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Steelers have found ways to slow down Ravens' Jackson

Tue Nov 24 7:48pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)


Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree (48) and linebacker T.J. Watt, right, celebrate a big play against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)


Pittsburgh Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds (34) celebrates with teammates after he intercepted a Jacksonville Jaguars pass during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)


Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws a pass to running back J.K. Dobbins (27) on a 2-point conversion play against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)


PITTSBURGH (AP) Lamar Jackson's energy is palpable.

It pulses every time the NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player has the ball in his hands, a kinetic energy fueled by the Baltimore quarterback's unique skillset, one most teams in the league have struggled to grasp let alone stop.

Yet something happens when Jackson faces the Pittsburgh Steelers. The electricity that comes so easily against others vanishes. Jackson's surehandedness too. He gave it away three times in Pittsburgh last season as Baltimore relied on the defense and Justin Tucker's ever-reliable right leg to survive in overtime.

Earlier this month, Jackson directed an offense that piled up 457 yards. He also threw a pick-6 on Baltimore's first possession, lobbed an ill-advised interception to start the second half that sparked Pittsburgh's comeback from a 10-point deficit and fumbled twice in the red zone as the Steelers grabbed hold of the AFC North with a 28-24 victory.

Pittsburgh rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith - whose leaping pick after dropping into coverage gave the Steelers the jolt they needed - raises eyebrows afterward when he hinted Pittsburgh knew what was coming. A comment Highsmith's mentor, perennial Pro Bowler T.J. Watt, jokingly bristled at as the rematch looms on Thanksgiving

''I'm going to have to talk to Alex about giving the media all his tips,'' Watt said Tuesday. ''It's unacceptable.''

Maybe, but it also might be the truth.

Jackson has handled the ball either running or passing 95 times in two career games against the Steelers. Seven times those touches have ended with the ball in the hands of someone wearing black and gold. Jackson has 17 turnovers in 1,273 touches against everyone else.

Still, defensive coordinator Keith Butler insists his unit hasn't somehow figured out Jackson, even throwing out one of his favorite modifiers that betrays his southern heritage as proof.

''No, we don't have his number,'' Butler said. ''Daggum, the kid is a great football player. He was MVP last year. I don't think anybody has his number.''

Butler pointed out the Steelers still gave up 457 yards to the Ravens in their first match of the season. True, but the NFL's only unbeaten team (10-0) forced Jackson into the kind of careless mistakes he typically avoids.

His second pass of the game went right to Pittsburgh linebacker Robert Spillane, who sprinted 33 yards to the end zone.

Late in the first quarter, the Ravens had the ball deep in Steelers territory with a chance to take the lead. Jackson stepped up in the pocket hoping to avoid pressure and instead saw the ball pop free after getting hit by Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree. It rolled into the waiting arms of Steelers linebacker Vince Williams to end the threat.

Trailing by four late in the fourth quarter, Jackson tucked and ran on fourth-and-3 from the Pittsburgh 8. He found himself hemmed in short of the line to gain and when he stretched the ball out in a futile attempt to get a first down, it squirted loose and the Steelers eventually held on.

''You've got to put him in situations that he's uncomfortable,'' defensive tackle Cam Heyward said. ''Whether it's pressure, putting him behind the sticks ... (but) it's not indicative of the way the game is going to go this time.''

It can't be if the Ravens (6-4) want to revive their season. Baltimore has dropped three of four and is dealing with a significant COVID-19 outbreak. Running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins are out after testing positive. While Gus Edwards is still available - at least as of Tuesday night - fewer playmakers at his disposal likely means Jackson will have the ball in his hands even more than usual.

Yet even with the Ravens short-handed, the Steelers remain wary.

''It's not like we are laying off the gas pedal by any stretch,'' Watt said. ''You look at the last game, they ran for 200-some yards on us ... a lot of the downhill runs weren't acceptable. We watched the film and weren't happy with how we played from that perspective.''

They were only truly happy with the result, typical of a defense that is just fourth in yards allowed but first in sacks, takeaways and points against. You can push them around a little bit. Just don't expect them to break. They have dynamic edge rushers, a stout presence up the middle of the defensive line and playmakers in the back end.

Jackson is dangerous because he can make a play at any level with either his arms or his legs. Pittsburgh, perhaps as much as any team, has the talent and the experience to provide an answer at everywhere he turns.

''We've been playing together (for a while) and are very comfortable with each other,'' said defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who sacked Jackson twice back on Nov. 1.

''We know how we play and we capitalize off each other, from the rush to the defensive backs to making great stops on great receivers.''

Yet the Steelers remain wary. Their performance against Jackson has been the exception, not the rule. They're well aware they're just one snap away from becoming fodder for his burgeoning highlight reel.

