Steelers' Revenge Tour Set to Roll Into Town
Back in Week 4, the Ravens topped the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26-14, at Heinz Field. The loss dropped the Steelers to a 1-2-1 mark and led to many national analysts questioning if they'd be able to recover from such a bad start.
It was probably the lowest moment of the 2018 season thus far for the Steelers, and they certainly haven't forgotten about it.
"We've got a lot of vengeance from that," said Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt, according to TribLive's Joe Rutter.
Rutter believes the Steelers are on a revenge tour of sorts. Their season opened with tie against the Browns, who they beat 33-18 this past week. Now, they've got the Ravens in their crosshairs.
"I guess you could say that," Steelers tight end Vance McDonald said Monday when presented with the revenge tour hypothesis. "I don't look at it that way personally, but it's two big games back-to-back and an opponent that we played once before and didn't have it go the way we wanted it to."
"It definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth," McDonald added.
As Rutter noted, "Much has changed since the first meeting."
The two teams have had a reversed season thus far that weirdly has them in similar positions at the moment. Beating Pittsburgh had the Ravens at 3-1, but after dropping two straight, they're now 4-4. The Steelers started slow, but have now rattled off three straight wins to sit atop the AFC North standings at 4-2-1.
The uneven first halves each team experienced has made this just as important of a game as the two rivals have played, despite it coming in Week 9 rather than later in the season. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes this Sunday against the Steelers, and the following game against the Cincinnati Bengals, will define Baltimore's season.
"[The Ravens] need to win one of the games, if not both, to take realistic playoff aspirations into December," Zrebiec wrote.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ray Fittipaldo also thinks this is a massive game for the Steelers because of their schedule. After this Sunday, the Steelers will have just one division game remaining.
"[The Steelers'] playoff position remains tenuous as they approach midseason," Fittipaldo wrote. "This will be one of their final opportunities to have a direct impact on how the division plays out."
The AFC North is still a wide-open division, but one of the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals could emerge as the favorite over these next few weeks. In addition to playing the Ravens, the Bengals have a bye this week, followed by hosting the New Orleans Saints. After this week, the Steelers face the Panthers, so the two teams the Ravens lost to will now be facing the two other teams in the AFC North race.
In fact, when discussing who the best team is in the AFC North on NFL Network's Gameday Prime, analysts Deion Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shannon Sharpe all took different teams. Sanders picked the Steelers and Tomlinson took the Bengals, while Sharpe went with the Ravens.
"The Baltimore Ravens. That's the most balanced team because they play offense and defense," Sharpe said. "Now how do I figure? Sometimes scratch paper, sometimes on my hands, sometimes calculator, but I still come up that's the best team in the AFC North."
It'll be an exciting three weeks in the AFC North. If the Ravens take care of business in M&T Bank Stadium, starting with slowing the Steelers' revenge tour, they'll be right in the thick of the race for the division title.
C.J. Mosley Contract Discussion
Regardless of how this season plays out, the Ravens have a lot of personnel decisions looming. Key players such as outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and wide receiver John Brown will be free agents. The team could also take a hard look at aging players with high salaries.
One player whose future will also be decided is inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. This is the final year on his rookie contract, so the Ravens will have to decide to either extend Mosley or let him walk.
Mosley and the Ravens have both made it clear that they want to keep the Alabama product in Baltimore. However, during a conversation with Zrebiec, PressBox's Glenn Clark says he's unsure about how much money he'd like to see the Ravens give Mosley to get him to stick around.
The conversation happened because Sunday's game in Carolina was an opportunity to see who the best inside linebacker is in the NFL with Mosley and Carolina Panthers inside linebacker Luke Kuechly on the same field.
Despite leading the Ravens with 11 tackles, Mosley struggled against the Panthers in pass coverage on Sunday. To Russell Street Report's Ken McKusick, "Even with the Ravens thin in the secondary, it's clear the Panthers intended to exploit the middle of the field and test Mosley."
"I think he's a good football player…" Clark said. "When you're talking about trying to reset the inside linebacker market, or get a Luke Kuechly type deal, type of contract, I'm in the exact same boat that you are Jeff, where I just say 'I couldn't possibly do that.'"
Mosley's 53 tackles are most on the Ravens, a total he's reached despite missing essentially two games with a knee injury.
