Ravens Versus Steelers Preview
Perhaps the game of the weekend will come when the 6–0 Pittsburgh Steelers take on the 5–1 Baltimore Ravens. The matchup could end up having major ramifications on not only the AFC North, but the AFC as a whole. Whichever team comes out on top will either have the best, or be tied for the best record in the entire conference. The importance of this game is not to be underestimated. Not to mention the rivalry between these two franchises makes this matchup that much more intriguing.
So which team has the upper hand this Sunday?
Let’s start by looking at how impressive the Pittsburgh Steelers have been this season. After missing the playoffs last year, Pittsburgh regained a fully health Ben Roethlisberger, and have yet to miss a beat. On offense, a dynamic passing attack centered around receivers Juju Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson has helped Pittsburgh in averaging the sixth-most points per game. It’s not all passing for the Steelers however, as running back James Conner has the tenth-most rushing yards in the NFL, despite already having his bye week. Pittsburgh’s success this season isn’t based solely on offense either.
The dominant Steelers defense of last season has carried over into 2020. This year, Pittsburgh is allowing the sixth-fewest points per game, the second-fewest rushing yards per game, and the fewest total yards per game. That doesn’t even show the full picture of the havoc the Steelers’ defense has caused either. The unit is tied for the fifth-most interceptions forced, while also averaging the most sacks per game. A big reason for the latter is returning stars T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree each ranking in the top ten in sacks this year. Pittsburgh has the ability to hurt teams on both sides of the ball, which is a big reason they’re the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL.
For as dominant as the Steelers have been this year, Baltimore is no slouch in their own right. The Ravens may not be undefeated, however, their only loss came against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. This is impressive considering Baltimore hasn’t been as overwhelming to teams on offense as they were last season. This doesn’t mean the Ravens aren’t good offensively. It just means that expectations may have been a little too high. Baltimore is still averaging the eighth-most points per game, and the most rushing yards per game. Something just hasn’t looked right this season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has just ten passing touchdowns. A big reason for this is the Ravens’ lack of perimeter weapons. Only one wide receiver on the team has more than 150 yards. Jackson also hasn’t been as dynamic running the football this year, as he only ranks 24th in rushing yards (he finished sixth last season). Despite Jackson’s struggles, if you could even call them that, Baltimore is still tied for the second best record in the AFC. This should be a waring sign to opposing teams. If the Ravens have been this good despite their offense not meeting expectations, imagine their dominance if the unit starts clicking. Until then, the big reason for the team’s success is their defense.
The Ravens may actually be a better defensive team than the Steelers. This season, Baltimore is allowing the fewest points per game. They’re also tied for the for the seventh-most takeaways, while recovering a league-high eight fumbles. Like Pittsburgh, the Ravens are well equipped at pressuring the quarterback. Baltimore is currently averaging the second-most sacks per game, and that’s before they traded for Pro Bowl pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. The defensive end has been dominant this season, as he’s currently tied for the eighth-most sacks. An already dominant unit will only get better, which is a scary thought for opposing offenses.
Only one team will come out on top Sunday however. Will it be Pittsburgh or Baltimore? The game should be an extremely close contest. I’m going to give the slight edge to Baltimore for a few reasons. First being the turnover differential. The Ravens currently have the third-best differential (+6) in the NFL. Pittsburgh, while not bad, is tied for the ninth-best (+2). Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a three interception game last week, which simply won’t cut it against Baltimore. A similar game may be coming however, given how impressive the Ravens’ cornerbacks are. Marlon Humphry, Marcus Peters, and Jimmy Smith all have the ability to lock up opposing receivers. It’s a strength on strength matchup, but Baltimore’s corners are just a bit better. In the end the Ravens will prove to be too much defensively, propelling them to an AFC North lead.