odell Beckham Jr. as well, Flowers will have even more space to work with in the open field. The Steelers will have to devote more resources to limiting the Ravens’ other threats in passing game.

Through the first four games of the season, he leads the team in targets (29), receptions (24), receiving yards (244), and combined scrimmage yards (255). However, he has yet to find the end zone despite having the third most total touches on the team. That could very well be subject to change this Sunday. Flowers might a little extra motivation to reach paydirt if and when he gets to lineup against veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson. The eight-time Pro Bowler recently called Flowers a “little munchkin” in comments he made to reporters.

RB Justice Hill

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In his first game back after missing Week 3 with a toe injury, the fifth-year veteran was the Ravens’ second most explosive and elusive ball carrier last week behind only quarterback Lamar Jackson. Hill only carried the ball three times for 33 with a long of 15 but his vision to find cutback lanes and swift footwork to hit them were in full display.

The Steelers’ defense is among the league’s worst at defending the run, giving up nearly 150 yards per game on the ground and almost five yards per carry. By keeping the ball on the ground more often than not on Sunday, the Ravens can prevent the potent pass rush of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith from wrecking the game. While this could end up being a heavy Gus Edwards game, Hill was upgraded from a limited to full participant in practice on Friday. So, perhaps he’ll be more involved now that he more recovered from his hamstring/foot injury.

CB Arthur Maulet

NFL: OCT 01 Ravens at Browns Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The seventh-year veteran spent the past two seasons on the opposite side of this rivalry as a special teams ace and starting slot corner for the Steelers — before signing with the Ravens at the onset of training camp. He’ll be playing in his first game against his former team and could have a prominent role as the Ravens starting nickel. Maulet had a strong game against the Browns last week when he saw his first defensive action of the season and recorded five total tackles including one for a loss and pass deflection that resulted in an interception.

Last month after making the roster, Maulet said that he had this week’s matchup circled on his calendar. Now that it has arrived, though, he is downplaying the personal significance of it and focusing more on the objective for the overall team.

“I have nothing special. No special thoughts,” Maulet said. “They’re just in the way of what we need to do. We’ve got to take over the division [and this] is another division game. Obviously, it’s a big rivalry. We’re just trying to go 1-0. I’m not making it anything special. I got to clean up some things from last week. Obviously a little bit of extra motivation but the biggest thing is for us to play well on all three phases and win the game.”

FB Patrick Ricard

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The four-time Pro Bowler is far from undersized but his integral role as both a pass and run blocker often gets overlooked as if he was at times. The Ravens will need him at his best in both areas on Sunday, especially on the right side of the offensive alignment. Veteran right tackle Moses, who has started 134 consecutive games, is listed as doubtful with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the second half of last week’s game.

Ricard’s role as a road grader in the run game is still as apparent and essential in new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme as it was in Greg Roman’s, even though it’s not as heavily utilized. Last season, there wasn’t a single game in which he played less than 51 percent of the Ravens’ total offensive snaps while this season he has yet to play over 44 percent. This week might be an exceptionally high usage game for the seven-year veteran given the Steelers’ poor run defense and the extra help in pass protection that might be needed.

OLB Kyle Van Noy

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

The 10-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion had a profound impact in last week’s win over the Browns. That was in spite of only having been on the team for less than a week. He was signed to the practice squad initially and then to the active roster a few days later. While the only stats he registered on the box score were a pass deflection and a quarterback hit on 23 total defensive snaps he also recorded four total pressures, three hurries, and a pass rush win rate of 20 percent on 15 pass rush snaps.

Van Noy will likely see an increased workload this week in his first taste of the Ravens vs. Steelers rivalry. Against a banged-up Steelers’ offensive line — which has already ruled out a pair of starters with a rookie making his debut at left tackle — there will be plenty of opportunities for Van Noy to get after Kenny Pickett. The second-year quarterback was removed from the Steelers’ final injury report but is still dealing with a bone bruise in his knee that could impact his mobility inside and outside the pocket.