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8 things to watch, including Tyler Huntley, George Pickens and more – The Denver Post

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The Ravens know what happened against the Steelers last year. And they know what happened against the Steelers the year before.

“Yes, we know. We know,” tight end Mark Andrews said Wednesday. “We are delighted with the match.”

The Ravens (8-4) prefer not to talk about their four-game losing streak against Pittsburgh (5-7), which hosts them Sunday at Acrisure Stadium. Injuries and illnesses have derailed the Ravens against rival AFC North recently, particularly at quarterback. After injuring his knee on Sunday against the Denver Broncos, star Lamar Jackson is not expected to play this weekend, the third straight year he has missed a start against Pittsburgh.

Even with the Ravens focused on a playoff push, cornerback Marlon Humphrey admitted Thursday that “it feels really good to win on their home turf. All eyes are on this. Here’s what to watch in the teams’ Week 14 game.

Offense

1. If backup quarterback Tyler Huntley does get the go-ahead Sunday on ailing Jackson, he’ll be better prepared this time around — not just mentally, but nutritionally as well.

Huntley said Friday he had a “mild case of the flu” ahead of Sunday’s game against Denver. He was sweating on the way to M&T Bank Stadium, and he hadn’t eaten anything by the time Jackson left the game in the first quarter. When Ravens director of sports nutrition Sarah Snyder offered him a hot dog at halftime, he only took one bite. “My appetite was gone,” he said. Huntley didn’t eat until after the game and he said he got 12 hours of sleep on Sunday night.

After taking medication and replenishing some lost fluids, however, he feels he is back to 100%. “I’m fine now,” he said.

Although injuries and illness kept Jackson from fighting the Steelers on a regular basis, they also gave Huntley an unexpected familiarity with the Pittsburgh defense. Sunday’s game will likely mark the first time he’s started against a team for the second time.

“He’s a great opponent in the NFL,” Huntley said, “so I’m just preparing for whoever has to defend us.”

2. Huntley doesn’t have Jackson’s improvisational skills, but his scrambling ability could change the way Pittsburgh approaches their game against the Ravens’ passing game.

When they met in Baltimore last year, Huntley struggled through the air, held for 141 yards — his least as a starter — on 16 for 31 passes — his worst accuracy as a starter — in the overtime loss. He faced zone coverage on 30 of his 42 throwbacks, according to TruMedia, going 11-for-19 for 109 yards and two interceptions while taking two sacks. But he also scrambled eight times for 72 yards against area looks.

Against men’s coverage, Huntley was only marginally more effective: 4 for 9 for 72 yards on 10 returns. But his lone scramble was 31 yards, a reminder of the risks of man-to-man coverage against athletic quarterbacks.

How will Pittsburgh line up on Sunday? The Steelers, like all other defenses in the NFL, rely primarily on zonal coverage. But they have one of the highest man-to-man coverage rates in the league (33.6%, sixth overall), with almost half of their third games relying on the appearance of a man. , according to TruMedia.

With the Ravens’ limited options, Huntley could see a lot more men’s coverage on Sunday. His effectiveness could depend as much on his wide receivers’ ability to split up as it does on the offensive line’s pass protection. During his career, Huntley went 36 for 51 (70.%) for 398 yards and a touchdown against man-to-man coverage (passer rating of 100.0). But he was sacked on 12.1% of his dropouts, one of the highest rates in the NFL in those scenarios.

3. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s expected return to the lineup on Sunday puts him on a collision course with the team he first suffered an ankle injury against. Stanley, who was not listed on the injury report on Friday, was ejected from the field in a 2020 Ravens home loss after Steelers outside linebacker TJ Watt rolled on the back of his leg. He has had at least three ankle surgeries since, including two at the end of the season.

It’s unclear whether Stanley will see Watt again on Sunday – a rib injury has limited the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year to practice this week – but his most immediate concern will be star Alex Highsmith. The third-year outside linebacker, who lines up primarily at opposing left tackle, has 10 sacks and 15 quarterback hits this season, both team highs.

Still, the Ravens could have the upper hand against Pittsburgh’s pass rush on Sunday. The Steelers rank only 20th in ESPN’s win rate, limited somewhat by Watt’s pectoral and knee injuries early in the season, which sidelined him for two months. Neither Highsmith nor Watt ranked well from shot to shot either: Highsmith is tied for 116th among qualified rushers in pressure ratio, according to Pro Football Focus, while Watt is 60th.

