It has been an unusual week for the Steelers, and the whole league for that matter with COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in the NFL and throughout the country. Their game against the Baltimore Ravens has been postponed three times due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Ravens' organization that has put 21 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list since Nov. 23. Their game against Baltimore was originally scheduled for primetime on Thanksgiving but was postponed to Sunday at 1:15 p.m., then to Tuesday at 8 p.m., and then ultimately Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. The Steelers-Ravens game has a 3:40 p.m. start time on Wednesday because NBC wanted and was committed to broadcasting the 88th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday night, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
The Steelers had to deal with their own mini-outbreak with COVID-19, as the team placed defensive end Stephon Tuitt, defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs, offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins and running back James Conner on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Buggs and Kevin Dotson were taken off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday afternoon. Dotson was placed on the list on Nov. 14. Tuitt, Conner and Hawkins will be inactive for Wednesday. Quarterbacks coach Matt Canada and special teams coordinator Danny Smith both dealt with an illness this week but both have been cleared to coach on Wednesday.
- The Steelers are 29-24 all-time against the Ravens. The Steelers are 15-15 (including playoffs) under Mike Tomlin against the Ravens and Ben Roethlisberger is 16-11 (including playoffs) against Baltimore in his career. The Steelers are 9-7 at home against the Ravens under Tomlin and Roethlisberger is 11-4 in his career against Baltimore at Heinz Field. Since 2007, Tomlin's first season as the Steelers' head coach, the Steelers and Ravens have had 21 once-score games and 14 games decided by three points or less.
- The Steelers are listed as 10.5-point favorites against the Ravens and the over/under is 40.5 points, according to Oddsshark.com. The Steelers opened as 3-point favorites in the rematch against the Ravens. That line went up to 4.5- points on Monday when news broke that several Ravens had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be unavailable to play.
On Thursday night it was reported that Ravens' quarterback Lamar Jackson had tested positive for the coronavirus as well and won’t play against the Steelers. Robert Griffin III will start at quarterback in Jackson's place on Tuesday. The betting line then went up to 9-points after the news broke that Jackson won't play, and it now currently sits at 10.5 in favor of the Steelers. Baltimore is 7-1 against the spread in its last eight games as a road underdog and Pittsburgh is 7-1 against the spread in its last eight games, per Oddsshark.com. The road team is 6-1-1 against the spread in the last eight meetings.
- The Steelers-Ravens game will be the first NFL game played on a Wednesday since the 2012 season opener between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. The game was moved from Thursday because President Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention that night. It will also be the Steelers' first Wednesday kickoff in 84 years, according to Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Steelers (then known as the Pirates) beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-0, on Oct. 14, 1936, at Forbes Field. In their 1933 opening season as a franchise, Pittsburgh played their first four games on Wednesdays, all at home at Forbes Field. They went 2-2 in those games.
- The Steelers have been doing a lot of waiting and adjusting while the Ravens got their COVID-19 outbreak under control. Cam Heyward understands that during a pandemic things are not always going to go as planned.
"I think you just have to roll with it," Heyward said. "If you get stuck in the mud or think it's got to be this way, you are preparing yourself for failure. We understand there are a lot of things going on, we understand we can't be perfect in this situation. The pandemic isn't going to allow anyone to be perfect. We just have to be willing to adjust, make things happen on the fly and be ready to fly when we get the opportunity to.
"I have had some talks with some guys. This is just a chapter in our book. For this group, we just keep rolling. Every team is going through something. We have to be ready for any situation. Coach (Tomlin) has laid out the plan, it's up to us to follow it, it's up to us to bounce back with it."
All Heyward cares about is controlling what he can control, and that's being prepared to play against the Ravens.
"I think the main focus is we don't care where we play, we don't care how it's played, we just want to play. When we get the all-clear from the NFL, we will be ready. That is all we can expect. Let our preparation reflect that. When we go that we can show it on the field."
The Ravens will have a different look on offense without reigning MVP Lamar Jackson at quarterback, who is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, along with tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Willie Snead IV among others. Robert Griffin III will get the start at quarterback in place of Jackson. Griffin's last start was against the Steelers in Week 17 of last year, in which he led the Ravens to a 28-10 victory. The Ravens already locked up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs in the AFC and had nothing to play for and rested a lot of starters in the game. Griffin completed 11 of 22 passes for just 96 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, but he did rush for 50 yards on eight carries, an average of 6.3 yards per carry.
