The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers rookie class experienced their first Baltimore Ravens week, something that I feel certain none are likely to forget. There really isn't anything to compare it to in the NFL. Two of the most successful and respected franchises in the NFL, in the same division no less.
For there to be a true rivalry, both teams have to both hate and admire the other, and the series has to be both competitive and meaningful. Those criteria eliminate most of the other supposed rivalries around the league.
Both teams take their intensity to another level, resulting in the most physical matchups of the season. The victor in these contests isn't just who scores the most points, but who exits the game with the fewest serious injuries.
The Steelers veterans try to prepare the newcomers for these games, both physically and mentally, but somethings you have to experience for yourself to truly appreciate the magnitude. The Steelers rookies now are fully aware, as they have been baptized in battle. Let's take a quick look back at each performance.
RB Najee Harris
Harris had a nice bounce back performance against the Ravens, after playing arguably his worst game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals the week prior. He once again looked decisive and determined with each carry, instead of hesitant and unsure. He even broke out his hurdle move, which he is rather famous for, on his way to yet another day of production that exceeded the century mark.
Harris appeared to get stronger and more comfortable as the game progressed against the Ravens, benefiting greatly from LG John Leglue's insertion along the offensive line. Leglue's addition allowed the Steelers to reestablish their interior rushing attack, as both Harris and even much maligned Benny Snell were able to rip off multiple productive runs in the second half.
As productive as Harris has been both running and catching the football, his pass protection has also improved noticeably since the beginning of the season. He saved Ben from a load of pain on a few occasions on Sunday. The Steelers have found themselves a talented lead back, who should be a fixture in the rivalry for years to come.
TE Pat Freiermuth
Freiermuth failed to record a TD reception against the Ravens, but he did find the endzone on his crucial two point conversation catch after the go ahead TD for the Steelers. His highlight reel moment of the game happened earlier, when he caught a 10 yard reception and turned up field, where he preceded to truck a overmatched Ravens defender, on his way to a 17 yard gain.
It was a thing of beautiful for any football fan who loves and appreciates that type of intensity and physicality. Freiermuth's game possesses an abundance of both attributes. He appeared more than ready for his first Steelers/Ravens rivalry game.
C Kendrick Green
Considering the circumstances, Green played possibly his best game as a professional against the Ravens. He was matched up against Brandon Williams on many occasions, a Pro Bowl caliber run stuffer who maybe the most powerful interior defender in the NFL. To be honest, I was most concerned about that matchup. Turns out, my concern was unwarranted.
Although Green did end up on his backside on at least one memorable occasion against Williams; something Williams does regularly with centers far more experienced than Green, he more than held his own in the battle against the behemoth. His intensity and mean streak was on full display, as he seemed to be involved in any trash talking or pushing and shoving after the play. He refused to back down, or be intimidated.
Green played a large role in the Steelers aforementioned ability to reestablish their running game, particularly in the interior.
LT Dan Moore Jr.
Another rookie who played arguably his best game as a professional against the Steelers most fiercest rival, especially in the running game. At this point in his development, Moore plays his best when his is not matched up against established edge rushers. Thankfully that is one attribute that the Ravens lack on defense. They overwhelm their opponents with numbers and aggression. Moore is adapt at picking up stunts and blitzes, but struggles against accomplished pass rushers.
Without the concern of going against a dominant edge player, coupled with Leglue's emergence, Moore was able to be more productive and aggressive than usual. He was effectively clearing running lanes and reaching secondary blocks, and playing through the whistle consistently. Not bad for a fourth round project at offensive tackle. Moore actually showed the necessary physicality to fill in at right tackle if need be one day.
ILB Buddy Johnson
In the early portion of the game, I kept seeing #45 for the Steelers flash on the screen in kick coverage. Turns out that heat seeking missile was none other than Buddy Johnson. Although Buddy was only credited with a single special teams tackle on the day, he made his presence known throughout. His speed was impressive for a 240+ Buck LB, and his strength and physicality was evident as he easily navigated through congestion to locate the ball carrier. It feels well past time to take a look at how those attributes play on defense, but that is only one man's opinion.
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk
We maybe seeing less of Loudermilk on defense moving forward, and that is actually a great development, both for Loudermilk and the Steelers. Newly acquired DL Montravius Adams was actually impressive in his first appearance with the Steelers against the Ravens, creating some real excitement about his future potential with the Steelers once he gains some familiarity with his surroundings and colleagues.
The Steelers also have the Davis brothers waiting in the wings, willing and able to show what they can do when called upon. The presence and potential of each young linemen, including Loudermilk, has to be viewed as a positive development since the future of either Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt in a Steelers uniform ever again is anything but certain.
Loudermilk was viewed as a project coming in, but has proven capable of tying up blockers against the running game. He has even shown the ability to collapse the pocket and create havoc on occasion recently. Less pressure to perform before he is ready should only aid in his development.
DB Tre Norwood
I feel certain that Sunday was a revelation of sorts for Norwood, and not just the intensity of the rivalry, nor the hysteria it creates in both fan bases. He got to experience what it is like to try and tackling Lamar Jackson. He had a couple of shots at doing just that, but whiffed on both attempts. He is definitely not the first, nor the last. Trying to tackle Jackson is akin to roping the wind. Good luck with that.
Norwood was beaten for the potential game tying TD, but played adequately otherwise. His physicality continues to improve, and he was credited with 3 tackles on the day. As the Steelers run defense continues to show improvement, so will Norwood's impact.
P Pressley Harvin lll
Harvin has gradually become consistently inconsistent. He will mix in the occasional beauty, like the one he put out of bounds about a foot from the goal line. However, he also has the occasional mishit, like he did on a couple of occasions Sunday.
The Steelers have shown admirable patience with the talented young punter, but that patience has to be wearing thin. Apparently the Steelers worked out another punter this week, just in case. Maybe Harvin is dealing with some sort of undisclosed injury, but more likely a confidence issue.
Whatever the reasoning behind his continued struggles, he needs to find a way to turn his potential into production, and soon. If not, his career in Pittsburgh maybe shorter than expected.