“Their two point guys…they’re both doing a great job on the edge,” coach John Harbaugh said Friday. “It’s typical; they always have excellent frontrunners, they are always very physical first seven. It’s still like that this year. »

Defense

4. Humphrey knew what kind of athlete Steelers wide receiver George Pickens was long before Pittsburgh snapped him up in the second round this year.

“I actually tried to get this guy on the track team every day,” Humphrey said Thursday. During the offseason, Humphrey volunteers as a track coach at his alma mater, Alabama’s Hoover High School, where Pickens played before signing with Georgia. “I’ve seen him put in a ton of work to get to where he is. I was always jealous when I coached the track team and he raced roads. I was like, ‘Track would help with the football.’ Obviously, he didn’t need that to get where he is.

Pickens, moved up seven spots after the Ravens selected outside linebacker David Ojabo, has 37 catches for 512 yards and two touchdowns this season. But his production has slowed lately, with just five catches on 12 targets for 65 yards in the past three games. Pickens made headlines after cameras caught him talking about his lack of goals in Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons.

He could be a centerpiece in an up-and-down Steelers passing game on Sunday. Pittsburgh, which has the No. 19 passing offense since first-round pick Kenny Pickett took over in Week 5, according to Football Outsiders efficiency metrics, traded wide receiver Chase Claypool the month last. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson (61 catches for 565 yards), meanwhile, is questionable after a hip injury limited him in practice all week.

5. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have generally made life hell for first-year players like Pickett.

Since 2008, according to TruMedia, rookie quarterbacks are 6-19 against the Ravens and have combined to complete just 53.5% of their passes, throw for 20 touchdowns and 31 interceptions, and take 71 sacks. Their passer rating over these 25 games: 66.5.

Pickett has struggled with interceptions and fumbles in his first five starts for Pittsburgh, but has largely stayed out of trouble since Week 10. In the past four games, in which the Steelers went 3-1, Pickett completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 835 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (85.9 passer rating). He also added 23 carries for 111 yards and caught 11 sacks.

“He’s growing, and that’s a reasonable expectation,” coach Mike Tomlin said after Sunday’s road win over Atlanta. “He’s a smart guy. He has talent. He works there. He gains experience with every game and every day. So I think it’s a reasonable discussion to recognize that he will improve on fundamental things, taking care of the ball, managing us, communicating, having an opinion or a suggestion. It is only growing in all areas.

6. The Steelers have rushed for at least 100 yards in five straight games, led by a resurgent Najee Harris. The 2021 first-round pick has 75 carries for 342 yards (4.6 per carry) and three touchdowns since Week 8, after opening the season with 100 carries for 329 yards (3.3 per carry) and one touchdown at during its first seven games.

According to Football Outsiders, Pittsburgh has had the sixth most efficient running offense in the NFL since Week 8. His next challenge: dent a Ravens running defense that’s No. 1 in efficiency since the addition of inside linebacker Roquan. Smith and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser in Week 9.

Bonus Points

seven. Kicker Justin Tucker, who is two points shy of breaking kicker Matt Stover’s franchise scoring record (1,464 points) and four field goals from breaking Stover’s franchise career high (354), won’t missed just one field goal during his Pittsburgh career. It dates back to his rookie year.

Steelers kicker Chris Boswell, meanwhile, returned to practice on Thursday, giving him a chance to return on Sunday. He made 12 of 16 field goal attempts to start the year but was placed on the injured reserve with a groin injury last month.

8. Sunday’s game is the 32nd meeting, including the playoffs, between Harbaugh and Tomlin. The only head coaches in NFL history with more head-to-head matchups are Curly Lambeau and George Halas, who have met 49 times.

“Lots of respect for Mike obviously, lots of respect for the Steelers, the Rooney family – really, everything,” Harbaugh, who is 14-17 against Pittsburgh, said Friday. “Being a part of this is definitely a privilege. It’s definitely something that makes a lot of sense. It’s not on our minds at all right now, but it’s in the back of our minds, I guess you say.

Week 14

Ravens at Steelers

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9FM, 101.5FM, 1090AM

Line: Steelers by 1 1/2

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