The challenges keep coming the Pittsburgh Steelers' way. They keep meeting them head-on.
On Sunday, Pittsburgh (6-0), the last remaining undefeated NFL team, travels to Baltimore to take on the Ravens (5-1) for first place in the AFC North, a game Steelers coach Mike Tomlin labeled the league's game of the week.
"I think it's what football fans want, what the NFL wants," said Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn't face the Ravens last year because of elbow surgery.
"I missed this," Roethlisberger said of competing in the rivalry. "As much as this game hurts physically at the end of the day, you miss this rivalry because this is fun. It's football in its purest form."
The teams have a rivalry that has been marked by tough play.
"It's a physical one," said Roethlisberger, who suffered a broken nose against Baltimore in 2010. "It can be nasty at times. ... It's always been football in its truest form. It's never been dirty. It's never been nasty. It's just been hard-nosed football. This is one you always want your bye week to be after."
That won't happen, as both teams already have taken their bye.
Pittsburgh is coming off a win over Tennessee, which was previously unbeaten, and before that a win over resurgent Cleveland, while Baltimore is coming off its bye week.
Roethlisberger's counterpart, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, gathered his receivers during the off week for some extra work and continued bonding.
Jackson, in his one career game against Pittsburgh, had his only three-interception performance and was sacked a career-high five times on Oct. 6, 2019, but Baltimore won 26-23 in overtime.
This time, the Steelers present a defense that has eight interceptions and a league-best 26 sacks while allowing a league-best 286.3 yards a game.
"Their defensive line is great," Jackson said. "Their front four, those guys get off the ball and get after the quarterback. A lot of strip-sacks. "(Linebackers) T.J. (Watt) and Bud (Dupree), they do a great job against the quarterback and the run game. I feel like our offensive line is going to be ready and we're just going to go out there and play football."
Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward isn't counting on an easy time against Jackson, who is a double threat with read-option keepers. Heyward called those "misdirection."
"It's also his talent. He's very explosive, but I think the thing that really helps out a lot is they have an extra blocker now," Heyward said. "Most of these teams, when they hand off to the running back, the quarterback's not a blocker so you already eliminate him from the play. In this scheme they have, they have their big fullback, they have some other wide receivers willing to block and so it becomes an 11-man rush.
"Guys have got to get off blocks, guys have got to make tackles because if you don't that dude's going to hit you for a big one," Heyward said.
It's unclear whether one of Jackson's potential targets will be veteran receiver Dez Bryant, who was signed to the Baltimore practice squad Tuesday and practiced Wednesday.
Pittsburgh cornerback Mike Hilton (shoulder) didn't practice Wednesday but is expected to join practice later in the week, and fullback Derek Watt (hamstring) was a full participant Wednesday. Both missed the Titans game.
Also sitting out Wednesday but not for anything considered serious were receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Diontae Johnson (toe), tight end Eric Ebron (elbow), center Maurkice Pouncey (elbow) and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva (elbow).
The only Ravens player who missed practice because of injury Wednesday was running back Mark Ingram II, who remains out because of an ankle sprain. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey was out because of illness.
--Field Level Media