A big part of the discussion between Clark and Zrebiec was Mosley's strengths. For Zrebiec, a concern is that Mosley is excellent in run defense, but that "not a lot of teams are running anymore."
It's harsh to judge a player on one game, and Zrebiec also considered how the defense looked when Mosley was unable to play earlier this season.
"I still think he's a really good player," Zrebiec said. "I've seen when he's out how the defense plays, but I understand the pause in giving a player like that that kind of money."
Though Sunday may not have been Mosley's best game, Zrebiec does believe Mosley was superb two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints, and was one of the main reasons why the Ravens were able to keep the high-octane offense in check for most of the contest. He finished that game with an astonishing 16 tackles, which is representative of the type of player Mosley is when he's on his A-game.
"I don't think you can dismiss that he's been their best defensive player for the last three or four years," Zrebiec said. "That's just how it has been. He makes a lot of plays."
Former Ravens Head Coach and NFL Network analyst Brian Billick agrees with Zrebiec.
"C.J. Mosley is a good linebacker, make no mistake. What that value is, we'll find out…," Billick said. "He's a good solid linebacker. You're glad to have him, and a lot of teams would be glad to have him."
Ravens Need More Players to 'Step Up,' But Joe Flacco Has Been Doing That
To match the Ravens' 4-4 record, Clark laid out four reasons for optimism and four reasons for pessimism surrounding the team.
One of the reasons for pessimism that Clark mentioned was not enough players on the Ravens' roster playing up to their ability. Clark posed the question "How many players on the Ravens' roster have really played beyond the most reasonable expectations we had for them going into the season?"
He mentions wide receiver John Brown, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith and rookie tight end Mark Andrews as those who have, but also notes "The Ravens have to find more players on their roster who are capable of taking a 'next step' as the season goes on."
Clark does counter that with a note of optimism by writing "[The Ravens are] slated to get players back who will help." Indeed, the Ravens have been missing key pieces like cornerback Marlon Humphrey and the offensive lineman trio of Alex Lewis, James Hurst and Bradley Bozeman. There are also candidates that are eligible to return from the Injured Reserve list soon, like running back Kenneth Dixon and cornerback Maurice Canady.
"Not only are these players expected to return in the coming weeks, but the still-to-come bye week should help the team's general health status," Clark wrote. "Even some of the potential contributors on IR could still return."
One player Clark was not critical of was quarterback Joe Flacco. Yes, Flacco didn't play well against the Panthers, but Clark believes the 33-year-old has played well "for the overwhelming majority of the season."
"If the Ravens are going to make the postseason, they'll need him to continue playing at a high level and avoiding terrible decisions like Flacco's two picks against Carolina," Clark wrote.
Chance Warmack Named 'Perfect Trade Target' by Bleacher Report
The NFL trade deadline is today at 4 p.m. It remains to be seen if the Ravens will make any trades, but that hasn't stopped pundits from naming different targets for the team over this past week.
Bleacher Report's Maurice Moton took a stab at it, naming a perfect target for every team in the NFL. For the Ravens, Moton thinks they should look at Philadelphia Eagles guard Chance Warmack.
"The Baltimore Ravens don't have any pressing needs for their starting lineup, but it's not a bad idea to add an insurance policy for the interior of the offensive line after a starter went down with a scary injury," Moton wrote.
After Lewis suffered a pinched nerve against the Titans in Week 6, Hurst went down with a back injury, and Bozeman struggled with a calf injury in Week 7, the Ravens used backup center Hroniss Grasu at guard against the Panthers. He's essentially the team's fourth-string left guard.
Adding Warmack would give the Ravens some more depth at guard. He played in 11 games last year for the Eagles but has only been active in three this year. Warmack would also presumably not cost very much because he's a free agent after this season.
"Before hitting the free-agent market in March, Warmack could transition from being a sideline ornament in Philadelphia to a reinforcement for Baltimore's offensive line," Moton wrote.
- Fantastic book alert: local author Jack Gilden recently released "Collision of Wills," which has been favorably reviewed nationally. The book focuses on the Baltimore Colts from the 1960's, specifically quarterback Johnny Unitas and Head Coach Don Shula. Check out Gilden's website for more information on the book, and you can also purchase it on Amazon.