''He somehow finds ways to escape,'' Watt said. ''We understand he's an MVP-caliber player ... We have to make sure the plays when he does get out, they don't break us.''

NOTES: TE Vance McDonald returned to practice Tuesday, two weeks removed from going to the COVID-19 list after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. ... The team promoted TE Kevin Rader to the active roster and placed TE Zach Gentry on injured reserve (knee). ... WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle) was limited. ... CB Joe Haden (knee) did not practice.

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Ben Roethlisberger Nov 24 8:00pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (quad) was able to practice in limited fashion Tuesday, increasing his likelihood of suiting up Thursday against Baltimore. While it never truly appeared in doubt that Roethlisberger would be able to play, the combination of his estimated DNP on Monday and just three days' rest in-between games at least makes his inclusion on the injury report noteworthy. The Ravens Defense held Roethlisberger to just 182 passing yards back in Week 8, even as the veteran QB tossed a pair of touchdowns. The nature of Roethlisberger's matchup -- combined with his short week of preparation -- leaves open the possibility that fantasy managers in season-long formats could consider other options for Week 12. Check back to confirm Roethlisberger's status prior to kickoff Thursday.

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Dustin Hopkins Nov 24 7:50pm ET

Washington Football Team kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin) was unable to suit up for practice Tuesday, increasing the fervor around his status for Thursday's game against Dallas. Hopkins had been questionable to take the field in Week 11, but managed to make both of his extra points and go 2-for-3 on field goals. The 2020 year has been rough for Hopkins, who is on pace for the lowest FG percentage of his career by a wide margin (70%). How much practice he'll need to log before kicking is unknown, but it appears that the groin ailment is far from behind him. Fantasy managers can look elsewhere to fill in at the kicker slot, as an injured boot with a low FG conversion rate on a short week isn't a prime scenario to rely upon.

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JuJu Smith-Schuster Nov 24 7:40pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe) was able to record a limited practice session Tuesday, an improvement from the estimated DNP that he earned Monday. Smith-Schuster was hampered by the toe injury during Sunday's win over Jacksonville, having been limited to four receptions for 19 yards, snapping a streak of back-to-back outings in which he found the end zone. In addition to being banged up, Smith-Schuster is a risky season-long and DFS asset due to the Ravens Defense being tied for allowing the fewest receiving touchdowns (five) to opposing WRs in 2020. While his status is moving in the right direction, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud III would all stand to see increased targets should Smith-Schuster ultimately be ruled out for Thursday's matchup.

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Chris Carson Nov 24 7:30pm ET

Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson (foot) was able to record a full practice session Tuesday, a significant step in the right direction as it pertains to his availability for Monday's contest against Philadelphia. Carson has been on the precipice of returning over the past four weeks, but by getting in a full practice six days ahead of his next game, fantasy managers can likely rely upon Seattle getting their top running back option back on the field in a full capacity. Even when healthy this year, Carson has received double-digit carries in just three of his six contests, ceding touches to Carlos Hyde. With DeeJay Dallas having also shown flashes of potential in Carson's absence, the Seahawks' backfield could be much more crowded than usual by the time they face the Eagles in Week 12.

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Julio Jones Nov 24 7:20pm ET

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) has earned the unique distinction of being tagged as a game-time decision for Sunday as early as Tuesday, per head coach Raheem Morris. Jones battled through the hamstring ailment to play in just 35 percent of Atlanta's offensive snaps in Week 11, making him an extremely risky season-long or DFS asset even in the case that he suits up against Las Vegas. The fact that Morris was so candid likely means that Jones' practice sessions over the coming days will provide very little insight into which direction his status is trending. Calvin Ridley would become the unquestioned No. 1 target should Jones be out of the mix, while Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Christian Blake, and Brandon Powell would all stand to see an increase in targets as well.

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Jeff Wilson Nov 24 7:10pm ET

San Francisco 49ers running backs Raheem Mostert (ankle) and Jeff Wilson Jr. (ankle) were both designated to return off of injured reserve Tuesday, opening the possibility that either could take the field Sunday against the Rams. Mostert has served as San Francisco's lead back when healthy this season, having amassed 65 yards on 17 carries against Los Angeles back in Week 6, the last time that he took the field. Upon getting the green light to return to action, he should be rostered with confidence in medium-sized or larger season-long formats. Wilson's status is a bit more finicky, as his fantasy intrigue is directly related to the health of the 49ers' backfield. Tevin Coleman (knee) and Jerick McKinnon (as well as Mostert) would both figure to be ahead of Wilson on the depth chart, thereby limiting his touches once he's officially back in the mix.

