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Tomlin, Steelers ready to face Ravens, Huntley again

Thus far in his young career, Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett hasn't played a game in which he's been the more experienced quarterback.

That will change Sunday at Acrisure Stadium when the Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Monday starting quarterback Lamar Jackson is unlikely to play against the Steelers (5-7) Sunday because of a knee injury suffered in Baltimore's 10-9 victory over the Denver Broncos.

That will mean that third-year former undrafted quarterback Tyler Huntley will make his fifth career start Sunday against the Steelers for the Ravens (8-4), while Pickett will be making his ninth.

But despite Huntley making just his fifth career start, the Steelers have familiarity with him. Huntley started the regular season finale against the Steelers here in 2021 with Jackson out with an ankle injury. The Steelers won that game, 16-13, limiting Huntley to 141 yards passing and picking him off twice and forcing one fumble.

That experience, however, doesn't give Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin any added confidence facing Huntley this year.

"I look at it from his perspective," Tomlin said Tuesday during his weekly press conference at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "That's a guy that had an opportunity to get an extended amount of play last year. When you don't have a long playing resume, and you go into an offseason, it's somewhat mystical the areas of your game that you need to work on.

"I would imagine last year's experience really narrowed his focus as he went into the offseason. He was able to identify tangible areas of his game that he needed to improve. I'm sure they were, as well. We're not going to seek comfort or find comfort in the fact that we've been in a stadium with him before. Last year's exposure for him, more than anything, tells us we had better be prepared for a guy that is significantly better."

Huntley stepped in last week after Jackson went down and completed 27 of 32 passes for 187 yards and one interception. But he also scored the game-winning touchdown in the closing moments of the game on a scramble, finishing the game with 10 carries for 41 yards.

In that regard, Huntley is similar to Jackson. Though he's not in the same stratosphere as Jackson as a runner – few are – Huntley provides that component of play. In the game last season against the Steelers, he ran 12 times for 72 yards.

With Huntley in the game, Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman doesn't need to change his play calling.

"They're one of the few teams that have major quarterback mobility that have done a consistent job of making sure that mobility isn't lost when they're quarterback goes down, whether it's Huntley, (Trace) McSorely or RGIII (Robert Griffin III)," Tomlin said. "You think about the last four or five years, they've always got quality backups that are capable of delivering the schematics they choose to employ. Quarterback mobility is going to be an issue in this game, no matter who is playing. We had better be sharp in that area. We had better minimize that component of play. It's a signature of the Ravens' attack."

The Steelers have done a good job overall this season limiting quarterback running, allowing just 188 yards on 47 attempts. That ranks as the ninth-fewest rushing yards allowed to opposing quarterbacks this season.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

Another thing that Huntley does well is incorporate Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews into Baltimore's offense.

Andrews has gotten double-digit targets in all but one of Huntley's previous four starts and has caught 32 passes on 44 targets for 363 yards and two touchdowns.

That includes eight receptions for 85 yards on 15 targets for Andrews in the regular season finale last season with Huntley at quarterback.

Andrews is highly active in Baltimore's passing game in normal circumstances, but Huntley seems to really lock in on Andrews.

"Andrews is going to be significant regardless of who is playing quarterback," Tomlin said. "His ability to dominate the game down the field, it goes beyond his position. He's a No. 1 receiver in the National Football League in the way (Travis) Kelce is a No. 1 receiver. You're boxing him in describing him as a tight end. We had better work to minimize his impact on the game."

The Steelers are on a two-game winning streak, and if they want to make it a three-game streak, controlling Huntley and Andrews will be a big part of those efforts.

"We're highly familiar with them," Tomlin said of the Ravens. "They're highly familiar with us. Often times, it comes down to one-score games in weighty moments and having a resolve. The group that doesn't blink, the group that absorbs negativity better, is often times the group that is positioned to win."

December football: For many people, December signifies the start of the holiday season.

For Coach Mike Tomlin, when the calendar changes it's all about a different kind of football.

December football.

"As the road gets narrow, it makes you or it breaks you," said Tomlin. "You feel that pressure or you apply that pressure. It's my preference to apply it. And it's my job to make sure our team shares that sentiment."

That sentiment was on display on Sunday when the Steelers defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 19-16, on the road. What he loved seeing was all three phases of the game closing it out strong, something that is a must in the stretch run.

"That's the signature of December football," said Tomlin. "The NFL is comprised of one score games and so oftentimes your ability to make plays down the stretch determines the outcome of games. I like what we did in the waning moments of the game in all three phases.

"That's what you have to do in December. That's what you have to do as the road gets narrower. That's just signature ball and so we better develop an appetite for that. Anybody that's committed to winning here in December better develop an appetite for that. Hopefully we use those lessons learned as we move forward and continue to get better and grow, better define our division of labor, better understand our roles within this thing and more consistently engineer a formula that produces victory. That's what each week's challenge provides us."

Tomlin knows that same sentiment has to be on display on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens in a huge AFC North showdown.

"The people that we play, the venue and all those things factor in but the things that are within our control," said Tomlin. "That's how I talk when I talk to a young group of men. It's about our prep, our understanding, our division of labor, how we're growing as units in a collective."

Keeping it a positive: Rookie receiver George Pickens showed some frustration coming off the field following an offensive series against the Falcons, showing his disappointment with not being more involved with the offense.

Pickens had just one catch for two yards, and two targets in the game.

Tomlin said he doesn't mind a player who wants to do more, his main thing is just how he goes about it.

"I'd rather say whoa than sic 'em," said Tomlin. "I want a guy that wants to be a significant part of what it is that we do. Now the appropriate and professional and mature way to express that, we're growing and working on and we will continue to. But that spirit, that competitive spirit, the guy who wants the ball. I want that guy. I would imagine T.J. (Watt) wants to lay the quarterback down more.

"We got competitors. This is professional football. These guys know that they have to deliver and so for a guy that wants to do that, I'm not going to make that a negative, no matter how silly I think the commentary is or people talking about him expressing frustrations and stuff and trying to make it a negative storyline. I laugh at that. That's one of the reasons why we're continually progressing because we're capable of tuning that out."

Pro Bowl Games Voting: Steelers fans can do their part to send the team's players to the Pro Bowl Games this season by voting here or on Twitter as part of the social media voting.

Any tweet or retweet that includes one the options below counts as one vote through Dec. 13 and doubles to two votes on Dec. 14 and 15.

Make sure your tweet or retweet includes one of these options and you can vote for any and all Steelers players:

ProBowlVote + @(PlayersHandle) – example: #ProBowlVote @CamHeyward

ProBowl Vote + Full Name – example: #ProBowlVote Minkah Fitzpatrick

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