PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to play the Baltimore Ravens this week while still dealing with some uncertainty about the health of their teammate Ryan Shazier, who remains in a Cincinnati hospital with a spinal cord injury.
The Steelers hope Shazier can return to Pittsburgh to continue his recovery later in the week. But in the meantime, Shazier is encouraging his teammates to focus on the game Sunday night that could clinch the AFC North for the Steelers.
“We know that’s what Ryan wants,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “In talking to Ryan, that’s what he wants. So we’re going to go out and prepare for the Baltimore Ravens like Ryan would want us to do and is asking us to do.”
Steelers players are doing their best to move on without their defensive leader.
Shazier isn’t a captain, but he makes all the calls on defense and is one of the most respected players inside the Steelers locker room.
“It’s crazy,” outside linebacker Arthur Moats said. “I put it in the same perspective as if you have a loved one who is injured. It doesn’t matter how it happened.
“You just know they’re hurting. You have that compassion for them to be well. That’s how we all feel now. As soon as he gets back we’ll be extremely happy for him. In the meantime, let’s do whatever it takes to make his job and his life easier right now.”
Shazier leads the Steelers in tackles and interceptions. He was featured as a run-stopper and a pass defender in Keith Butler’s 3-4 defense. Now they will have to move on without him for the foreseeable future.
“He’s a freaky athlete,” Moats said. “From a communication standpoint and a productivity standpoint, it’s not going to be easy. But I feel like we have a great group of guys who always step up. I feel like it’ll be a group effort.”
The Ravens enter the game with injury issues of their own. They will play their first game without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury last week against the Lions and was also suspended.
SERIES HISTORY: 44th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 23-20. The Steelers beat the Ravens, 26-9, Oct. 1 in Baltimore. The Steelers have won the past two in the series after losing the previous four. The game at Heinz Field last year decided the AFC North division championship. The Steelers won, 31-27. These two teams have met in the postseason four times. The Steelers won three of those postseason meetings.
–Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger does not believe the one-game suspension the NFL handed down to receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was warranted. Smith-Schuster was suspended for a block he executed on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Smith-Schuster also stood over Burfict after the play and was rebuked by the league for taunting.
“I didn’t think it was warranted,” Roethlisberger said. “I thought maybe a pretty steep fine. I thought what happened, the play happened within the context of a football play. It wasn’t away from the ball. It wasn’t a hit on a kicker or a defenseless player. It was a guy getting ready to make a tackle, a much bigger player.
“Obviously, we don’t like the taunting, standing over him. I don’t like to compare players and suspensions, but if you look at what Gronk (Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski) did and what JuJu did … And they got the same suspension. I don’t know that that’s necessarily fair, but that’s above all of our pay grades.”
Many Steelers players are miffed about the suspensions the league handed down over the weekend and the inequity that was involved in those decisions. By suspending players for so-called “football plays,” the league has opened up a can of worms for future suspensions.
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was just as upset about the suspension of Bengals safety George Iloka for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Antonio Brown. The suspension was rescinded Wednesday, but he still has to pay a $36,000 fine.
“I was talking to George after the game because he is one of my dear friends,” Mitchell said. “I felt like I had to defend him. I know George and I know his fiancee. We are physical safeties. Think of what you ask us to do. We’re always the last line of defense. We’re always making bang-bang plays. You never see us getting to line someone up in the hole like a linebacker.
“We’re playing full-speed. We’re 4.4, 4.3 speed. Aim that. You go do that. You can’t. It’s just the risk of playing football. If the ball is in the air and a man jumps or a man ducks his head, how do you want me to readjust my body? You cannot do it. At the end of the day, this is football. If you want to see flag football, then let’s take our pads off. That would make it easier for me because now I don’t have to wear heavy (stuff). But give us flags for me to pull off because that way I know what we’re playing. I signed up to play full-speed, contact football, and we’re not doing that.”
Roethlisberger isn’t sure how things will unfold with suspensions in the future.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Roethlisberger said. “Now that you set the precedent, is that the precedent now? Is it going to change? You never really know with this league in terms of discipline and what’s going to happen. I’m disappointed he got a game. We thought it’d be a hefty fine, but they obviously had different thoughts on it.”
–The Steelers say there is a big difference between the rivalry they have with the Ravens and the one they have with the Bengals. In fact, many Steelers won’t even call their series with the Bengals a rivalry because it lacks the respect they have with the Ravens.
“This is our biggest rival, but at the same time, there’s a lot of respect from both organizations and both sets of players as well,” Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said. “We’re going to have a lot of big hits, but it’s never with the malicious intent you sometimes get when we play Cincinnati. With this team they know us extremely well, and we’re going to compete until the bitter end. You saw that last year on Christmas. But there’s always that respect level. I feel like that’s the difference between this rivalry and the one with Cincinnati.”
The Ravens held a team prayer for Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier before their team meeting Wednesday. Shazier suffered a spinal cord injury Monday night in Cincinnati and remains in a hospital there.
“I mentioned it before the game,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “When you play Baltimore, you’re going to get your head knocked off, and you’re going to try to knock their head off, but you’re going to help them up and respect them. ‘Great job. Let’s go at it again.’ It’s kind of fun playing in that kind of football game. It’s not fun in the sense that your body hurts. But it’s fun, the respect between the two teams.”
NOTES: TE Vance McDonald, who has missed the past three games because of an ankle injury, went through a full practice Wednesday. … S Mike Mitchell, who missed the Bengals game with an ankle injury, went through a full practice Wednesday. … LB Tyler Matakevich, who injured his shoulder in the Bengals game, did not practice Wednesday. … CB Joe Haden, who has missed the last three games because of a fractured fibula, did not practice Wednesday and is not expected to play against the Ravens.