J.K. Dobbins, Mark Ingram II Reportedly Eligible to Play Against Steelers
After numerous starters among the 22 players have either tested positive or been identified as a high-risk contact, the Ravens finally might have some encouraging news.
With the Ravens-Steelers game being postponed until tomorrow at 3:40 p.m. (the third time the game originally scheduled to be played Thanksgiving night has been moved), running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II reportedly are eligible to play because their mandatory 10-day isolation period will be over.
The Ravens will still be without a host of key players on both sides of the ball, but the return of Dobbins and Ingram would be a major boost for an offense that will be missing reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson, tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle, wide receiver Willie Snead IV, fullback Patrick Ricard, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, centers Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura and others.
With Gus Edwards already active for the game, the Ravens would have their full stable of running backs available to face the Steelers' vaunted defense. Baltimore rushed for a season-high 265 yards against the Steelers in Week 8, with Dobbins (113 yards on 15 carries) leading the way.
Dobbins leads the Ravens' running backs in rushing this season with 380 yards. His three rushing touchdowns are tied for the team lead.
"Although this Ravens team clearly won't be 100% by the time we get to this thrice rescheduled game, having Dobbins and Ingram in the backfield to help out starter Robert Griffin III shouldn't be overlooked," CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan wrote. "Dobbins has specifically started to take off over the last month. In his previous four games, he's averaging 4.81 yards per carry and totaled 226 yards and a touchdown. He's also hauled in six of his eight targets over that stretch for an additional 29 yards."
Meanwhile, the Ravens announced yesterday that four players returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list: outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, guard D.J. Fluker, defensive tackle Broderick Washington and defensive back Iman Marshall.
The returns of Ferguson, Fluker and Washington are key considering the Ravens are thin in the trenches. Outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee and defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike are on the Reserve-COVID-19 list. Marshall is rehabbing from a season-ending injury so he's not able to play despite coming off the list.
Rookie guard Tyre Phillips was moved to the active 53-man roster yesterday. He had been designated from IR (shoulder) when he rejoined practice early last week and now he's officially able to play in a game.
Some Pittsburgh Media: Ravens Are 'Getting Away With' Something By Game Being Delayed
The Ravens will have Griffin under center when they play Pittsburgh. That's obviously a much better situation at the game's most important position than the Denver Broncos had Sunday.
The Broncos played the New Orleans Saints with converted practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton as their starting quarterback. They did so because all four of their quarterbacks were ineligible due to COVID-19 protocols (backup QB Jeff Driskel tested positive for the virus, and Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were deemed high-risk close contracts after not wearing masks).
The results were predictably disastrous for the Broncos, as Hinton completed 1 of 9 passes for 13 yards and two interceptions in a 31-3 loss. Denver reportedly asked the league to postpone the game until Monday, when multiple Broncos quarterbacks would have been eligible to play, but its request was denied.
So why has the NFL postponed the Ravens-Steelers game three times but wouldn't move the Broncos-Saints game back one day? It's a question being raised not only in Denver, but also in Pittsburgh.
There is a feeling among Steelers fans and some Pittsburgh media that if the Broncos had to play without a non-quarterback at the position — the first team to do so since 1965, according to Elias Sports Bureau — the Ravens should've played with their severely depleted roster instead of having the game repeatedly postponed.
There's a major difference in two situations. There was an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak on the Ravens, but not on the Broncos.
"It's all about identification, isolation, and then containment of the virus. As long as the NFL feels like it has identified, isolated and contained the virus, it believes it can play the games," ESPN's Adam Schefter said during "Monday Night Countdown." "If it can't identify, if it can't isolate, and it can't contain — as was the case in Baltimore — they're going to continue to postpone the game. That's why the Broncos-Saints game on Sunday was played. Because the league believed the virus was identified, isolated and contained in Denver, whereas it wasn't in Baltimore. And that's why that game keeps shifting."
The league's decisions regarding the two games are consistent with what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said before the start of the season about "competitive inequities" being a "reality of 2020."
