The Ravens (8-3) head to Pittsburgh for a game at 4:25 p.m. Sunday to take on a Steelers (5-5-1) team that just suffered an embarrassing 41-10 loss to rivals AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore isn’t used to being favored at Pittsburgh, but they hold significant head-to-head advantages. Here’s who has the advantage in each phase of the game:
Ravens pass match vs. Steelers pass defense
Lamar Jackson had one of the worst games of his career in the Ravens’ 16-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, throwing four interceptions despite his offensive line doing a solid job protecting him from Myles Garrett and Co. Jackson threw 12 interceptions in 10 starts, tied for second in the league. He made a remarkable shot against Cleveland, rushing 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage before finding Mark Andrews in the end zone for the Ravens’ only touchdown. Jackson hasn’t excelled in four previous starts against the Steelers, throwing five interceptions and taking nine sacks. Andrews (60 catches on 89 targets, 761 yards) and Marquise Brown (60 catches on 92 targets, 770 yards) have been the team’s top receivers throughout the season. Rookie Rashod Bateman (25 catches on 38 targets, 301 yards) has been a defining factor in every game he’s played.
The Ravens will look to get their offense back on track against a Steelers defense that could do without its top passer, TJ Watt, who entered the reserve / COVID-19 list on Monday. Like the Browns, the Steelers blitz relatively rarely, relying instead on their talented seven players to generate pressure. Even without Watt (12 ½ sacks, 20 quarterback hits), they have a playbreaker in defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (5 ½ sacks, 11 quarterback hits). But the Steelers have been more vulnerable this year, allowing for 6.6 yards per attempt and struggling to cover their opponents’ best receivers. Of all the players in their high school, only cornerback Joe Haden scored above average, according to Pro Football Focus. The Steelers have intercepted just five assists after leading the league with 18 last season.
Steelers passing play vs. Ravens passing defense
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggled for much of this, his 18th season in the NFL. He threw two interceptions and took three sacks in the Steelers’ 41-10 loss to the Bengals in Week 12. Roethlisberger gets rid of the ball faster than any quarterback in the league, but doesn’t averages only 7.0 aerial yards per attempt, according to NFL Next Gen Statistics. His conservative style worked quite well when the Steelers enjoyed a four-game winning streak in October and early November, but at age 39, he’s no longer the prolonging-playing monster that terrified Ravens fans for over a decade. ‘a decade. Roethlisberger still has dangerous targets in wide receivers Diontae Johnson (68 catches on 109 targets, 809 yards) and Chase Claypool (16.4 yards per catch) and rookie running back Najee Harris (52 catches on 67 targets, 351 yards ). The Ravens will need to tackle well, as they did against the Browns, to prevent Roethlisberger’s short accomplishments from turning into explosive play.
The Ravens played one of their best defensive games of the season against Cleveland, now Baker Mayfield with 18 completed passes on 37 attempts for 247 yards. Cornerback Anthony Averett returned from a hamstring injury to perform well, while team edge rushers Tyus Bowser, Justin Houston and Odafe Oweh delivered their best collective game of the year . Bowser continued his individual teardown with a sack, three quarterback hits and great cover. Even after their strong performance, the Ravens are ranked 31st in pass defense, a reflection of their struggle all season to limit the big plays. Their minus-7 turnover differential shows they haven’t made up for their gaps with decisive games in defense.
Ravens racing game vs. Steelers defense
The Ravens played a power game against the Browns with 43 rushing attempts, but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray totaled 66 yards on 24 carries, due to lower stroke blocking and their own lack of explosiveness. Jackson also struggled to find space, gaining 68 yards on 17 carries. He’s easily the team’s main running threat, averaging 707 yards and averaging 5.7 per carry in 10 games. The Ravens still rank second in the league in rushing because they punished bad running defenses, and they’ll have another chance to make it in Pittsburgh.
This is where the Steelers have slipped the most; they rank 28th in run defense against 11th last season. The Bengals rushed for 198 yards against them in Week 12 after the Detroit Lions beat them for 229 in Week 10. Injuries to defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu hit hard, although Heyward and former Raven Chris Wormley played well. Linebacker Devin Bush, who is expected to be Pittsburgh’s next big playmaker in the middle, struggled in his third season.
Racing game of the Steelers against the defense of the Ravens
The Steelers rely almost exclusively on Harris, who has carried 17.8 times per game but averages just 3.6 yards per carry. The rookie is heading in the wrong direction with 62 yards on 20 carries in Pittsburgh’s last two games.
The Ravens are second in the league in running defense and ended a more dangerous rushing offense against the Browns, now Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to 36 combined yards on 15 carries. They did so without their best inside defender, Calais Campbell, who was sidelined by a concussion. They gave the advantage, and inside linemen Justin Madubuike and Brandon Williams stepped in to fill the void left by Campbell. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen continued his comeback, making eight tackles, including two for losses, despite a painful rib injury.
Ravens Special Teams vs. Steelers Special Teams
The Ravens are number one on the Football Outsiders DVOA Special Teams. Justin Tucker had all three field goal attempts, including perfect 52- and 49-yard kicks, against the Browns. He’s made 23 of 25 this season. Devin Duvernay is one of the most dangerous returlers in the league, averaging 15.1 yards on pitches and averaging 24.7 yards on kickoffs.
The Steelers place 15th in DVOA Special Teams. Chris Boswell outscored even Tucker, making 22 of 23 field goal attempts, including his six attempts from 50 yards or beyond. Ray-Ray McCloud is averaging 8.8 yards on punt returns and 24 yards on kickoff returns.
Ravens Intangibles vs. Steelers Intangibles
The Ravens continue to find ways to win, even though their offense has only scored 42 points in the past three weeks. Coach John Harbaugh has argued his resistance to victory in recent post-match talks, and his players have agreed. They are the AFC’s No.1 seed and have a chance to strengthen their position against a struggling AFC North rival.
The Steelers haven’t won since Week 9, and their vaunted defense has allowed 82 points in the past two weeks. Coach Mike Tomlin usually finds a way to get his team into the playoff mix in late December, but he’s rarely faced a more uneven path to get there. The Steelers are 3-2-1 in Pittsburgh this year and tied the Lions the last time they played at Heinz Field, so even their home advantage is slim.
The Ravens haven’t set the NFL world on fire in recent weeks, but they’ve rarely stepped into a game against the Steelers with so many game advantages. They’ll look to run long runs against a surprisingly fallible Pittsburgh defense and limit Roethlisberger to strikes below. Jackson can’t be as bad as he was in Week 12, and if he plays well against a front seven that could be without Watt, the Ravens could roll. Ravens 30, Steelers 20