Baltimore Ravens Week 12 Preview
The Baltimore Ravens will be fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive when they travel to Heinz Field Stadium in Week 12 to face off with their undefeated archrival Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. EST on NBC.
This matchup was originally supposed to be played in the primetime slot on Thanksgiving night but due to the Ravens’ recent outbreak of COVID-19 within the organization, it has been postponed three times as positive cases and player safety concerns have continued to rise.
The Ravens are coming off a Week 11 bout with the Tennessee Titans where a second-half collapse on both sides of the ball led to a gut-wrenching 24-30 loss in overtime at home.
The Steelers stayed perfect and improved to 10-0 last week with a 27-3 win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars on the road in Week 11.
This will be the second and possibly final time that these two teams will faceoff this season barring a potential meeting in the postseason. The Ravens outgained and outplayed the Steelers in Week Eight, but they were unable to overcome a four-turnover game by reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson and wound up losing 28-24 at home.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the matchup including potential X factors, who will likely be out with an injury for each team, and a final outcome prediction.
What’s at stake:
The Ravens hopes and chances of catching the still undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers in the race for the AFC North division title is slim to none since they are now third in the standings behind the 8-3 Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh currently holds a four-game lead as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker from winning the first matchup.
With a win, Baltimore would improve to 6-4 overall and 3-3 in AFC conference play which would elevate them from in the hunt to the second or third wildcard spot for the time being with a favorable schedule down the stretch.
If the Steelers were to win they would complete the season series sweep of the Ravens, improve to 11-0 overall and 8-0 against conference opponents and remain the top seed in the AFC playoff standings heading into December with the Kansas City Chiefs nipping at their heels at 10-1.
Who might not suit up:
The Ravens have placed 22 players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List since last Monday with more potentially coming including several offensive starters and nearly their entire defensive line and outside linebacker depth charts.
While the Ravens were able to activate guard/tackle DJ Fluker, outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and defensive tackle Broderick Washington off the reserve list on Monday since none of them actually test positive for the virus but were deemed close contacts, they had to place tight end Mark Andrews, outside linebacker Matt Judon and wide receiver Willie Snead on the list after they tested positive on Sunday.
A positive takeaway from the latest postponement of this game is that Baltimore will reportedly have their top two running backs returning to the lineup.
Veteran Mark Ingram and rookie J.K. Dobbins will have their 10-day isolation period following their positive tests end by Wednesday and will be eligible to play, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport
However, they will still be without their most important player and reigning league MVP in quarterback Lamar Jackson.
As for actual injuries, some of the players that were on the Ravens’ injury report recently tested positive and will be out this week. The only eligible players dealing with an injury or illness are defensive back Jimmy Smith (ankle), guard/tackle Tyre Phillips (ankle), defensive tackle Derek Wolfe (illness), and tight end Luke Willson (illness).
The Ravens haven’t been able to hold an actual practice since their Saturday walk-through before the Titans game but at least all four of the aforementioned players are listed as questionable and are expected to play Tuesday night.
As for the Steelers, they are relatively healthy from an injury standpoint with only cornerback Joe Haden listed as questionable with a knee injury and backup running back Jaylen Samuel declared out with a quadriceps injury.
However, for all of their players’ gripes about the Ravens having an outbreak, they’ve had a COVID flair up of their own and have had to place starting running back James Connor, starting defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt and offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins on the reserve list and all three aren’t eligible to play this week.
Potential X factors:
WR Dez Bryant
The comeback story of the former three-time Pro Bowler who was once one of the premier playmaking wide receivers has been inspiring and heartwarming.
With his fellow veteran wideout Willie Snead, who has been the team’s most productive receiver over the last month, out with this week with COVID-19, the Ravens will need Bryant to assume a larger role in the offense.
He was officially signed to the active roster on Saturday less than a week after recording his first catches in nearly three calendar years. He reeled in four of the five passes thrown his way against the Titans last week and finished with 28 yards. Half of his yardage came on a crucial 16-yard catch and run that set the offense up for a game-tying field goal.
At this stage in his career, Bryant is more of a possession receiver than a downfield threat which is just what they will need in this game with Snead out this week with COVID-19.
With Andrews out for the same reason, he will also be expected to make plays in the red zone and come down with contested catches as well.
Bryant may not be the favorite to lead the team in many or any statistical categories this week but don’t be surprised if he winds up scoring his first touchdown since Week 14 of the 2017 season and or doubling his yardage output from a week ago.
OLB Tyus Bowser
With Judon out for this week with COVID-19, the fourth-year pro will likely be making his first career start since he is the only other true SAM outside linebacker on the roster.
Bowser has played a career-high 45 percent of the defensive snaps this season. He has played in every game this season and has recorded 16 total tackles, nine quarterback hits, a pair of sacks, three pass deflections, and an interception.
The reason that his season stat line to date resembles that of an elite slot corner more than it does a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker is that he is one of the most versatile defenders on the entire team, not just the defense.
Bowser makes the most of his opportunities since he averages less than half the total defensive snaps by generating good pressure when he’s coming off the edge and making plays in the passing game when he drops into coverage.
Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale loves to use him to send additional heat on opposing signal-callers or simulate pressure before having him bail to deceptively fall into a passing lane like he did last week against the Titans to notch his second career interception.
Like Judon, Bowser is also in the final year of his current contract so a chance at extensive playing time will give him more opportunities to showcase his talents to the Ravens and potential suitors next offseason than he’s used to having.
Recent history of the matchup:
The Steelers still hold a narrow lead in the all-time series between these two bitter rivals dating back to the Ravens’ inaugural season in 1996 at 29-24. However, Baltimore has three of the last five and 14 of the 28 matchups since Harbaugh was hired as the head coach in 2008.
These games have historically been hard-fought defensive battles where points have been hard to come by and blowouts for either team have been extremely rare.
However, as of late, there has been more offensive efficiency with at least one team scoring 20 or more points dating back to the second meeting of the 2013 season.
Unfortunately, with Jackson out for this game with COVID-19, he’ll have to wait until next season for a chance to have a winning record against the Steelers, barring a potential meeting of two teams in the playoffs. He’s played Pittsburgh just once in back to back years and is 1-1.
Jackson will be replaced in the lineup this week by veteran signal-caller Robert Griffin III who will be making his second start for the Ravens. His first came in a rain-drenched game against a Steelers team that had everything to play for in last year’s season finale when Baltimore had nothing to play for and rested several starters but was still able to lead an undermanned team to a 28-10 victory.
Even though the Ravens have been ravaged by injuries and have over a dozen starters and other key players out this week as a result of their recent COVID-109 outbreak, the Steelers haven’t looked nearly as dominant as their undefeated record suggests for most of the season and have struggled to win games convincingly over lesser teams.
I predict that Griffin improves to 2-0 as a spot starter for the Ravens with both wins coming over Pittsburgh. While the vast majority of the Ravens’ defensive linemen and outside linebackers are out for this game, their still top-flight secondary remains intact and I believe that they will be able to keep the Steelers’ loaded wide receiver core in check and keep the game close.
Final outcome: Ravens beat Steelers 23-20