Schefter: Status of Ravens-Steelers Game Is 'Teetering'
The Ravens and Steelers are still set to kick off tomorrow night, but could the game be in jeopardy?
After placing running backs Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was also placed on the list on Tuesday.
COVID has presented a challenge on and off the field, and cases are spiking around the country.
While in question, the league has not made any changes to the status of Thursday's game, but that could change if there are more positive tests.
"Obviously the game is teetering a little bit because if there are more positive tests out of Baltimore, I'm told that there would be the chance that this game could be postponed," ESPN's Adam Schefter said. "Right now, the league says the game is in place, not going to change. … But let's keep in mind here, if there are more positive tests, the league is going to have a difficult decision here to make."
"The NFL has not rescheduled a game since Week 7, when it preemptively moved the Las Vegas Raiders-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game out of the Sunday night time slot Oct. 25," The Washington Post's Mark Maske wrote. "Before that, there had been no rescheduling of games since Week 5. The NFL has not canceled any games this season."
There's a lot to assess here, including major playoff implications for both teams. The Steelers (10-0) could clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Ravens (6-4), and if the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins lose. A loss would mathematically eliminate the Ravens from the AFC North title race.
What if the game has to be moved? Maske said the league could aim for it to be played on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. Problems arise if the game has to be rescheduled beyond Week 12.
"The Ravens and Steelers have had their bye weeks, so the NFL could not move the game to later in the season without adding an 18th week," Maske wrote. "League leaders have said they would add a Week 18 to the season if all games cannot be played within the standard 17-week framework. The Ravens also are scheduled to play a Thursday game next week, Dec. 3 against the Dallas Cowboys. That game could also be affected if this week's game is pushed back."
Time for Jackson to Elevate the Ravens
As tight end Mark Andrews said, the Ravens have their backs against the wall. Baltimore has lost three of its last four games and two straight. The Ravens are currently on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
Just about everything that could go wrong seems to be going wrong heading into a Thursday night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but one constant remains the reigning MVP.
In the face of adversity, ESPN's Dan Orlovsky said Lamar Jackson needs to "elevate" the Ravens.
"Last year, this was the most fun, explosive, energetic, just confusing offense in the NFL," Orlovsky said. "They've got no identity right now. Jackson last year got to operate in an environment of utopia. … This is when you have to prove to everybody that you are the dude, that you are that franchise quarterback that can elevate everybody else when things aren't perfect."
The Ringer's Nora Princiotti took a look at the Ravens' struggles this season and found that defenses have adapted to one of the league's best offenses from a year ago.
"Pro Football Focus's Mike Renner expertly analyzed how defenses have gone after Jackson and the Ravens this season and found that teams play more nickel and dime packages against Baltimore and use more man coverage," Princiotti wrote. "So far this season, the Ravens offense has seen six or more defensive backs on 102 snaps compared to 76 snaps in all of last season. Those defensive packages help take away the Ravens' speed to the edges – important because of how often they use motion – and means teams can use a defender to spy Jackson while playing man-to-man to force him into tight-window throws."
The Ravens are averaging just 183.4 passing yards per game this season, second-worst in the NFL only ahead of the New York Jets. However, the passing attack as a whole has struggled. The lack of big passing plays outside of Mark Andrews has been a concern.
This is setting up to be the kind of game Jackson can take over with top running backs in Ingram and Dobbins on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Baltimore's playoff hopes are on the line and No. 8 can change that.
"Jackson also must find a way to rekindle the aggression that terrorized defenses a year ago," USA Today's Mike Jones wrote. "In 2019, he attacked with the clear intention of carrying his team on his back.
"But that killer instinct has been lacking this year, both for Jackson and Baltimore as a whole."
Power Rankings: Ravens Stumble After Back-to-Back Losses
Dating back to last season, the Ravens were regarded as one of the NFL's best teams, and that's been reflected in the power rankings. But after back-to-back losses, that's now in question.
Baltimore fell out of the top 10 in five of the six publications we looked at this week.
The Ravens' biggest drop was six spots from in NFL.com, USA Today, ESPN, and CBS Sports' rankings. Bleacher Report wasn't far behind, dropping Baltimore five spots in their rankings this week.
