For 18 years, when the Ravens squared off against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it meant locking horns with Ben Roethlisberger (or his injury replacement).
The Ravens faced Roethlisberger 27 times, with "Big Ben" coming out victorious in 17 – including in last year's regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium, which eliminated the Ravens from playoff contention.
Now it's a new chapter in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, as Baltimore gets set to go against rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett for the first time.
The first-round rookie is preparing for his ninth NFL start. He's 4-4 so far, with a 75.1 quarterback rating. Pickett is averaging just under 200 passing yards per game and has thrown eight interceptions to four touchdowns and been sacked 23 times.
"He's doing well, looks good," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "[He's] a very talented guy, obviously befitting [of] the first-round pick that they took him with this year. That's our challenge along with that whole offense."
Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser said he watched Pickett play at the University of Pittsburgh, in the same stadium where he'll take on the Ravens. Pickett then went on to be the 20th-overall pick in this year's draft, the only quarterback taken in the first round this year.
"He looks great. Definitely a talent," Bowser said. "I watched him when he was at [University of] Pittsburgh, so just to see him now kind of flourish and play his game now, it's good to see. So, I'm looking forward to this week and playing against him. Hopefully, we can hold him to as much as we can, but he's a great player, and we're going to respect him."
The Steelers have weapons around their rookie quarterback, with former first-round running back Najee Harris in the backfield and a talented wide receiver tandem of Diontae Johnson and second-round rookie George Pickens. Tight end Pat Freiermuth leads the Steelers with 597 receiving yards.
"They're trying to get him going in the system, and they have the parts around him to get him going," safety Chuck Clark said. "We just have to go out there and play our game at the end of the day."
The Ravens have a long history of success against rookie quarterbacks. They'll look to welcome Pickett to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry with a loss.
"It's still the Steelers," outside linebacker Justin Houston said. "They just don't have a coach at quarterback on the field."
Ravens Are Very Aware of Recent Series History
Even Ravens players who weren't with the team the past couple of years know that the Steelers have won the past four meetings.
Pittsburgh has pulled away a little bit with a 27-23 overall series lead, plus 3-1 in the postseason.
Twice in series history, Pittsburgh has won five straight games (1997-1999 and 2001-2003). The Ravens don't want to make that a third time.
"It definitely has been brought up, for sure," Clark said. "That's the truth; you can't hide from the truth and what the record has been. We have to go out there and change that."
"Nobody likes to lose, especially to the Steelers, so there's definitely going to be tension there," Bowser added. "But we've just got to take it one day at a time until we get to that moment and go out there and play our best ball and let the chips falls where they may."
Linebacker Patrick Queen says he doesn't even feel like a Raven yet because he has not beaten the Steelers.
"I think that's the true mantra around here is that until you beat the Steelers, you're not a Raven," Queen said. "Everybody knows what this game is. It's the most physical game you're going to play all season and you play it twice. They know what you do, we know what they do."
Expect a Defensive Slugfest in Pittsburgh?
The Steelers have a rookie quarterback and the Ravens will likely have Tyler Huntley under center.
The Ravens-Steelers rivalry has long been known for defense and this could be another iteration. In the last three meetings between the two teams, nobody has topped 20 points.
He's a little biased, but Bowser said he "absolutely" still thinks of Ravens-Steelers as being a defensive slugfest.
"In general, defense wins championships; defense wins games," Bowser said. "I forgot who it was, but one of the sayings was, 'If you can run the ball and your defense can stop the run, you have a high chance of winning the game.' So, I feel like that's just how it's going to be this upcoming Sunday; it's just a straight slugfest on who can control the run game and who can go out there and stop them."
The Ravens' defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in two of the last three games (versus Carolina and Denver) and Baltimore is now No. 9 in the league in points allowed per game (19.7).
"I think any team, at this point of the year, you want your defense to lead the way," Houston said. "If your offense is leading the way, I feel like it's only a matter of time before you take an L at the wrong time."
Jalyn Armour-Davis Is Out for the Rest of the Year
Harbaugh confirmed Wednesday that rookie cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis (hip) will not return this season. Armour-Davis played in four games this season after being a fourth-round pick out of Alabama.
Wide receiver Tylan Wallace (hamstring) could return later this season, however.