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Steelers' wide receivers face their toughest test this year in the Ravens' secondary

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

(Photo by Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

The Steelers have one of the deepest wide receiver groups in the league with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and James Washington. If you play fantasy football, it's hard to decipher who will have a big day for the Steelers among the wide receivers because it's a different player every week that has the hot hand.

On Sunday, the young wide receiving corps will have their toughest test this season when they go up against All-Pro cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. It's without a doubt the best cornerback duo in the league. They also have veteran Jimmy Smith as their No. 3 cornerback, who has 113 career games under his belt. Even without Earl Thomas at free safety, who they released in August due to behavioral issues, they are still solid at the position with Chuck Clark at strong safety and DeShon Elliot at free safety.

"I just really love and respect (him) as a player," Tomlin said on Tuesday about Humphrey during his weekly press conference. "He’s evolved into a real top-notch defender, and I say defender because he’s not just the cover guy. He plays inside and the nickel. He’s a quality blitzer. His ball awareness is on the ceiling. He might be the very best defender in football in terms of getting the ball and dislodging it, disrupting it. He got us in a very big way in the first game last year in overtime that led to their victory in that game."

Tomlin also had high praise for Jimmy Smith and the style of play that the Ravens' cornerbacks bring to the table.

"They are quality players, but I can’t say enough about Jimmy Smith as well who also plays in their sub-package at corner who has been a long-time corner for them in the AFC North," Tomlin said of the Ravens' cornerbacks. "We’ve had experience and competition with them as well. They have a rock-solid group at the cornerback position that allows them to be aggressive. I would imagine that it will be a significant component of play in this football game."

Smith-Schuster is well aware of how talented the Ravens are in the secondary and looks forward to competing against them on Sunday in Baltimore.

"I think they have a great defense," Smith-Schuster said on Wednesday in a Zoom interview with the media. "I think they have great DBs. Going up against them this week is gonna be a good challenge. I'm super excited to see where that goes and takes us."

Smith-Schuster will likely be matched up with Humprhey, who got the best of him last year in Week 5 when he punched the ball out from Smith-Schuster and recovered the fumble. Four plays later Justin Tucker nailed a game-winning 46-yard field goal to give Baltimore a 26-23 win in overtime.

"I think he will be matching up with me inside the slot," Smith-Schuster said when asked if Humphrey will be lined up against him. "I know he's playing nickel, but at the same time, I don't know what they are gonna do if I move outside, if he comes outside, they switch. So, it'll be very interesting to see what they do."

Humphrey is tied for first in the league this year in forced fumbles with four. He has certainly developed a knack for punching the ball out since he arrived in Baltimore in 2017. Smith-Schuster along with the rest of the Steelers' skill players will have to be wary of him when running the ball after a catch or run. While the Ravens' secondary is very talented and highly respected around the league, the Steelers' young wide receivers won't back down from them.

“Just because we are young I am not going to say that we aren’t going to give them competition,” Johnson said. “We aren’t going to back down from anybody.”

The Ravens like to have their cornerbacks press at the line of scrimmage and play man coverage. They have the physical cornerbacks to do so in Humphrey and Peters. Defensive coordinator Don Martindale trusts that his cornerbacks will win their one-on-one matchups, which plays a big part in why the Ravens lead the league in blitz percentage at 47.2%.

“It’s just going to be about who is going to win their matchups out there and who is going to keep each and every snap, and we feel like we are going to do that each and every play,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of weapons on the offensive side and we have shown that we can play with anybody we can go up against, and we are going to keep that same mentality do matter whoever it is in front of us.”

The Steelers-Ravens rivalry is the best in the NFL and Smith-Schuster always looks forward to going up against their biggest foe in the entire league.

"I embrace it a lot," Smith-Schuster said about the rivalry with the Ravens. "People ask me who is your favorite team to play against and I say our conference, AFC North. We're so physical, so dominant. Every team is so good that every game is going to be a dog fight. It's never going to be an easy one. Going against Baltimore means a lot because last year we fell short twice."

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