"These aren't the same Ravens as last season," BR's Brent Sobleski wrote. "They have issues along their offensive line, the system isn't clicking in the same manner and Jackson hasn't developed as expected. Baltimore remains in the thick of the playoff hunt, but that's a far cry from being the NFL's best regular-season squad, as it was a year ago."
NFL.com's Dan Hanzus is questioning where the Ravens rank in the pecking order among the AFC's best.
"The Ravens had another chance to entrench themselves as an AFC power player in Week 11, but instead came away looking like a pretender," Hanzus wrote. "On Sunday, they suffered the indignity of watching the Titans -- the same team that ruined their fairytale season in 2019 -- celebrate a walk-off 29-yard scoring run by Derrick Henry in overtime. Baltimore outplayed Tennessee for much of the game, but a touchdown by A.J. Brown late in the fourth quarter -- on a third-down play in which Brown ran through four would-be Ravens tacklers on his way to the end zone – said a lot about the current state of Ravens football."
Sports Illustrated was the only publication we looked at that didn't drop the Ravens far in their power rankings. They fell just one spot from No. 6 to No. 7, and SI's Gary Gramling believes the Ravens aren't far from clicking on both sides of the ball.
Pair that with a favorable schedule after Thursday night and that continues to be a source of optimism for their playoff hopes.
"[T]he defense is elite when it's at full strength," Gramling wrote. "And while the offense won't reach last year's levels, it has answers and it really isn't that far away from clicking (especially if the red-zone performance normalizes). But, best of all for the Ravens, even if they fall to 6–5 they still have a relatively easy path to 11–5 (home against Cowboys, Jaguars and Giants, road against Joe Burrow-less Bengals and a Browns team that they've blown out in two straight)."
|Source||Ranking||Last Week's Ranking||Comments|
|ESPN||No. 11||No. 5||N/A|
|NFL.com||No. 12||No. 6||“The book is out on the Ravens. They are a very good -- sometimes great -- team that doesn't know how to dig itself out of a hole. This is not a trait usually attached to a champion.”|
|Bleacher Report||No. 12||No. 7||“The Ravens have now lost more games in 2020 than they did all of last season. … And with the 6-3 Titans, 9-0 Steelers and 6-3 Browns all on the schedule over the next month, missing the postseason altogether is well within the realm of possibility if the Ravens don't get going offensively.”|
|USA Today||No. 12||No. 6||“Season-ending injury to Nick Boyle is [the] latest blow to offense that also sorely misses Ronnie Stanley and retired Marshal Yanda.”|
|Sports Illustrated||No. 7||No. 6||“Maybe I shouldn’t give them a mulligan for playing in a driving rainstorm without Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell in the lineup. But I’m gonna give them a mulligan.”|
|CBS Sports||No. 12||No. 6||“If they don't get the passing game cranked up, they will have issues come playoff time. They can't just be a running team. The defense has to pick it up as well."|
Ravens Ranked Among the Best Young Cores to Build Around
While the Ravens have their sights set on winning this season, the future is bright in Baltimore.
Bleacher Report's Chris Roling ranked the top 10 young cores to build around entering 2021. The Ravens came in at No. 4 with a plethora of young talent to work with.
"Baltimore used a first-round pick on Patrick Queen, 21, and the linebacker leads the team with 70 tackles," Roling wrote. "Second-round running back J.K. Dobbins, 21, leads all non-Lamar Jackson rushers with 380 yards and has three scores on 5.3 yards per carry.
"And then there's Jackson, last year's unanimous MVP. He's just 23 years old and back at it again. This time, he has completed 63.4 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns against six interceptions—and has 575 yards and three scores as a runner. Elite tackles Orlando Brown Jr., 24, and Ronnie Stanley, 26, anchor the line in front of him."
Roling emphasized that Jackson is the centerpiece, but the list doesn't stop there. He also included tight end Mark Andrews, wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Since taking over as general manager, General Manager Eric DeCosta has made it a priority to retain the team's young talent, and he's done just that.