NFL

Can Ravens hand surging Steelers a first loss?

By Sports Desk October 30, 2020

The Baltimore Ravens came into the 2020 season among the favourites to win the Super Bowl, but they now face a fierce fight with the Pittsburgh Steelers in their own division.

As expected, John Harbaugh's squad – boasting MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson – has made a strong start to the year and sit at 5-1 through six games.

Pittsburgh, though, are the last undefeated team in the NFL at 6-0, meaning Sunday's game has become a huge AFC North battle in Baltimore.

Ahead of the game, we have looked at some of the key areas to watch, with the help of Stats Perform data.

 

Dominant defenses

Baltimore go into the game as four-point favourites, boosted by a defense which has allowed just 17.3 points per game, best in the NFL.

Pittsburgh (19.7, sixth in the league) are not far behind in that category and come out on top when it comes to yards allowed per game (286.3), with the Ravens ninth at 339.8 YPG.

Both units have seen their regular deployment of the blitz pay dividends. Baltimore have blitzed on 46.1 per cent of dropbacks, while Pittsburgh have on 44.3 – the two highest rates in the league.

T.J. Watt leads the NFL with 24 pressures for the Steelers, with Bud Dupree (17), Stephon Tuitt (15) and Cameron Heyward (13) all generating pass-rush too as part of a formidable front seven.

For the Ravens, veteran Calais Campbell (4 sacks) is thriving up front while cornerback Marlon Humphrey is yet to allow a touchdown on 49 targets this season, with opposing passers restricted to a 73.1 rating. No other player in the NFL has been targeted as often in coverage without giving up a TD.

A close game looks likely. Since 2008, 14 of 24 regular-season meetings between the teams have been decided by three points or fewer – the most of any matchup in that span.

The quarterbacks

Pittsburgh (30.5 points per game) and Baltimore (29.8) both have top-eight scoring units, but – so far at least – their QBs have not had to do the heavy lifting in the passing game.

The Ravens lead the NFL with 164.3 rushing yards per game, meaning they have picked up victories despite having a passing yardage (177.8) that is better only than the woeful New York Jets.

The Steelers have been able to lean on their defense and running game too, with their 129.7 YPG on the ground good for 11th in the NFL, compared to their 229 passing yards ranking 23rd.

Ravens QB Jackson is yet to hit the heights of 2019 and has been held under 200 passing yards in four consecutive starts, though his team won three of those four.

He has completed less than 60.0 percent of his attempts in three of his last four contests, dropping his season completion percentage to 63.0 – 26th among 32 qualifiers. But the third-year pro does lead the team with 346 rushing yards.

As a team, the Ravens have rushed for 140 yards or more in five straight games and 100 yards or better in 29 consecutive matchups.

The latter streak is one shy of matching the longest by any team in the last 40 seasons; the Panthers had a 30-game run from 2014 through 2016.

Not since the Steelers won against them in Week 9 of the 2018 season have the Ravens been held under 100 yards rushing.

Returning from injury this year, Ben Roethlisberger has an impressive supporting cast to throw to including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Eric Ebron and rookie sensation Chase Claypool.

He is on track for a career-best year in terms of completion percentage (68.2) but is producing a lower yards per attempt rate (6.8) than ever before (aside from 2019 when he played just two games).

That highlights what has, so far, largely been an efficient but more conservative approach from Big Ben than we have been used to seeing.

However, after throwing one interception in the first five games of 2020, he was picked off three times in the dramatic victory over the Tennessee Titans last time out and now faces a formidable Ravens unit.

Including postseason games, Roethlisberger is 15-10 in his career against the Ravens. Though he is only 4-6 on the road, he did earn victories in his last two visits to Baltimore (2017, 2018), but the Ravens won the two 2019 games while he was out.

Big picture

With additional wildcard spots available this year, these two teams already look like locks to make the playoffs.

But this is a pivotal matchup in the battle for the division between teams who have combined to win 14 of 18 AFC North titles, as well as crucial for playoff seedings down the line.

The Steelers are 6-0 for the second time in team history and a win on Sunday would match the best start in franchise annals (the 1978 team started 7-0).

But the Ravens would love nothing more than to end that unbeaten start and are eager for a statement win after suffering their sole loss at the hands of Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs.

Related items

  • Myles Garrett still on COVID list, will miss Browns-Jaguars Myles Garrett still on COVID list, will miss Browns-Jaguars

    Myles Garrett will not return for the Cleveland Browns this week as he remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list, coach Kevin Stefanski has confirmed.

