The Baltimore Ravens will visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in a battle for first place in the AFC North. First place currently belongs to Baltimore at 3-1, but the Steelers are within striking distance at 2-2. It's early in the season, sure, but the stakes are high.
Most pundits favor the Ravens, whose impressive defense should make quick worst of Matt Canada's decrepit offense. Baltimore has MVP winner Lamar Jackson; Pittsburgh has Kenny Pickett one week removed from a knee injury. The odds are stacked against the Steelers.
Still, the locker room is confident — especially the defense, with ringleader and eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson tossing some thinly veiled shade at the Ravens' best receiver days before the game.
That's free bulletin board material for Flowers and the Ravens. Peterson has earned the right to get a little cocky after 13 NFL seasons, but maybe he should learn his lesson.
Patrick Peterson delivers free motivation to Zay Flowers ahead of Steelers-Ravens matchup
Peterson has been quite the chatterbox ahead of games this season. He already vowed to intercept "system QB" Brock Purdy before the Steelers' Week 1 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers. The result? A 30-7 Niners victory with Purdy tossing 220 yards, two touchdowns, and most notably, zero INTs.
Maybe, just maybe, it's unwise to hand out free bulletin board material to better teams. The Ravens look like the team to beat in the division and Flowers looks like the WR to beat on that roster. The rookie out of Boston College has quickly emerged as Jackson's favorite target in the Baltimore offense, catching 24 of 29 targets for 244 yards across four weeks.
Peterson and the Steelers' defensive backs will have their work cut out for them keeping track of that speedy "munchkin." Flowers' diminutive frame is part of the equation — he's 5-foot-10 and only 172 pounds — but he has already delivered impressive grabs in traffic while showcasing the physicality needed to survive, or more accurately thrive, in the pros.
It is exceedingly rare for a rookie to emerge as WR1 on a contender. The Ravens' offense ranks 27th in passing yards, but new OC Todd Monken has indicated a desire to let Jackson throw more. When Jackson does throw, he's looking Flowers' way on a regular basis. It's a fruitful pairing; Jackson is blessed with the mobility to extend plays and a naturally creative style, while Flowers can zip around the field generating passing lanes with his shiftiness.
Do not be surprised if Flowers responds to Peterson's backhanded compliment with his first career TD on Sunday.