PITTSBURGH, PA — The Baltimore Ravens will depart for Pittsburgh this week to take on their AFC North Rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Sunday Night Football at Heinz Field.
If it feels like the Ravens have played a night game in Pittsburgh every year for the last ten years or so, it’s because they nearly have:
It would be nice to see some balancing of the schedule, but the Ravens can’t spend too much time sulking. The Steelers will be coming into the game at 1-1-1, coming off their 30-27 road win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night. The Ravens will be looking for back-to-back wins after defeating the Denver Broncos last Sunday 27-14 in Baltimore.
Here are three things to watch for ahead of this pivotal AFC North matchup.
1) Does the offensive line put back-to-back good performances together?
Joe Flacco was sacked just twice in the contest, with Chubb recording one of them and Miller being shut out entirely. It was a bounce-back week for an offensive line that really struggled with Bengals esteemed pass rushers Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins two weeks ago.
The Steelers are currently tied for second in the NFL with 11 sacks to-date. Their pass-rushing group is led by second-year linebacker T.J. Watt who has recorded three sacks on the season. Watt also recorded seven sacks in his rookie year including one against the Ravens in the Steelers 39-38 win in Pittsburgh last year.
Fourth-year linebacker Bud Dupree also has a pair of sacks on the season and two career sacks against the Ravens.
If the Ravens’ offensive line can protect Flacco it could be a long night for the much-maligned Steelers pass defense that has given up 10 passing touchdowns in three games.
2) Can the Ravens take advantage of the Steelers’ pass defense?
Speaking of that pass defense, which ranks fifth worst in the NFL surrendering 288 yards per game, if the Ravens are able to keep Flacco upright he could be in for another huge day.
The Steelers are coming off a performance in which they surrendered 411 yards and three touchdowns to Buccaneers journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. They are also two weeks removed from second-year sensation Patrick Mahomes lighting them up for 326 yards and six touchdowns.
Joe Haden is on the other side of the defensive backfield for the Steelers and he has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Flacco and the Ravens have often went after Haden going back to his days in Cleveland but Haden has arguably gotten the better of that exchange with five career interceptions against the Ravens.
The Ravens would be better served to target whomever of their new three-headed monster in the receiving game is matched up with Burns or Sensabaugh. This will be one of the key match ups for the Ravens to exploit this week if they want to down their most hated rival.
The pass coverage struggles extend to the Steelers linebacking group that hasn’t been the same since the loss of Ryan Shazier. Opposing tight ends have caught 20 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns as well.
3) Does the Ravens’ pass rush disrupt the flow of the Steelers offense and will it matter?
If you are a regular reader of three things to watch for and I hope that you are, this point will seem like a broken record.
The Steelers have arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Brown has gotten off to a slow start by his standards with 24 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns so far this season. Smith-Schuster is off to a red hot start with 27 catches for 356 yards and a touchdown. With Jimmy Smith missing his fourth and final game due to suspension Sunday night, the Ravens can’t afford a repeat of Brown’s 11-catch, 213-yard week 14 performance from last season when the Ravens were without Smith.
Jesse James and Vance McDonald have given the Steelers’ pass-catching tight end threats as well, combining for 16 catches, 343 yards, and two touchdowns. Rookie Kenny Young, who performed well in pass coverage last week, will need to be sharp again.
In his last seven games against the Ravens in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is 6-1, averaging 295 yards per game, throwing for 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also boasts a completion percentage of 63% and a passer rating of 97.6. He has been sacked 17 times in those match-ups which begs the question if getting to Roethlisberger will be enough anyways.
The Ravens would be best served to hound Big Ben all game, even if it has proven to have varying success rates in the past few meetings.
This match-up may decide the outcome of Sunday night’s game.
Prediction: Steelers 33 Ravens 27
These two teams rarely play in a blowout game and I think that trend continues on Sunday night. The Ravens defense hasn’t proven to be able to stop elite level quarterbacks the past few years and until they do, it is hard for me to pick the Ravens when they are going up against one. Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense will be too much for the Ravens in this one.
- When: Sunday, September 30, 8:20 pm
- Where: Heinz Field Pittsburgh, PA
- Radio: 98 Rock/WBAL 1090 AM
- TV: NBC
- Commentary: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Image Credit: USA Today