Ready for physical football

The Steelers defense will face one of their biggest challenges of the season on Sunday when the Ravens bring their No. 1 ranked offense to Heinz Field.

Lamar Jackson has been the ring leader for the success the Ravens have had on offense, as the signal caller brings a multi-dimensional approach that can kill you in the air or on the ground.

“He is more comfortable in what he is doing,” said Cam Heyward. “He has some really good targets. That running game gets them started. They are able to get out to some good leads. Once you get behind in a game with them it is hard to catch up. He is going to keep converting and getting positive yards.”

Jackson is the AFC’s second ranked quarterback with a rating of 109.4 and leads the league in third down completion percentage at 74.1%, completing 20 of 27 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns on third down plays.

“There is more onus on gap integrity, make sure you get off blocks when you can to help out,” said Heyward. “We have to make sure we execute at a high level. If you don’t, they are going to make you pay.

“You have to continue to rush, but you have to rush smart or they are going to make you pay. I think the biggest thing we can do is get pressure up the middle, especially with the defensive line front. He is looking for those vertical seams so he can create and still look downfield. We have to make sure we can contain him. It’s got to be for four quarters plus.”

One of the keys to containing him, is doing it intelligently. Jackson doesn’t mind holding on to the ball before he takes off, so the defense has to be physical, but smart at the same time.

“We have to make those tackles when we have those one-on-one chances with him in space,” said Bud Dupree. “He does a great job of making people miss. When you are holding back, he is going to make you miss.

“We have to make sure we don’t get any roughing the passer calls. He will hold on to the ball. It makes us more vulnerable to roughing the passer calls. We have to make sure we are in the rules, but still playing physical and fast.”

And physical and fast is exactly what you would expect out of a Steelers-Ravens matchup. Yes, some of the names have changed. Some players from the past are no longer on either side of the ball. But that doesn’t change a thing.

“They are still physical. They are one of the most physical teams you are going to face all year,” said Dupree. “The tight ends are still the same, big guys, ready to run block. Coming at you, hard-nosed guys. The offensive line is still going to be hard-nosed as well. It’s going to be one of the most physical games we play all year. It’s a division game too, so it’s that much more important.”

Sunday is a huge AFC North matchup in a division that is tight through the first four weeks of the season. The Steelers and Browns are both 1-0 in the division, while the Ravens and Bengals are 0-1 in division play.

“These are critical games for us,” said Heyward. “I know there are different parts moving around, but they still like to do the same things. They play hard-nosed defense, they run the ball down your throat. They do it in a different way with Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram. You have to get after them.”

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