Steelers Week in Baltimore is always a big deal, but this time around both teams will be playing without their best defenders.
Ryan Shazier, the great Steelers linebacker, is out indefinitely and maybe forever after suffering a spinal cord contusion in Cincinnati last Monday night on what looked like a routine football tackling play. The Ravens in fact said a group prayer for Shazier’s recovery in a team meeting this week.
Equally a competitive loss is the absence of the Ravens’ best cornerback, Jimmy Smith, who ruptured an Achilles tendon in the previous game and is done for the year—and probably not ready to return to football for another year.
Who replaces Smith? Looks like rookie Marlon Humphrey. Good luck defending Antonio Brown, Marlon!
“I’m sure if there’s a weak link they have to pick out, it would definitely be me,” Humphrey said. “Ben likes to throw it up, he’s a great quarterback, so I’m sure if he has to take those shots, it will probably be at me.”
In his first extensive action, in Oakland when Smith went to the sideline with a sore Achilles, Humphrey gave up just three catches on six targets for 33 yards while facing receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
Humphrey, the 16th overall pick out of Alabama this year, was gashed for the first time in his young career last week, when Detroit Lions receiver Marvin Jones caught a pair of long passes against him and he surrendered 116 yards overall. But Humphrey rebounded with a clutch fourth-quarter interception.
Humphrey will be lining up opposite veteran Brandon Carr. Carr said Humphrey’s not there yet as far as his technique, and he doesn’t know everything as far as the ins-and-outs of the receivers, but he can make up for a lot of things he hasn’t learned yet with his speed and God-given ability.
Carr also said Humphrey is going to give up some plays, but he likes the rookie’s composure. Carr got a good look at the rookie when he stepped in for Carr for nearly three quarters of the Ravens’ Week 11 win in Green Bay, and during that time on the bench, Carr took some notes.
“He loves competing, loves to play the game, he has fun. His energy is incredible on the field,” Carr said. “Ever since the Green Bay game, when I got a chance to sit back and watch him go out there and play, I just see where I should be to get back to, to have fun playing this game.”
Other cornerbacks such as Maurice Canady could help if Humphrey struggles.
The Steelers beat down the Ravens in Baltimore in the third game of the season. At least this time around at Heinz Field, the Ravens will have their best run-stopper back in action—defensive tackle Brandon Williams—who sat last time because of a foot injury, and the Ravens run defense struggled as a result. Now he’s back, and he’s helped restore Baltimore’s run-stopping reputation in the process.
Le’Veon Bell ran wild on the Ravens — he carried the ball 35 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
“Brandon can definitely penetrate, and it definitely takes more than one guy to block him,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “But one of the big things in the first game was we didn’t do a good job setting the edge and they had some good schemed runs to the outside. So we have to protect that.”
The Steelers come into this one at 10-2 and can clinch the AFC North division title with a win over the Ravens, who at 7-5 are clinging to the 6th seed Wild Card spot. A win for the Ravens in Pittsburgh would go a long way to solidifying their playoff position in the AFC.