Both C.J. Mosley and Michael Pierce practiced on a limited basis Wednesday afternoon, raising hopes that the pair of Ravens defensive starters might play in Sunday night’s game at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mosley, the middle linebacker sat out Sunday for just the third time in 67 games since his career began, spoke before practice and said he felt “better than two weeks ago” when he first sustained a bone bruise on his left knee in the first quarter of a loss at the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 13.
“I’m just taking it day by day still,” the three-time Pro Bowl selection said. “I’m trying to make sure I don’t rush it and reinjure it. That’s the main goal.”
Mosley, the organization’s 2014 first-round draft pick, confirmed coach John Harbaugh’s assessment Monday that he was close to playing in the win over the Denver Broncos. Rookie Kenny Young started for Mosley, and Albert McClellan started at the other inside linebacker spot with Patrick Onwuasor backing up the duo.
“But I didn’t want any uncertainty,” Mosley said. “That was really the main reason. And I felt comfortable with Kenny, Bert and [Onwuasor] out there without me. They practiced all week without me. I prepared like I was going to play if I did play. I was comfortable with that, but as far as my knee, I just didn’t feel comfortable.”
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger might prefer that Mosley sit out another week.
“He’s one of the best linebackers in the game,” he said during a conference call Wednesday morning with Baltimore media. “In terms of playmaking, when he’s your signal caller, getting guys set up, his experience … he’s just a phenomenal football player, maybe even better guy. I just think that when he’s out there, he’s a difference-maker.”
Pierce said the bruised foot that kept him out against the Broncos has improved significantly.
“I plan on playing this week,” he said. “My foot has been feeling a lot better. I’ll test it out today and see how it goes, but I should be able to play.”
The return of Mosley and Pierce could be a boost for a Ravens defense that is tops in the league in total yards allowed (273.0 per game) and second in passing yards allowed (169.3). The Steelers offense ranks second in both total yards (453.3) and passing yards (363.3).
While Mosley was ambivalent about whether the upcoming game against Pittsburgh would accelerate the healing process, Pierce said he badly wanted to play against the team’s archrival.
“You never want to miss Steelers week,” he said. “This is a game unlike any other. Just knowing our history and stuff, you don’t want to miss two or three minutes. This is where legends are made.”
In addition to Mosley and Pierce, rookie tight end Hayden Hurst practiced for the first time since Aug. 23 – albeit on a limited basis. The club’s first of two 2018 first-round picks underwent surgery last month to repair a stress fracture in his foot.
However, the Ravens practiced Wednesday without eight players, including five starters.
The starters were outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, free safety Eric Weddle, cornerback Brandon Carr and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Starting wide receiver John Brown was present during the portion of practice open to the media, but went inside early.
Suggs and Carr are dealing with knee ailments, according to the team’s first injury report of the week. Stanley, who overcame a right elbow injury last week, is now battling a foot problem. Weddle and Brown were described as non-injury related absences.
The three other players missing were two rookies in quarterback Lamar Jackson (illness) and cornerback Anthony Averett (hamstring) and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery). Defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. (hamstring) was limited.
The absences of Carr and Averett are especially concerning because the defense practiced with only three healthy cornerbacks in starter Marlon Humphrey, nickel back Tavon Young and rookie Darious Williams.
Getting after Big Ben
Roethlisberger drew two roughing the passer penalties against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Pittsburgh’s 30-27 win on Monday night. With the league emphasizing protection for quarterbacks, Pierce acknowledged thinking about how to hit Roethlisberger.
“You kind of want to lead with your hands as much as you can, but Big Ben’s 6-foot-6,” Pierce said. “I don’t know how much he weighs, but he’s a big guy. So I kind of want to just get my hands on him and kind of throw him down, if you will, and per se not land on his body. That’s something we talk about, but at the end of the day, it’s a bang-bang play, and you’ve got to get him down regardless.”
Harbaugh said the staff is trying to instruct the players on the proper technique, but conceded that it’s difficult.
“You have a guy like Ben Roethlisberger, he doesn’t just go down easily,” he said. “You have to bring some force to get [him down]. He’s a big man, and he’s strong and does not want to go down. So you have to wrap him up and tackle him to the ground. Now you have to do that without landing on him or a number of other certain things that you can’t do, and we just have to be conscious of that.”
Five of the last six meetings between the Ravens and Steelers have been decided by one score or fewer, and the last three games in Pittsburgh have ended in dramatic fashion in the final minute of regulation or overtime. Quarterback Joe Flacco said the narrow outcomes are the result of two highly competitive franchises in the same division.
“We’ve been teams that have at least been fighting to be in the playoffs for as long as I’ve been here,” he said. “We’ve been two teams that have always been in it, for the most part. So I think when you have teams that have had decent success throughout the last 10, 11, 12 [seasons] and beyond that. It just makes itself for a good matchup. We see each other a lot, so we know what we do, and that probably plays into also.”
Roethlisberger attributed the tight finishes to the two sides’ familiarity with each other.
“I think it’s AFC North,” he said. “It’s two teams that are very like-minded — defense, tough. [On] offense, you’re just trying to get points when you’re playing against each other.”
Pittsburgh practiced Wednesday without three starters in left guard Ramon Foster (not injury related), Roethlisberger (not injury related) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (abdomen). Slot cornerback Mike Hilton (right elbow) also did not participate. Three other starters in strong safety Morgan Burnett (groin), right guard David DeCastro (fractured hand) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) practiced fully. B.J. Finney has started the past two games for DeCastro, rookie Terrell Edmunds started for Burnett on Monday, and Matt Feiler got his first NFL start in place of Gilbert. … Kicker Justin Tucker earned his eighth AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award on Wednesday. He made two 52-yard field goals and all three extra-point attempts in Sunday’s victory. For the season, Tucker is 5-for-6 on field-goal attempts and 10-for-10 on extra-point tries and remains the most accurate kicker in NFL history at 90 percent. … Two days after releasing Robertson Daniel from the active roster to make room for free-agent center Hroniss Grasu, the team re-signed the cornerback to the practice squad and waived undrafted rookie defensive end Myles Humphrey.