When the Steelers have the ball Sunday, expect Ravens wide receiver John "Smokey" Brown to pay attention.
Brown is an admirer of Antonio Brown, the Steelers' star who many consider to be the game's best wide receiver. Their personalities are different, but they play the same position and play it well. Antonio Brown leads all NFL receivers in touchdowns with eight, while John Brown averages 18.9 yards per catch, third best among receivers with at least 20 receptions.
Watching Antonio Brown work has helped John Brown expand his repertoire.
"The dude is a hell of a player, been making plays for so many years," John Brown said. "Since I got in the league, I've been watching a lot of film on him, try to copy his game a little bit. He's a great route-runner, great hands. He'll have three dudes on him and he'll make those catches that tight ends make. He plays big. I just try to take after that. It's all about the heart. Play big no matter your size."
Acquired as a free agent during the offseason, "Smokey" Brown had a wonderful first taste of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry in Week 4. With 116 yards receiving, Brown helped the Ravens to a 26-14 victory in Pittsburgh that exemplified his big-play ability. Brown's 71-yard reception from Joe Flacco was Baltimore's longest play from scrimmage.
Now John Brown must show what Antonio Brown has done for years, and beat double coverage. Brown expects the Steelers secondary to roll coverage in his direction, hoping to prevent him from going off again. Other Ravens opponents have done that to Brown, who has been held to a season-low 28 yards receiving in two of the last three games with a 134-yard performance against the Saints sandwiched in between.
If the Steelers are determined to stop Brown from making plays downfield, he is confident the Ravens have enough weapons to adjust. Regardless of his stats, Brown's main objective is to win.
"We know what kind of football team we are," Brown said. "I expect them to focus up on me, but it also opens it up for tight ends, receivers, and running backs. If that's what they want to do, it's fine with me."
You Can Ask Jimmy Smith About His Achilles, But He Won't Answer
In his four games since returning from an NFL suspension, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith has not played up to the standard he has come to expect. Starting the season late was one challenge, while returning from offseason Achilles surgery was another. Asked if he was fine or still rehabbing his Achilles, Smith would not bite.
"Can I answer that after the end of the season?" Smith said.
Smith knows there's no time to rest. Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh) has missed the last two games, and the secondary needs all able bodies to deal with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing to dangerous playmakers like Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Smith said the defense watched itself on tape after being picked apart during their 36-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. It wasn't an easy film session, but Smith found it useful.
"Obviously, we went in that room, and nobody felt any type of harsh criticism, but we all took it how we're supposed to," Smith said. "The coaches told us what we need to do better, and they said what they have to do better. I think we all agree that we can still be the same defense we dream about being."
With Just Four Wins After Eight Weeks, Ravens Face Slim Margin for Error
After missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker last season, the Ravens hoped to leave nothing to chance this season. But through eight games, the Ravens are 4-4, likely needing a streak of three wins or more at some point to guarantee themselves a playoff spot.
"You have eight games left, 4-4, is not where you want to be, obviously," Smith said. "Doesn't mean your season is over, it just means that every game now is so much more critical. You can't go on slumps. You can't go on two-game losing skids now, because you don't want to leave it up to chances of somebody being 9-7. You know how that stuff goes."
Flacco said the Ravens should simply focus on winning, not where they stand in the playoff picture. If they keep winning and get to 10 or 11 wins, a playoff appearance will take care of itself.
"I really try to avoid the big-picture stuff, man," Flacco said. "It's very tough to play in this league when you're constantly thinking about the outcome of so many different things. Our job is to go play football. … When you worry about the outcome of things before it has actually happened, that's when you start making mistakes; that's when you start playing tentative."
Terrell Suggs Says a Last-Minute Return by Le'Veon Bell Would Not Be Surprising
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell has been a contract holdout all season and had not reported as of Wednesday. That made him very unlikely to play against the Ravens on Sunday, but linebacker Terrell Suggs would not take Bell's absence for granted.
"In this day and age, in this world, I wouldn't be surprised at anything," Suggs said. "He could report Saturday, show up to the hotel and now we have a whole different slew of problems."
Ravens safety Eric Weddle dismissed the idea of Bell playing, but his replacement has been on a tear. Steelers running back James Conner has rushed for more than 100 yards the past three games, all Pittsburgh victories. Focusing on stopping Conner gave Weddle plenty to think about without stressing over when Bell would return.
"It doesn't matter either way," Weddle said. "Conner is doing an unbelievable job. The guy had 220-plus yards last week. So, they're playing outstanding on offense. He's not going to come back now. We're playing on Sunday. It's not our problem, it's there's and what they're doing."
One player Suggs definitely expects to see is Roethlisberger. Suggs scoffed at the notion of Roethlisberger's broken finger being an issue.
"I hope he gets it better," Suggs said. "Get that looked at – help him with his workman's comp at the end when he's done."
Albert McClellan Could Return to Roster in Near Future
Veteran linebacker and special teams ace Albert McClellan could return to the roster soon, according to Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh.
McClellan was released Tuesday to make room for running back Ty Montgomery, who was acquired in a Tuesday trade with the Green Bay Packers. The Ravens would have to make another roster move to create room for McClellan.
"I'm hoping to get Albert back here in a day or two, to be honest with you, so we'll see how that goes," Harbaugh said.