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Derek Rivers Nov 24 7:00pm ET

The Los Angeles Rams have claimed defensive end Derek Rivers off of waivers after he was released by New England over the weekend. Having appeared in eight games with the Patriots this season, Rivers has compiled four tackles and four quarterback hits to go along with 1.5 sacks. Not yet having started a game in his NFL career, Rivers figures to be merely a depth piece for the Rams Defense, albeit one that has the size to be a consistent pass-rusher. Los Angeles' defensive group has earned itself weekly consideration due to its sack potential, currently tied for third in the NFL with 32 sacks as a group. It's unclear if Rivers will be active for Sunday's game against San Francisco at this stage, but fantasy managers in need of a streamer option in season-long formats can put the Rams in consideration.

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Terry McLaurin Nov 24 6:50pm ET

Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (ankle) was able to log a limited practice Tuesday, an improvement from the estimated DNP that he earned Monday. With just three days of recovery ahead of a Thanksgiving matchup versus Dallas, the fact that McLaurin was able to take the field in any capacity bodes well for his chances of suiting up against an exploitable Cowboys secondary. McLaurin hauled in seven receptions for 90 yards in the prior meeting between the two teams in Week 7; he'll be a must-start in season-long formats so long as he gets the thumbs up to eventually take the field. Check back prior to kickoff to get final word on McLaurin's status.

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Antonio Gibson Nov 24 6:50pm ET

Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (ankle) may have been an estimated DNP participant Monday, but that didn't stop him from logging a full practice session Tuesday, all but clearing him to take the field Thursday against Dallas. Gibson has found the end zone in four consecutive games, including a career-best 128-yard rushing performance versus the Cowboys back in Week 7. He will be a strong RB2 asset despite the short week due to his prior success against a defense that has allowed the second-most rushing yards (1,260) this season. Barring any last-minute practice updates Wednesday that could curtail his usage, fantasy managers can deploy Gibson with confidence in all formats after some initial trepidation.

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Byron Pringle Nov 24 6:40pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Byron Pringle (ankle) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, meaning that he'll miss at least the team's upcoming three contests. Pringle hauled in three receptions for 17 yards versus Las Vegas on Sunday night before departing due to an ankle injury, which will keep him on the shelf for around a month. With Sammy Watkins' (hamstring) status still up in the air, Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson, and Mecole Hardman should continue to see a plethora of targets coming their way from MVP frontrunner Patrick Mahomes. With limited options at WR, the Chiefs are also tasked with facing a stout Buccaneers Defense in Week 12, which could make the aforementioned names a bit of a risk in DFS formats, despite their unimpeded path to targets.

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Myles Garrett Nov 24 6:30pm ET

Cleveland Browns defensive end Joe Jackson (COVID-19 list) landed on the COVID-19/reserve list Tuesday, thereby putting his status for Sunday's game against Jacksonville in question. (Players do not have to test positive for the virus to be placed on the list.) Jackson has been a lightly utilized defensive end for the Browns Defense this season, not having taken the field since Week 4. (Which, theoretically, clears the Eagles as well heading into Week 12.) Even without Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Garrett last week, Cleveland turned in one of its best defensive outings of 2020, which bodes well for the group's upside against a Jaguars offense that failed to score a touchdown last week. Jackson's inclusion on the COVID-19 list does not appear to be affecting the status of Sunday's game at this stage.

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Deionte Thompson Nov 24 6:20pm ET

Arizona Cardinals safety Deionte Thompson (COVID-19 list) was placed on the COVID-19/reserve list Tuesday, putting his status up in the air for Sunday's contest against New England. (Players do not have to test positive for the virus to be placed on the list.) Thompson has started four games for Arizona this year but has been limited lately due to injury. Having racked up 24 tackles and two passes defended across eight games, the Cardinals Defense could be looking at having an extremely thin secondary when facing the Patriots in Week 12. At this stage, there's little indication that Thompson's status on the COVID-19 list is putting the game in jeopardy of taking place at its designated time. Check back throughout the week to see if he is cleared in time to take the field.

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Jamar Taylor Nov 24 6:10pm ET

San Francisco 49ers cornerback K'Waun Williams has been levied a two-game suspension due to a violation of the league's performance-enhancing substance policy, meaning that he'll be out of the mix Sunday against the Rams and in Week 13 versus Buffalo. Jamar Taylor is expected to step in for Williams in the secondary, although the continued pilfering of key cogs on the 49ers Defense makes the unit a tenuous fantasy asset at this stage. Williams has collected 14 combined tackles, two passes defended, and one sack across six games this season. His next chance to return comes Week 14 against Washington, which likely coincides with the next occasion in which San Francisco's defense will merit solid season-long consideration.

