Danny Smith

AFC North Notes: Ravens, Conner, Steelers

We learned that Ravens tight end Mark Andrews was the latest member of Baltimore’s organization to test positive for COVID-19 in yesterday’s round, and there apparently were more this morning. There were multiple player/staff positives in Sunday’s round of testing, a source told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. At least one of those positives was receiver Willie Snead, Jamison Hensley of The Athletic tweets. As he notes, Snead is the seventh offensive starter to test positive, and there have now been eight consecutive days with a positive test within the team.

Florio writes that it’s believed the league will opine these positives are a result of the “tail end” of the outbreak, and that Tuesday’s game against the Steelers is still on for now. Meanwhile the Ravens are planning on convening at their facility tonight in order to condition and then have a walkthrough tomorrow, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports tweets. He notes that all work will be done on outdoor fields and players won’t be allowed inside the locker room.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • While the Ravens have obviously had it worse, the Steelers have also had their fair share of COVID-19 issues as they approach Tuesday night. Pittsburgh will be without both special teams coordinator Danny Smith and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada due to illnesses, Brooke Pryor of ESPN tweets. Canada plays a pretty large role in the offensive game-planning, so that’s a significant loss.
  • Pivoting away from COVID news for a moment, the Steelers have some big question marks to address this offseason. One of those is what to do with running back James Conner, who is set to be a free agent. His production has declined since his breakout 2018 campaign, and he’s also dealt with frequent nagging injuries. With those issues, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes that he “can’t imagine” Conner getting brought back on anything more than a one-year, prove-it deal. Kaboly thinks the team is grooming Benny Snell to potentially take over for Conner. The Pittsburgh product recently tested positive for COVID-19 himself, which obviously won’t help with his next contract. He’s shown flashes of being a potential featured back, and it’ll be very interesting to see what the market for him looks like. It’s very possible he’s not back with the Steelers in 2021.

James Conner Tests Positive For COVID-19

Should the NFL leave the Ravens-Steelers rematch at 7pm CT Tuesday — its third time slot — the Steelers will not have James Conner for the game. Conner tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com reports (on Twitter).

In addition to the fourth-year running back testing positive, Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith also submitted a positive coronavirus test, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. This, of course, follows the COVID-19 outbreak at the Ravens facility. The game remains on schedule for Tuesday night.

A 2018 Pro Bowler who has played a key role in the Steelers’ first-ever 10-0 start, Conner is a cancer survivor. As of Saturday afternoon, he is not experiencing significant symptoms, Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com notes. This positive test stands to keep Conner out of the Steelers’ Week 13 game — against Washington — as well. Conner, 25, was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. Smith has been the Steelers’ ST coordinator since 2013.

The Steelers are working on a contact-tracing effort, so more players and coaches figure to join Conner and Smith in being unavailable against the Ravens. Pittsburgh placed Stephon Tuitt and two other linemen on its virus list Friday. The Ravens have 15 players on their virus list.

Considering the alternatives to playing this game on Tuesday, the NFL will face a major decision over the next few days. The league has pushed this game back to what looks like its Week 12 fail-safe point. A makeup Week 18 window is believed to be the league’s Plan B, with Plan C being the 16-team playoff bracket that would stem from canceled regular-season games.

On pace for his second 1,000-yard season since taking the reins from Le’Veon Bell in 2018, Conner has totaled 645 rushing yards and five touchdowns this year. Benny Snell‘s 57 carries are second-most on the Steelers. His 3.4 yards-per-carry average is a yard worse than Conner’s.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.