It's 2020, it's Wednesday, and there's NFL football on tap. After two schedule changes, the Baltimore Ravens will step onto Heinz Field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers late Wednesday afternoon, six days after they were initially slated to face off. Despite their massive rash of COVID-19 cases, the Ravens will field a team that will try to hand Pittsburgh its first loss of the season.
Ravens players that will not be able to play in Wednesday's game due to COVID-19 include quarterback Lamar Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews, receiver Willie Snead, fullback Patrick Ricard, centers Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura, outside linebackers Matt Judon and Pernell McPhee, and defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Justin Madubuike. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams is out with an ankle injury. Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, who was previously on the team's reserve/COVID-19 list, is questionable with a back injury. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle), guard Tyre Phillips (ankle), defensive end Derek Wolfe (illness), and tight end Luke Wilson (illness) are also questionable. And despite coming off of the COVID-19 list, running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins are not expected to play, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Steelers players that will miss Wednesday's game due to COVID-19 are running back James Conner, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins. The Steelers will also be without running back Jaylen Samuels, who will miss his second straight game with a quad injury. And while cornerback Joe Haden is listed as questionable, his Twitter post Tuesday night appeared to indicate that his knee is healthy enough to face the Ravens.
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How to watch
These teams last faced each other back in Week 7, as the visiting Steelers left Baltimore with a 28-24 victory. Despite being out-rushed 265-48, Pittsburgh's 4-1 turnover advantage (that included linebacker Robert Spillane's pick-six of Jackson), along with the fact that Baltimore had 80 more penalty yards, was enough to extend the Steelers' winning streak to seven games.
Trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Steelers put together touchdown drives of 77 and 80 yards in the second half. Their first touchdown of the half was set up by rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith's interception of Jackson, who was sacked four times while failing to complete half of his 28 pass attempts. Jackson's final pass, a 23-yard heave into Pittsburgh's end zone, was batted down by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick as time expired.
With Ingram and Dobbins not expected to play, the Ravens' rushing attack will be led by Gus Edwards, who rushed for 130 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 17 of the 2019 season. He also rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against the Steelers in Week 7. Edwards' backup is Justice Hill, who has not had a carry this year. Hill did run for 39 yards and a score on 10 carries against the Steelers last December. Edwards and Hill will try to have success running behind a revamped offensive line that may be without two starters. Baltimore's center position will be filled by either Trystan Colon-Castillo or Bradley Bozeman. If Bozeman moves from left guard to center, there's a chance rookie Ben Bredeson will make his first NFL start.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, Snead, who caught a team-high 106 yards on five catches back in Week 7, will not be able to suit up on Wednesday. The absence of Snead and Andrews should lead to more opportunities for Marquise Brown (who caught a touchdown pass against the Steelers in Week 7), Miles Boykin, rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche, and Dez Bryant, who caught four of five targets for 28 yards in last week's loss to the Titans.
Running the Ravens' offense on Wednesday will be Robert Griffin III, who started in place of Jackson when Baltimore beat Pittsburgh to close out the 2019 regular season. While he threw for just 96 yards with an interception, Griffin's 50 rushing yards and overall management of the Ravens' offense helped Baltimore complete their season sweep of the Steelers. Making Jackson's life easier will be the absence of Tuitt, who had two sacks in Pittsburgh's Week 7 win over Baltimore. Fortunately for the Steelers, they possess one of the league's best backup defensive lineman in Tyson Alualu, a former first-round pick who will make his seventh start of the season on Wednesday. The also have arguably the NFL's best outside linebacker duo of T.J. Watt (nine sacks) and Bud Dupree (eight sacks).
Pittsburgh's fourth-ranked scoring offense will look to take advantage of a Ravens' defense that will be without two starting linemen and two starting outside linebackers. Baltimore's inside linebackers and secondary are currently intact, though Smith is questionable with an injury. The Ravens' defense will have to lean more on rookie linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, defensive backs Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and defense linemen Jaylon Ferguson, Yannick Ngakoue and Tyus Bowser. This group will have to come up with some turnovers to increase the Ravens' chances of victory.
While the Steelers won't have Conner, they will have fellow running back Benny Snell, who rushed for 91 yards and a score on 18 carries against the Ravens last December. Pittsburgh will also have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who missed both of the Steelers' 2019 contests against the Ravens. Roethlisberger is in the midst the best statistical season of his 17-year career, as he has thrown 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions through 10 games. His three favorite targets against the Ravens in Week 7 were JuJu Smith-Schuster, rookie Chase Claypool and tight end Eric Ebron, who combined to catch 16 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Expect Diontae Johnson, who was less than 100% the last time these two teams played, to have a much bigger role in this game after catching just one pass against the Ravens in Week 7. Over the past three games, the second-year receiver has caught 18 passes for 304 yards and a touchdown.
On any given NFL
Sunday Wednesday, anything can happen. While they will be without several of their best players, the Ravens still have enough talent -- particularly at the running back, inside linebacker and secondary positions -- to make this a competitive game. That being said, the loss of Jackson, Snead, Andrews, two centers, four defensive linemen and two outside linebackers will probably be too much to overcome. Expect the Steelers to come out throwing before settling into their running game with Snell and rookie Anthony McFarland. On defense, look for the Steelers to make the Ravens one-dimensional, something that shouldn't be hard considering their losses at quarterback, tight end and receiver. The Ravens will give it a yeoman's effort, but in the end, the much deeper Steelers should come out on top.
Score: Steelers 23, Ravens 13