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Marvin Jones Nov 24 5:30pm ET

Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. will go up against a Texans Defense on Thanksgiving that is giving up the 10th most fantasy points to opposing receivers this season. As of now, the Lions offensive weapons are banged up and the veteran Jones Jr. may be tasked will picking up the slack. The Texans have allowed five 100+-yard receiving games this season and the Lions have health questions currently with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Hall, D'Andre Swift, Danny Amendola and T.J. Hockenson. Jones Jr. is not having an elite season but could surprise, especially in PPR-leagues, to kick off the Thursday slate of games in Week 12.

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Kenny Golladay Nov 24 5:20pm ET

Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hip) was a limited participant in practice, an improvement heading into the team's matchup against the Texans on Thanksgiving to kick off Week 12. Golladay missed last week's game and has been banged up most of the season. But when he is on the field, the Lions offense ascends to another level. If Golladay suits up, he will face a Texans Defense that is allowing the 10th most fantasy points to opposing receivers. The Texans have allowed seven different receivers to post 79 or more receiving yards against them this season and have been burned for 100+-yard performances by the Jaguars D.J. Chark Jr. and the Patriots Damien Byrd in the past two games. If Golladay plays he can easily be slotted as a WR2 with excellent red zone potential for Week 12. But fantasy teams may need to monitor his status all the way up to game time this week.

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T.J. Hockenson Nov 24 5:20pm ET

Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson (shoulder) was limited in practice as the team prepares to take on the Texans to kick off Thanksgiving Thursday. This is a new injury and it very well could be precautionary heading into a short week. But fantasy teams will have to keep an eye on this situation heading into the game as Hockenson has emerged as a solid red zone threat with five touchdowns this season. The Lions will face a Texans Defense that is allowing the 14th fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season and have not allowed 10 or more fantasy points to an opposing tight end since Week 3. Fantasy teams will need to check Hockenson's status heading into the game but, if he is healthy, will be a touchdown-dependent option in Week 12.

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D'Andre Swift Nov 24 5:10pm ET

Detroit Lions rookie running back D'Andre Swift is still in the concussion protocol as the team prepares to play early Thursday morning against the Texans on Thanksgiving. His availability could be a huge blow to a Lions team that is seeing its playoff hopes slip away. Swift has been fantastic over the past few weeks, displaying the type of versatile threat in the passing and running game that earned him praise in training camp. But as of now, the rookie is trending towards not playing, and it would be a shame with a favorable matchup in Week 12. The Texans have allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing backs this season. Veteran Adrian Peterson will step up once again if Swift misses the game, but Peterson cannot be trusted to post RB2-type numbers despite the favorable tilt. Kerryon Johnson would also continue to mix in.

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Adrian Peterson Nov 24 5:10pm ET

Detroit Lions running back Adrian Peterson will prepare to take on a vulnerable Texans Defense on Thanksgiving. With starter D'Andre Swift (concussion) still in league protocol's, Peterson will be the next man up to lead the team's running attack. The veteran and teammate Kerryon Johnson will take on a Texans defense that is allowing the second most fantasy points to opposing backs. Houston have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns and have allowed seven different running backs to post 10 or more fantasy points against them over their last five games. The matchup is fantastic but Peterson simply does not have the speed anymore to make opposing defenses pay. If Swift does not suit up, however, Peterson will see enough volume to justify a fringe fantasy play in Week 12.

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Matthew Stafford Nov 24 5:00pm ET

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will try and step up his game to kick off Week 12 when the team hosts their annual Thanksgiving game against the Texans on Thursday. The veteran passer has been dealing with torn ligaments in his throwing thumb but told reporters, "Obviously, I can play better, I'm the guy that touches the ball on offense every play, so the better I play, the better we'll play as a team," Stafford said. "Just got to be better myself." The Lions season is slipping away but Stafford will face a Texans Defense that is allowing the 14th most fantasy points to opposing passers. Houston has allowed 300+ passing yards to four of the last six quarterbacks they have faced and 12 passing touchdowns in that span. Stafford's fantasy value may be tied to the health and availability of receiver Kenny Golladay, who is trending up towards playing on Thursday. Stafford is a lukewarm fantasy option in DFS for Thursday and not a top-12 option for Week 12.

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Dallas Cowboys Nov 24 4:40pm ET

The Dallas Cowboys defense has been anything but reliable this season, finishing in the top-20 of fantasy defenses just four times so far this season. However, Week 12 against the Washington Football Team makes for about as good a matchup as there can be. The Washington offense ranks 28th in total offense while giving up the fourth-most sacks as well as the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. Last week, the Cowboys recorded two sacks and two takeaways against Minnesota. The Cowboys defense is somewhere around the 15th-ranked defense in fantasy formats this week.

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