The Baltimore Ravens will play at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday afternoon because of 10 days of positive tests for COVID-19, three postponements and the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.
This is so 2020. Actually, it’s more like 2012.
Instead of Lamar Jackson throwing passes to Mark Andrews, a national television audience (3:40 ET, NBC) will watch Robert Griffin III tossing the ball to Dez Bryant. It was eight years ago when Griffin was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and Bryant caught 92 passes. Now, they’re being asked to step up and help the Ravens upset the NFL’s only undefeated team.
One of the largest outbreaks in professional sports has decimated the Baltimore roster. The Ravens currently have 16 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, which includes six Pro Bowl players and the reigning NFL MVP in Jackson.
“It’s never about who’s not playing,” Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon said at the start of the outbreak before he tested positive. “It’s always about who is playing.”
So, who exactly is playing for Baltimore?
As of Tuesday night, the Ravens will have at least 10 different starters from their season-opening game. There could be as many as 10 different players on the active 48-man game-day roster. Baltimore could be calling up seven or eight practice squad players just hours before kickoff.
Here is a look at what the game-day roster might look like:
Quarterback: Griffin, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley (practice squad). Griffin, 30, makes his second start in four years. In last season’s finale, he knocked off the Steelers with a less-than stellar performance while many Ravens starters rested. Griffin was 11-of-21 passes for 96 yards and one interception. If McSorley is unable to play, the primary backup is Huntley, an undrafted rookie who went 23-10 at Utah. With no preseason games this year, Huntley has yet to take a snap in an NFL game.
Running back: Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, Mark Ingram, Justice Hill. Dobbins and Ingram are expected to be activated off the COVID-19 list before the game, but it’s likely neither will play. Dobbins, who was positioned to take over as the top back, hasn’t practiced since testing positive on Nov. 22. The expectation is Edwards will get a majority of the carries. He has totaled 217 yards rushing in his past two games against Pittsburgh.
Wide receiver: Marquise Brown, Bryant, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche. One of worst producing wide receiver groups lost its most consistent player, Willie Snead, who tested positive over the weekend. Brown, who was supposed to Baltimore’s No. 1 wide receiver, has totaled six catches in the past four games. Bryant led all Ravens wide receivers last game with four receptions for 28 yards. Could Bryant become Baltimore’s X factor?
Tight end: Luke Willson (PS), Sean Culkin (PS), Eric Tomlinson (PS). The Ravens lost their top two tight ends, Andrews (tested positive) and Nick Boyle (season-ending knee injury), over the past two weeks, along with their Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard (tested positive). That leaves Baltimore with three practice squad tight ends who have combined for 10 catches over the past two seasons.
Offensive line: Orlando Brown Jr., Tyre Phillips, Bradley Bozeman, Ben Powers, D.J. Fluker, Trystan Colon-Castillo, Ben Bredeson, Jake Rodgers, R.J. Prince (PS). The Ravens’ top two centers, Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura, are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Baltimore’s options to replace them are either Bozeman, who has never started an NFL game at center, or Colon-Castillo, an undrafted rookie who has yet to play one NFL snap. Either way, this will mark the sixth different starting offensive line combination this season.
Defensive line: Derek Wolfe, Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Ellis, Broderick Washington, Aaron Crawford (PS). This has been the position hardest hit by the coronavirus. Three defensive linemen, including Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. With Brandon Williams ruled out due to an ankle injury, that leaves Wolfe as the only remaining starter, along with a former Raiders fourth-round pick (Ellis) and a rookie fifth-round pick (Washington) who has played 46 snaps this season.
Outside linebacker: Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Aaron Adeoye (PS), Chauncey Rivers (PS). Baltimore is without its two leaders in quarterback hits, Judon (17) and Pernell McPhee (11), both of whom are on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Bowser and Ferguson, who have combined for 13 quarterback hits, will replace them. The bigger issue is whether they can set the edge like Judon and McPhee do against the run.
Cornerback: Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tramon Williams, Davontae Harris, Pierre Desir (PS), Nate Hairston (PS), Nate Brooks (PS). The only concern is whether Smith, who is questionable with ankle and back injuries, will play. It’s injuries, not the coronavirus, that have taken a toll on this position. Baltimore has five cornerbacks on injured reserve.
Safety: Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine, Jordan Richards, Nigel Warrior (PS). Rookie safety Geno Stone tested positive Tuesday. He has played two games this season and played only on special teams.
Special teams: Justin Tucker (K), Sam Koch (P) and Nick Moore (LS/PS). This marks the first time in six years that Morgan Cox, who is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, will not be Baltimore’s long-snapper. The Ravens made a smart move carrying Moore, a former member of the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers, on the practice squad all season.