    Star defensive end Garrett was placed on the list last week and missed the Browns' 22-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Cleveland improved to 7-3 in second place in the AFC North but will again have to cope without Garrett against the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars.

    "We're ruling him out because that's what the protocol calls for," Stefanski said of the first overall 2017 draft pick.

    Garrett holds the joint-lead for sacks in the NFL this year, his tally of 9.5 matched by the New Orleans Saints' Trey Hendrickson on Sunday.

    The one-time Pro Bowler has also forced four fumbles in 2020, tied with the Baltimore Ravens' Marlon Humphrey for what is already a career-best in that regard.

    Garrett missed the opportunity to improve his numbers against the Eagles, whose struggling quarterback Carson Wentz has now taken 40 sacks and 10 fumbles - both dismal league highs.

  • Borussia Dortmund midfielder Reinier tests positive for coronavirus Borussia Dortmund midfielder Reinier tests positive for coronavirus

    Borussia Dortmund midfielder Reinier has tested positive for coronavirus, the German club have announced.

    The 18-year-old, who joined Dortmund on a two-year loan deal from Real Madrid in August, underwent PCR tests for COVID-19 upon his return from international duty with Brazil Under-23s last week.

    Reinier was not part of Dortmund's squad for their Bundesliga win over Hertha Berlin at the weekend and no other BVB players have tested positive.

    Dortmund confirmed the news on Monday, a day before their Champions League match with Club Brugge, and added that the teenager is asymptomatic and is now self-isolating.

    He has been used seven times by Lucien Favre, each of those appearances coming from the bench.

    Reinier, who won the Campeonato Brasileiro and Copa Libertadores with Flamengo in 2019, has yet to score, assist or create a chance in his three Bundesliga outings and has managed just one shot.

    Tuesday's meeting with Brugge is the first of three home games in a row for Dortmund, with Koln and Lazio to come in the next nine days.

  • Neymar and Mbappe need to step up against Leipzig - Tuchel Neymar and Mbappe need to step up against Leipzig - Tuchel

    Thomas Tuchel says Paris Saint-Germain need Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to be on top of their game if they are to beat RB Leipzig in Tuesday's huge Champions League clash.

    Last season's finalists trail Group H pacesetters Manchester United and Leipzig by three points at the midway stage after losing to both teams in their opening three matches, either side of beating Istanbul Basaksehir.

    PSG will be facing the prospect of making an early exit from the competition if they lose at home to the Bundesliga club and under-fire head coach Tuchel is willing to risk the fitness of Neymar for a match he has described as a "final".

    Neymar missed three PSG games with a groin injury and was released from Brazil duty before being given 30 minutes from the bench in Friday's 3-2 loss to Monaco - a result that increased the pressure on Tuchel.

    The forward, who has two goals in seven appearances this term, will start against Leipzig at the Parc des Princes in a repeat of last season's semi-final.

    "We need him. He needs to be on the pitch for us," Tuchel said at a news conference on Monday. "He has the quality and the experience.

    "He is not in the best shape physically but he will start tomorrow. He can manage that both physically and mentally, though I hope we don't depend on him."

    Mbappe scored PSG's two goals in their defeat to Monaco but is without a Champions League goal in 2020, failing to score in 529 minutes across seven appearances in the competition since netting against Galatasaray last December.

    "If Neymar or Kylian don't score, of course it has an impact for us," Tuchel said. "I hope they score tomorrow. We need Kylian's goals. He is doing everything possible to be decisive.

    "He played with the France team. Against Monaco, he scored two goals. Now is the time for him, as well as for Ney, to be decisive again."

    Tuchel started with Neymar, Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Moise Kean for the win over Basaksehir and has hinted he may go with a similar attack-minded system against Leipzig.

    "It is of course a possibility," he said. "We want to win - it's a final in the group. I absolutely want us to have more courage to score than fear to have problems defensively. 

    "It will take courage to score, so it's a possibility. We must find two players in the middle capable of making the effort if we play with a 4-4-2. 

    "But it is also possible that we play in 4-3-3. We used it in Leipzig as well as in the knockout stages last season. There are two possibilities, we will wait to see who is available."

    However, Tuchel will have to make do without Mauro Icardi, Julian Draxler, Idrissa Gueye, Juan Bernat and Thilo Kehrer, while Ander Herrera and Marco Verratti will be assessed later on Monday.

    PSG have lost four of their last six games against German opponents in the Champions League, including each of the last two - 1-0 v Bayern Munich and 2-1 v Leipzig.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.