Three scheduling changes and six days later, the game is on.
Tucked away in the middle of the week, ahead of a Christmas celebration and concluding the longest week one could imagine, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers will resume their seasons and their rivalry.
Robert Griffin III and the Ravens (6-4) will take on Ben Roethlisberger and the host Steelers (10-0) at 3:40 p.m. ET Wednesday at Heinz Field airing on NBC.
Originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night, the pivotal AFC North tilt has been rescheduled three times as the Ravens have been hit by a coronavirus outbreak. Now, the game’s set for a very rare mid-Wednesday kickoff.
It’s hardly your average game setting, but it’s not historically foreign to the Pittsburgh franchise. In 1933, the Steelers franchise, which was then known as the Pirates, had four Wednesday games and went 2-2. This will actually be the 11th Wednesday game for the Steelers franchise, which trails only Detroit (13 games), per NFL Research.
It’s time for some mid-week football. Here’s three things to watch for:
Can RG3 lead depleted Ravens?
On each side of the ball, the Ravens have been significantly depleted due to COVID-19 with around 21 total players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list since their Week 11 game against the Titans. Though notable names abound that will be unavailable for Baltimore, reigning MVP Lamar Jackson is the biggest. In his place starting under center will be Robert Griffin III. Griffin has played 17 snaps thus far this season with just a couple of pass attempts and one completion. His last start was Week 17 of last season and it was against the Steelers. The 2012 NFL Draft’s No. 2 pick led Baltimore to a 28-10 win and went 11-for-21 for 96 yards, no scores and an interception while rushing for 50. Though there’s likely familiarity with the Steelers’ defensive personnel, it was a game in which the Ravens had already cinched up the AFC’s No. 1 seed and nothing at all like the situation he’ll find himself in Wednesday — though no game before has had the circumstances ahead of this one. As fate would have it, Griffin will make his third consecutive start against the Steelers, dating back to a Week 17 loss in 2016 when he was quarterbacking the Browns. Once a superstar seemingly destined for the best of careers, Griffin’s sure bet of a starry career collided with injury and coaching mismanagement in Washington. He was a shooting star who burned out seasons before dual threats such as Jackson, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen and many more took to the forefront. Against overwhelming odds with a drained roster, this is hardly an ideal situation for Griffin to turn around a Ravens squad that’s lost two in a row and three of four, but it’s of the utmost importance for him and Baltimore that he does. RG3 was once a sublime talent, a one-man thrill ride certain to do ridiculously amazing things on a football field. Perhaps just one more of those games awaits. Any given Wednesday, right?
Steelers defense keying undefeated start
In the reality of today’s NFL, offenses lead the way — by a healthy margin. There are a select few defenses so astounding that they might well lead the way to deep postseason runs. Pittsburgh possesses one such defense. Leading into this very elongated Week 12, the Steelers were tops in the NFL in sacks and takeaways, just as they finished last season. One of the more amazing attributes is much of the success has come to be with 2019 first-round pick Devin Bush out for the season. Even with Bush’s absence, Pittsburgh boasts a first-round-laden bunch — a Steel seven, if you will. Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Terrell Edmunds, Joe Haden, Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu are each former first-rounders starting for this havoc-wreaking contingent. Everyone’s contributing, as Fitzpatrick fills up the stat line (four interceptions, six passes defended, forced fumble, fumble recovery), Dupree is a pass-rushing force (eight sacks) and Watt is writing another DPOY-worthy chapter with 30 quarterback hits and nine sacks. For the first time in one of the NFL’s greatest franchise’s history, Pittsburgh is 10-0 — just the 18th team to do so in the Super Bowl era. And this Steel seven’s contributions are the leading reason.
Big Ben comeback making big difference
With the truly inspiring and unbelievable tale that has been Alex Smith’s return thus far, it’s hard to fathom anyone but the Washington Football Team’s starting quarterback will take home AP Comeback Player of the Year upon the season’s terminus. But Ben Roethlisberger is certainly making his case, nonetheless. Following a lost 2019 campaign in which an elbow injury ended his year in Week 2, the two-time Super Bowl champ is producing at a statistical level in line with his prime seasons. Heading into the game, his 24:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best in the league and the best of Roethlisberger’s career. Through the Steelers’ perfect start, Roethlisberger’s had a touchdown pass in every game and had multiple TD tosses in all but one. In the process, receivers Diontae Johnson and rookie Chase Claypool (who Roethlisberger hit for an eight-yard game-winning score when Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in the teams’ earlier meeting) have become serious producers and JuJu Smith-Schuster is rounding back into past form. Coming back from such a serious injury, Roethlisberger has struggled at times, but with such a stellar defense complimenting him, it’s seldom been an issue. A season ago, the Steelers defense was just about as impressive, but Roethlisberger’s absence saw the offense become a hindrance. That’s hardly the case now as the Steelers boast the No. 4 scoring offense with Roethlisberger most assuredly leading the way.
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