PITTSBURGH -- It's Ravens Week in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers head to Baltimore as underdogs, trying to keep the NFL's only perfect record alive.
It's by far an easy matchup. Before the season, many spoke of the Raven as a team that had the potential to go 16-0. That didn't happen, but Baltimore remains one of the best, and scariest, teams in the league. And this week, they're playing to reclaim the AFC North.
The Steelers need to re-find the energy they had in the first 30 minutes of their Week 7 game with the Tennessee Titans. For two quarters, they looked like a team that could conquer anyone. For the next two, they looked like they needed to fix some things before they headed to Baltimore.
As the Steelers and Ravens square off on Sunday, it'll come down to key matchups being one for one team or the other. Whoever takes advantage of more of their battles with the player across from them walks away with a lead in the AFC North. The other spends the next four weeks playing catchup.
So, let's check out the biggest matchups come kickoff.
JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Marlon Humphrey
Everyone remembers JuJu Smith-Schuster's fumble in overtime against the Ravens in 2019. Marlon Humphrey took a strong lead in the 1-on-1 matchup between the two with a game-winning tackle. Now, they'll meet in a different role on Sunday.
Smith-Schuster has primarily filled the slot role for the Steelers this season. He's taken it as a challenge while the rest of the receiving core fills the outside roles.
In Week 8, he fully expects to see Humphrey on him for most of the game.
"I know [Humphrey] 's playing nickel," Smith-Schuster said. "But at the same time, I don't know what they're going to do if I move outside if they switch. It'll be very interesting to see what they do."
The Steelers have found success without Smith-Schuster being a factor, but they've never faced a secondary this good. If they want Diontae Johnson, James Washington and Chase Claypool to find holes, the Ravens need to be forced into applying more pressure on Smith-Schuster.
It's a battle between who Mike Tomlin said might be the best cornerback in the NFL and the Steelers' top dog. And one that will go a long way in how we view this matchup in the future.
"You're going to have to match their intensity," offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said on beating the Ravens' corners. "They're strong. They're physical. They like to play press. They like to play man."
Diontae Johnson vs. Marcus Peters & Jimmy Smith
Diontae Johnson expects to see a mix of all three of the Ravens' cornerbacks in Week 8, but Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith will be lined up across from him for the majority of the time.
"It's going to be a great matchup going against these guys," Johnson said. "You've got Humphrey, Peters, they've got a great two safeties. It's going to be a matchup against those two guys because they've been playing for a little bit."
Week 7 was the first time this season that the Steelers' top two receivers lead the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns, with Johnson leading the way. It's not make-or-break for that to happen every week, but it goes a long way for your most dangerous weapons to occupy the defense's mind.
Johnson isn't worried about who succeeds for the Steelers as long as someone is. He expects someone to have a big game, but the Steelers offense would really like it to be him.
"Just because we're young, I don't want to say that we won't give them any competition or whatnot. We've got a lot of weapons on our offensive side. We've shown that we can play with anybody we go up against. We're going to keep that same mentality, it don't matter who it is in front of us."
Smith-Schuster and Johnson controlling the passing game in Baltimore will open up the field for Claypool and Washington. The Ravens won't allow one receiver to have a big week without having to contain one of the other three.
Offensive Line vs. Calais Campbell & Yannick Ngakoue
The Steelers' offensive line has their hands full in Week 8. The Baltimore Ravens possess a defensive front that brings superstar weapons at every position. It was hard enough with Calais Campbell, but now, it's All-Pro Campbell and Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue.
Baltimore sent a second-round pick and conditional fifth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL, right in time for their matchup with the Steelers. Now, they're gearing up for a defensive line rush of Campbell, Ngakoue, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe.
"They're just adding another quality rusher to a mix of quality rushers," Tomlin said. "I think they have 22 sacks as a football team, but it is spread out over a wide variety of people, and you have to be prepared for that. They just put somebody else in the hopper that you have to be prepared for, but such is life in the NFL."
The Steelers' offensive line hasn't struggled this season. They've allowed just eight sacks through six games, against some big-name players like Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. But Week 8 might be their toughest test yet.
Terrell Edmunds vs. Mark Andrews
Terrell Edmunds has become a factor within this defense. It took three years, but he's here, and he's playing well.
"I do enjoy being able to play safety some and go down into the box, because I feel comfortable in the box," Edmunds said. "That's where I can see things faster, react faster. There's more so playing football for me."
Without Devin Bush, Edmunds is now the primary cover for an opposing tight end. Jonnu Smith was the defense's first team, and one they held strong covering. This week, it's Mark Andrews.
"I can't say enough about the commitment and the relationship that Baltimore has between their quarterback and Andrews and what they are able to do with him," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "I think he has five touchdowns on the year, ridiculous red zone target, but all situations, red zone, third down, two-minute. They are a formidable tandem, one that we respect, and one we better be prepared to work to minimize."
Tomlin is correct; Andrews has caught five touchdowns this season. He's a redzone target like no other, and one Lamar Jackson has, and will, look to more than his wideouts inside the 20-yard line.
The quality of tight ends the Steelers have played this year is nearly as good as the running backs. At the same time, they've allowed nearly as much success to both position group - which is little.
Andrews is different because Jackson is different. The Steelers will need to contain the Ravens' quarterback, which is a tall task as it is. Now, you add receiving threats that pose mismatches in the endzone, and you have a pretty big challenge on your hands.
One Edmunds will need to be the victor.
Lamar Jackson vs. Everyone
It almost kind of feels like I don't need to talk about Lamar Jackson, right?
Last season, the Steelers found Jackson five times in their only matchup with him. Heyward Quote.
The gameplan remains to stop the run first and force the Ravens to play one-dimensional. But unlike every other team they've played, stopping the run means stopping Jackson.
"I wish I had the answer to that," Tomlin said when asked the key to containing Jackson. "I wish the National Football League had the answer to that. In check is a strong term, one that I choose not to use. We're just going to play to the best of our abilities, we are going to play within our personality, and we need to be on the details. We need to play fast and play collectively together, and hopefully, that is enough."
This season, Jackson has thrown for 1,135 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for 346 yards and two scores.
"There's a lot of things he can do," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. "He's fast. He's quick. He's hard to get on the ground. He's extremely athletic. He can throw the ball just as good as he runs the ball. He's going to be a hard time for us to defend and try to win this ball game."
You're definitely right, Keith.