Steelers shoot for 11-0, Ravens brace for more bad news
The matchup typically circled on the calendar as AFC North heavyweight showdown between rivals on Thanksgiving night has all the fixings for high drama — if the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens make it to game night.
There is some doubt at midweek whether there will be football at Heinz Field, with the undefeated Steelers looking to sweep the season series and climb to 11-0 entering December.
But Ravens feature running back J.K. Dobbins and backup running back Mark Ingram are on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive for the virus, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams is on the list because of contact tracing during an outbreak that apparently is still surging throughout the organization. All three players are ineligible for Thursday’s game, and more trouble is looming with contact tracing and daily testing that could push Baltimore over the threshold for fielding a competitive team.
However, the NFL is pushing to make sure the game goes off as scheduled.
“It’s a crazy kind of time that we’re living in,” Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews said. “It kind of goes with this year.”
The Ravens, also recovering from a gut-punch loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, did not practice Tuesday and planned to hold all activities virtually leading up to the game.
The Steelers are neither feeling sorry for Baltimore nor expecting an advantage.
“This is just an unusual year when it comes to everything we have to do and everyone has to do,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “What are you going to do? You just have to do what they tell you and go play ball.”
Because of the short week, Roethlisberger didn’t expect to throw in practice. The Steelers listed him as limited Tuesday because of a quadriceps issue. He believes there is plenty of juice to the rivalry regardless of odd circumstances.
“It’s AFC North. Primetime. Thanksgiving,” he said. “It’s got all of the makings for a Steelers-Ravens matchup. It doesn’t matter who’s hurt, who’s winning, who’s losing.”
For the Steelers (10-0), the game is a chance to take another step toward a potential perfect season and solidify their hold on the division lead. For Baltimore (6-4), it is a shot at spoiling Pittsburgh’s path toward perfection and getting back into the conversation for a division title.
Baltimore is one of nine AFC teams entering Thursday with six or more victories. The playoffs are no guarantee.
The Ravens dropped behind Cleveland into third place in the division Sunday as they blew a 10-point lead and fell 30-24 to Tennessee, while the Browns beat Philadelphia. Baltimore trails the Steelers by four games with six to play.
In the teams’ first meeting in Week 8, Pittsburgh pulled out a 28-24 win with Roethlisberger’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Chase Claypool in Baltimore.
Dobbins rushed for a season-best 113 yards. Quarterback Lamar Jackson passed for 208 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Ravens are down to Gus Edwards (376 yards, three touchdowns, 4.4 yards a carry this year) and Justice Hill as their running backs for Thursday. Hill has played primarily on special teams and has no carries this year.
“You look at Gus and Justice, those two guys are incredible athletes, incredible players, and they’re going to do their job just fine and hold that torch and do their thing,” Andrews said. “There’s no worries there.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh also downplayed the absences.
“The run game is a group effort,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll run the ball on Thursday night.”
Not if the Steelers can help it.
“It’s not like we are laying off the gas pedal by any stretch,” Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt said.
While Baltimore had players being added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, Pittsburgh activated tight end Vance McDonald from that list.
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (foot), who apparently got hurt stepping on a penalty flag late in Sunday’s 27-3 win in Jacksonville, and defensive lineman Cam Heyward (ankle) were limited in practice Tuesday.
–Field Level Media