"In other words, it was going to be hard enough to play a full 256 games this season. Ensuring competitive balance at all times, the league believed, would make it impossible," ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote. "If that means the Saints got a gimme win over the Broncos as they pursue the NFC's No. 1 overall playoff seed, then so be it."
Regardless of the facts, some in Pittsburgh are under the impression that the Ravens are "getting away with" something by having the game delayed.
More on How Tomorrow's Game Was Delayed And Is Being Played in the Afternoon
So how did we get to this point of a third postponement?
According to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, Ravens players had an "occasionally tense" video call Sunday afternoon with Dr. Allen Sills, in which several players "expressed frustration to the NFL's chief medical officer about how the league was handling the team's COVID-19 outbreak, according to multiple people who were on the call. Tight end Mark Andrews, who learned Saturday that he was headed to the reserve/COVID-19 list, and defensive lineman Derek Wolfe were particularly vocal."
Zrebiec reported that players voiced their concern over changing protocols and the lack of gameday testing after multiple players and support staff reportedly tested positive the morning of the Titans game, but the results weren't known until later that night. Ravens players also apparently spoke to NFLPA representatives about "fear of the injuries that could result from going from an extended period of limited physical activity to playing in a game." The NFL, however, said playing a game in Week 18 was "not a viable plan" and if players refused to play, a forfeit would mean players on both sides wouldn't be paid.
"Ultimately, a compromise was reached," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens and Steelers, the league announced early Monday evening, would play Wednesday, six days after the game was originally scheduled to kick off. The one-day delay from Tuesday would allow the Ravens to get at least two workouts/practices in before heading to Pittsburgh and give the team and the league more confidence that the COVID-19 outbreak in the building had been contained."
As was noted by Schefter yesterday, the reason tomorrow's Ravens-Steelers game has been scheduled for 3:40 p.m. instead of being played at night is because NBC has a live two-hour event scheduled for tomorrow night — the "88th Annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center" — that has been heavily promoted.
If the NFL had pushed the issue with NBC, the network would've moved the tree lighting ceremony to one of its cable channels or carried a taped version the next day, according to Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand.
"The NFL brings higher ratings than anything else on TV, and faced with an either/or choice, NBC would have picked an NFL game featuring, arguably, the league's best rivalry in the last decade over a tree lighting ceremony that drew 6.9 million viewers last year," Ourand wrote. "The league did not put NBC in a position where it had to make that choice.
"Media sources said that the league has recognized the amount that it has asked broadcasters to be flexible for during the 2020 season, which has included dueling Monday night games and a Tuesday night game. Usually known for playing hardball — even with its partners — the NFL decided against pressing the issue."
Marlon Humphrey Jokingly Suggests Ravens, Steelers Play Game Virtually
Before the Steelers game was postponed until tomorrow, cornerback Marlon Humphrey jokingly suggested on Twitter that the game be played virtually tonight.
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster seconded the idea, proposing the teams' two best "Madden" players square off.
The Ravens would have the advantage in that one. Marquise "Hollywood" Brown won the ESPN Celebrity Madden NFL 20 Tournament championship in February.
Ravens Select Offensive Guard in The Athletic's Mock Draft
The Ravens' recent skid has moved them down in the standings but up in the draft order. As of today, the Ravens would have the 18th-overall pick.
The Athletic's Dane Brugler released his first 2021 mock draft, and he has the Ravens selecting USC offensive guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.
"The Ravens could use a boost at wide receiver, edge rusher and a few other positions, but the offensive line needs help, too," Brugler wrote. "Vera-Tucker is an alert, agile mover with physical hands and the position versatility that will boost his draft grade."
Vera-Tucker, a junior, hasn't declared for the draft yet. He was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2019.
As noted in Late for Work last week, the offseason retirement of guard Marshal Yanda has played a major role in the offense's dip in production, so it's logical to project the team selecting a guard early in the draft.