The Ravens pride themselves on having a deep roster, with numerous players ready to perform when called upon regardless of the circumstances.
That was displayed in Pittsburgh and it will come in handy during December with the Ravens (6-5) fighting for their playoffs lives.
Baltimore took the field without nine starters, including seven Pro Bowlers, yet gave the Steelers much more than many expected in a 19-14 loss.
Undrafted rookie Trystan Colon-Castillo was solid, playing every snap at center. Luke Willson, who signed with the team Nov. 17, led the tight end group with 37 snaps. Veteran 37-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams, who was signed a week before Willson, played 45 snaps at cornerback and filled in admirably after Jimmy Smith left with a groin injury.
Aaron Crawford, another undrafted rookie, played 21 snaps in the defensive line rotation with Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Justin Madubuike and Jihad Ward all unavailable. Undrafted outside linebackers Chauncey Rivers (15 snaps) and Aaron Adeoeye (eight) also made their NFL debut.
New players also made their mark on special teams. Cornerback Davontae Harris, who was claimed off waivers Nov. 18, caused a fumble with a perfectly-timed hit on punt coverage that was recovered by Anthony Levine Sr. Harris played 17 snaps on defense and 11 on special teams. He also broke up a potential touchdown pass late in the game.
Did you notice that Nick Moore replaced Morgan Cox as the long snapper, the first time Cox had not played in 93 games? You would have definitely noticed if Moore had made a huge mistake. Instead, he handled the pressure and enjoyed a smooth night.
If the 2020 season has taught us anything, it's that you never know from week to week how circumstances may change. The Ravens lost the game, but seeing so many solid performances from players up and down their roster only enhanced their confidence they will start winning again, especially as more starters return.
"There's a lot of fight in this team," guard Bradley Bozeman said. "This team is full of fighters. They came in, they came into the fight, they were ready to roll. We're going to get a lot of guys healthy back. We're going to just build from here. This is just the beginning. So, we're ready to work."
Whether Colon-Castillo's performance at center leads to a larger role for him remains to be seen. Both players who had started previously at center this season, Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura, were on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and unavailable against the Steelers. Colon-Castillo took advantage of an opportunity he didn't expect and held his own against one of the NFL's most talented defensive fronts. His lead block on Gus Edwards' 1-yard touchdown plunge was the key to the play. It has not taken long for Colon-Castillo to buy into Baltimore's culture.
"Everybody was involved and in tune with the game," Colon-Castillo said. "Nobody was checking out, nobody was quitting, and I think that's a testament to the organization. Obviously, you see all over the [team facility], 'Play Like A Raven.' The vets have instilled that into the younger guys, and a lot of younger guys, including myself, got an opportunity today."
Bozeman said Colon-Castillo was in tune with his offensive line mates, making checks and protection changes. Despite limited practice time leading up to the game, Baltimore used its sixth different offensive line combination and it performed cohesively.
"Trystan did an amazing job tonight communicating and making sure we were right on our assignments to make sure we were going to the right spots," Bozeman said. "We kind of roll through centers in practice just for these reasons. And so, we were very prepared with him coming in."
As the Ravens turn their attention to the Dallas Cowboys (3-8) who they host Tuesday night, Head Coach John Harbaugh is encouraged by what he saw collectively from the roster under challenging circumstances in Pittsburgh.
"I thought the guys that came in and played with the very limited time that we had, I thought they did a really good job," Harbaugh said.