‘Front of the Plane’ Spillane to be Tested vs. Ravens

Vince Williams forces Tannehill fumble

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill fumbles after being hit by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams during the first half at Nissan Stadium on October 25, 2020.

On Saturday the Pittsburgh Steelers flew to Baltimore in advance of Sunday’s pivotal AFC North showdown against the Ravens. No word yet on where Steelers inside linebacker Robert Spillane was seated on the flight to Baltimore, but his upgrade to first class on the way back from Nashville last weekend was notable.

During an interview with the DVE Morning Show this past Tuesday, Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward revealed that being a “newer guy,” Spillane is typically seated in the back of the plane on road trips. But after watching him stop Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in his tracks on the Steelers goal line during Pittsburgh’s 27-24 victory, the team’s veterans changed his seating arrangement.

First-Class Upgrade for Robert Spillane

“After seeing him risk it all we were like, ‘We gotta bring him to the front of the plane.’ We got him in first class,” said Heyward.

In case you’re wondering, a seating change like that is anything but a regular occurrence.

“It rarely happens,” according to linebacker Vince Williams, who went on to tell Missi Matthews that “we wanted to show Rob that we understood his commitment and dedication to the game,” and that Spillane’s willingness to sacrifice his body to make a hit like that helped earn everyone’s respect.

Spillane’s hit also serves as a shining example of what other young Steelers ought to aspire to, according to Williams.

“That type of stuff is appreciated and we wanted to let him know—not only just Rob but all the other young guys that are itching to get an opportunity. We want to let them know that is the standard around here and it’s greatly appreciated.”

Apparently the message was well-received, too.

“When we moved Rob up nobody asked anything about it. Everybody understood why we were putting Rob in that seat and everybody got to see it,” said Williams.

Here’s a replay of Spillane’s hit, if you’d like to re-live the memory.

Robert Spillane vs. Lamar Jackson & Co.

Yet Spillane will face an even greater challenge on Sunday in Baltimore. While the Titans feature a largely one-man rushing attack in ‘King Henry,’ the Ravens feature a variety of rushing threats, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is Baltimore’s leading rusher with 50 carries for 346 yards, an average of 6.9 yards per carry. Jackson has the speed and elusiveness to break off a long gain at any time. In fact, he already has a long gainer of 50 yards this season, as well as two rushing touchdowns.

And while Spillane & Co. may have caught a break in the sense that Baltimore’s No. 1 running back (Mark Ingram II) is doubtful for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, the Ravens have two other backs who have been highly productive this season. Namely: Gus Edwards, who has 48 carries for 218 yards (4.5-yard average) and a touchdown; plus rookie J.K. Dobbins, who has had 25 carries for 154 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.

Presumably, Spillane will come out of the game on most third downs in favor of a quicker defender with better pass coverage skills, much like last week when linebacker Ulysees Gilbert subbed in on third downs. But with Gilbert already ruled out of Sunday’s game with a back injury, it remains to be seen how the Steelers coaches will handle passing downs.

Regardless of approach, Williams says he has the utmost confidence in Spillane.

“Rob did a fantastic job [last week], but it’s not something I’m surprised with,” said Williams. “Rob is a professional, he loves football, he pays attention, he is very focused and he does a lot of study at his house on his own. So I knew when his number was called he would go out there and be able to participate and have a great game.”

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