"We’re preparing for the schematics, meaning the structure of which they operate, the plays that they run, the personality that they have," Tomlin said. "I’m sure as they infuse players in, those things will be unchanging. We’re comfortable with our level of preparedness and our ability to prepare based on those things."
You can expect the Ravens to rely on a heavy game, it's what they do best after all, but especially without Jackson and two of his favorite targets in Andrews and Snead. The Ravens will rely on Gus Edwards and Justice Hill to carry the load at running back with J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram Jr. expected not to play on Wednesday even though they're eligible to come off the reserve/COVID-19 list. Edwards rushed for 130 yards on 21 carries (6.2 average) against the Steelers in Week 17 of last year. Hill also rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown in that game.
"We have to understand the personality of their team, what they like to run," Heyward said. "They have a mobile quarterback who has beaten us this last time. Their defense is opportunistic, and they can be on long fields and have a kicker that can buy them out of any situation. I know we are dealing with a lot of uncertainly with guys going in and out, but we will deal with that when the time comes. We are ready for what they throw at us."
The Steelers have allowed the Ravens to rush for a combined 488 yards rushing in their last two meetings dating back to Week 17 of last year. In Week 8, the Steelers beat the Ravens, 28-24, but they allowed the Ravens to rush for 265 yards on 41 attempts, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu just played six snaps in that game before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the game. Having back and healthy for the second meeting against the Ravens is significant.
"He's in the middle of the defense between two good football players," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. "We go to our base defense, and our base defense is really a 34 defense. We run that quite a bit. In order to move the ball in a 34 defense, you have to create holes in the middle of the defense. Tyson doesn't let you do that. He does a great job of staying in his gap and making sure nobody gets to his gap. If they do, he's going to you know. If they don't, he's going to try to get to the ball, and he's done a good job of that. I don't think anybody has cut him off yet in terms If here he is supposed to be. When he played in Jacksonville, he was the No. 1 draft choice for them and that was a big reason for why he was the No. 1 draft choice for them. He's got some talent. He's got a lot of talent, got a lot of ability. He's big. He's strong. He does a good job for us. He's smart. He does well with his teammates. He fulfills that part of our defense that we need very, very much when we run the type of defense that we run."
- Jaylen Samuels (quad) has been ruled out for Wednesday's game. Joe Haden (knee) is questionable.
- On Monday, the Ravens placed tight end Mark Andrews, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, wide receiver Willie Snead IV and cornerback Terrell Bonds on the reserve/COVID-19 list and activated outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, defensive back Iman Marshall and defensive tackle Broderick Washington off the COVID list. Today, the Ravens activated Ravens four more players from the reserve/COVID-19 list: quarterback Trace McSorley, nose tackle Brandon Williams and cornerbacks Tavon Young and Khalil Dorsey. Young and Dorsey are both on injured reserve. Williams was on the list as a close contact, but has been ruled out for Wednesday's game as he's dealing with an ankle injury. Fluker (back spasms) is listed as questionable for tomorrow's game.
- The Ravens will start Trystan Colon-Castillo at center, an undrafted rookie free agent who will make his first career start, with Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Fluker is questionable with back spasms, but if he's active, that would be big for the Ravens to have him at right tackle. Getting Dobbins and Ingram back would also be huge for the offense and the rushing attack. The Ravens will need Marquise Brown, Devin Duvernary and Dez Bryant to step up without Snead and Andrews at tight end. The Ravens are hampered the most on the defensive line with Calais Campbell on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Williams ruled out with an ankle injury. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon also tested positive for COVID-19 and will be out. Tyus Bowser will fill in for him and they'll have Yannick Ngakoue at the other outside linebacker position. No starters in the Ravens' secondary tested positive, so they'll have Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey at cornerback and Chuck Clark at strong safety and DeShon Elliott at free safety.
- Per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the Ravens learned of two more COVID-19 positives before they left for Pittsburgh. One player and one staffer. The NFL told the team these individuals were previously identified as potential positives and there was no concern for further spread. According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, safety Geno Stone was the player that tested positive, which marked the 10th straight day that at least one Ravens' player has tested positive. Stone will be the 22nd Raven to be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list since Nov. 23. According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, players were told of the two new positives while on the flight to Pittsburgh. Stone practiced with the team in the last two days. The Ravens will be tested again Wednesday before the game. These will be rapid-result, point-of-care tests, per Dan Graziano of ESPN. As of now, the game is still on for 3:40 p.m.