When you talk Ravens vs. Steelers, defense is usually a main topic of conversation.
Pittsburgh enters Sunday game in Baltimore giving up the fewest yards per game in the NFL, while the Ravens are allowing the fewest points.
Ravens outside linebacker Pernell McPhee has been in plenty of Ravens-Steelers battles, and he believes both defensive units will try to state their case for being the best.
"Of course, that's always a battle," McPhee said. "They are the No. 1 defense and that's where we want to be. They're coming in our hometown and they're the No. 1 defense – why not outplay them and try to move towards our goals of being the No. 1 defense?"
This will be defensive end Calais Campbell's first game against the Steelers wearing a Ravens uniform. Campbell played on some strong defenses with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he knows the Ravens-Steelers rivalry has a storied history, and he's eager to be a part of it. He also thinks both defenses are out to prove a point.
"Every time we touch the field, we have a standard," Campbell said. "When we're out there playing defense, we want to be the best. Honestly, we watch what they do, and we know that they're great. Their defense is special. They have playmakers all over the field – guys who show up. We're cut from the same cloth. They're definitely a worthy opponent on both sides of the ball. We look at that and say, 'OK.' We smile and say, 'Alright.' We're going to be competing against their defense, too. At the end of the year, we'll figure out who the best defense is, but they're definitely a worthy opponent."
Both defenses are opportunistic. The Ravens have forced at least one turnover in 19 consecutive games, while the Steelers lead the NFL in sacks (26). In a game that is expected to be close, it would not surprise Ravens veteran defensive back Jimmy Smith if a late defensive play decided the outcome.
"This game has always come down to defense," Smith said. "You know who they have over there at quarterback and what they do on offense. But this is one of those physical, heavyweight fights that usually comes down to the defense that plays better."
Dez Bryant's Progress Will Determine His Role
The Ravens' decision to sign Dez Bryant to the practice squad made headlines because of what the former Pro Bowl wide receiver has accomplished. However, his role with the Ravens will be determined by what he shows in Baltimore, not what he has done in the past.
"He's going to play on the practice squad right now and we'll see how it progresses from there," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It's very simple. We'll just see where he's at. He hasn't played for how many years? There's a lot to learn. He looked good in the workout. I don't think you need to make too much more out of it than that. He's on our practice squad roster, which means he's available to us. When and if he's ready to go, he'll be out there."
The 31-year-old Bryant has not played in an NFL game since 2017. But Smith remembers how difficult Bryant was to cover during his prime.
"A healthy Dez is an X-factor," Smith said. "I've been playing against him since college. You know what he's capable of. Big body. When he's covered he still catches the ball. Kind of like when we had Anquan Boldin back in the day. Just makes those great contested catches, and just has that dog attitude that you want on your offense."
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson likes the Ravens giving Bryant a chance to prove himself.
"It's tremendous," Jackson said. "We've just go to see what he's capable of. I see him on IG a lot doing his thing, running, getting after it. Those guys did a great job upstairs bringing him in. We just got to see if he's ready, see what he's capable of and go from there."
Lamar Jackson Tossed to His Targets During Bye
Putting in extra work has never been a problem for Jackson. With players remaining in town during last week's bye, Jackson took the opportunity to do some extra throwing to receivers at the Under Armour Performance Center.
"My guys and I, some of the receivers and I, got together with some of the quarterbacks as well and we threw, just to get our chemistry down pat," Jackson said.
Jackson feels confident that Baltimore's best offensive football this season lies ahead.
"The second half is here," Jackson said. "We're just going to see coming off the bye week. We had great preparation, so we're going to see."
Big Ben's Quick Trigger Makes Him Even Tougher
According to Next Gen Stats, Ben Roethlisberger is releasing the football an average of 2.29 seconds after taking the snap this year on passing plays.
That's the fastest time among NFL quarterbacks, making it difficult for pass rushers to get to Roethlisberger before it's too late.
"When you look at the analytics on it, it's a fact. The ball's coming out quicker than ever," Harbaugh said. "The offense has always been built that way. They've always had the ability to do that. I think the receivers are doing a great job of getting open quickly. The coaches on offense are doing a great job of organizing the offense around the players that they have. He does a really good job of finding the open receiver, in terms of what coverage you're playing and what route you're running."
The Ravens are hoping the addition of Yannick Ngakoue will help change the calculus in their favor, and Baltimore could have a good chance at some batted balls, especially with Campbell's size.
Getting the ball out fast has helped Roethlisberger avoid big hits and he has remained healthy all season. However, Roethlisberger remains one of the league's strongest quarterbacks and can still extend plays when necessary. Smith said Baltimore still must be wary of Roethlisberger's strength, and his ability to make something out of nothing.
"He gets the ball out a tad faster, but he's still 'Big Ben,''' Smith said. "He still can take hits. He still can push defenders off of him. I think he still has the arm. I still think he has the power to stand in the pocket and brush guys off and make big plays down the field. It's going to be very exciting going against him Sunday. He still can have four or five dudes try to tackle him, shake it off and throw the ball 60 yards downfield."