Tue, 24 Nov 2020

Late for Work 10/30: Predictions for Ravens vs. Steelers

Baltimore Ravens
31 Oct 2020, 04:25 GMT+10

Kevin Eck

Predictions for Ravens vs. Steelers

The cliche that you can throw the records out in a rivalry game certainly applies to the Ravens-Steelers series, which is arguably the greatest rivalry in the NFL.

However, when Baltimore hosts Pittsburgh on Sunday, the teams' records are of major significance.

The Steelers (6-0) are the lone unbeaten team in the league and hold a one-game lead over the Ravens (5-1) in the AFC North. If the Ravens win, they take over first place. But if they lose, they trail the Steelers by two games, which in effect would be three games by virtue of Pittsburgh's head-to-head victory.

Moreover, before the Ravens and Steelers meet in a rematch on Thanksgiving night, Pittsburgh plays the Cowboys (2-5), Bengals (1-5-1) and Jaguars (1-6), while the Ravens face the Colts (4-2), Patriots (2-4) and Titans (5-1).

So this is more than a rivalry game; it's a game that has implications in the division and the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. With the playoff field expanded to seven teams in each conference, only one team will receive a first-round bye.

The pundits are divided as to who will win the game. Of the 44 pundits we looked at, 24 picked the Ravens. Not surprisingly, the prevailing opinion is that it will be a close game. Nineteen of the 23 pundits who predicted the score have it being decided by five points or less, and 12 believe the margin of victory will be three points or less.

Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:

Lamar Jackson needs to be in MVP form for the Ravens to win.

NFL Network's Nate Burleson: "I want to see Lamar Jackson be Lamarvelous. Lamarkable. He needs to be fantastic. And not just with running the ball. We need to see him get outside the pocket. We know that this Pittsburgh Steelers defense is going to get after him. They're going to bring pressures; they do it the best in the business. But when it comes to Lamar, when he's outside the pocket, throwing those sidearm passes, he's close to unstoppable. When he takes off, it changes the game. ... I want to see Lamar get outside the pocket and deflate the Steelers defense. If he does that, the Ravens will have a big shot of winning this game. If he doesn't, then the Steelers will run away with this one."

The Steelers defense has the edge over the Ravens offense.

NFL.com's Greg Rosenthal: "The running game should be the foundation of the Ravens' attack, but it's hard to imagine it working consistently against a Steelers defense that represents Baltimore's toughest challenge this season by far. The way to beat Pittsburgh is over the top, with big passes against some vulnerable cornerbacks. Lamar Jackson and friends are capable of exploding at any moment, but I haven't seen it enough yet to trust them this week."

The Ravens secondary will neutralize Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker: "The Ravens have the defensive playmakers to force Roethlisberger into mistakes and will benefit from a week of rest and regrouping. They'll outlast their archrivals in another nip-and-tuck battle."

Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer: "The Ravens' tough defensive backs will contain what Ben Roethlisberger can do to counter after slowing down the running game."

Pro Football Talk's Chris Simms: "Baltimore's secondary, or at least their corner play is arguably the best in football with [Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters] there. They're aggressive. I think they're going to give the Steelers' short passing game, which they really rely on to help their running games, issues."

The Steelers defense will look to pressure Jackson and confuse him with their coverages.

NFL Network's Kurt Warner: "The best way to deal with Lamar Jackson is to get to him quickly, and so pressuring is often the best way to get to a guy quickly. If you can figure out a way to overload their protections, you get a free hitter, that forces people off schedule. The second part of that is as you're bringing pressure to give different looks on the back end. So even if he sees your pressure and he knows a guy's coming, does he know exactly what he's seeing on the back end and where to get the football out. That's what confused him a little bit last year when they played in the game that he started, and that's what Pittsburgh does extremely well."

The Ravens need a big performance from center Matt Skura.

Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz: "Every Ravens offensive linemen will face a stiff challenge against an uber-talented Steelers defense that has piled up the most sacks in the NFL and allowed the fewest total yards through six games. ... Skura is extra important as the man in the middle. The Steelers, much like the Ravens, dial up creative blitzes at a high rate. ... To combat the Steelers' talent and aggressiveness, Skura must help Jackson direct traffic and make protection calls. And he'll probably need to level a couple blocks on star pass rushers, too."

New Raven Yannick Ngakoue will be a factor.

CBS Sports' John Breech: "If Jackson is going to be running for his life, it only makes sense to make Ben Roethlisberger do the same and no one is better at making Big Ben do that than Ngakoue. In three career games against Roethlisberger, Ngakoue has two sacks, one forced fumble (that was returned for a touchdown) and five QB hits. As a matter of fact, I'm mildly convinced that the only reason John Harbaugh traded for Ngakoue was so he could play in this game. Any other production after Sunday is just a bonus."

Ravens TE Mark Andrews vs. Steelers ILB Robert Spillane is a key matchup.

Russell Street Report's Matt Wise: "With the Steelers in 2019, Spillane exclusively played on special teams. As a replacement for the injured Devin Bush in 2020, Spillane got his first start on defense [last week]. Spillane plays hard all the time and made a highlight play against the Titans [laying a big hit on Derrick Henry at the goal line], but he is completely unproven in pass coverage. Offensive coordinators spend a lot of time working on how they can create favorable matchups for their best weapons. If the Ravens can get Andrews isolated on Spillane, they may have a very favorable matchup that they can go to against a very tough Steelers defense."

John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin Will Make History Sunday

Sunday's meeting between the Ravens and Steelers will mark the 25th time head coaches John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin have faced each other in the regular season. That's a record in the Super Bowl era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, per ESPN's Jamison Hensley.

Harbaugh holds an 13-11 edge over Tomlin in a rivalry that began in 2008.

"I think in moments like this or in the offseason and things of that nature, you get an opportunity, maybe, to appreciate it," Tomlin said of coaching against Harbaugh. "But I think much like him, in the moment, they're nameless, gray faces on the other sideline, man. You're just so caught up in the strategy or the decisions that need to be made. When you're playing good people, it's paramount that you play [well]."

Said Harbaugh: "[The Steelers] stay true to themselves, and that's what they're all about. So, that's a mark of a heck of a coach, and obviously Coach Tomlin is one of the best, and we have great respect for everything they do."

Brian Billick, Bill Cowher Weigh in on Ravens-Steelers Rivalry

Harbaugh and Tomlin's predecessors, Brian Billick and Bill Cowher, respectively, were asked this week about the Ravens-Stevens rivalry. They went 8-8 against each other in the regular season from 1999-2006.

"It's the best rivalry in football. I think most football people will tell you that," Billick, an NFL Network analyst, said. "There are some great rivalries around the league, but with regards to both organizations, the winning tradition of both teams. ... Now you're talking about 6-0 and 5-1. That takes it even to another level."

Cowher, a CBS analyst, said the Ravens-Steelers rivalry was so intense that he wouldn't put the pads on during practice the week of the game because he knew the physicality aspect wasn't going to be a problem.

"There was a physicality in that game that was going to be unlike any other," Cowher told The Baltimore Sun. "Two teams that respected each other, but there was a genuine dislike for one another. So it was one of those games that you kind of just did one more notch on your chinstrap, because it was going to be that type of game."

Ravens Reportedly Talked to Vikings About Adam Thielen, Irv Smith Jr.

During the Ravens' trade talks with the Vikings that resulted in Ngakoue coming to Baltimore, the team also expressed interest in Minnesota Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Irv Smith Jr., according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.

"When they did the Ngakoue deal, they were talking about Adam Thielen, they were sniffing around on Irv Smith, their young tight end," La Canfora told The Sports Junkies. "They couldn't come to any sort of agreement there on value, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they added a pass-catching tight end or wide receiver."

Golden Tate Would Be Good Fit for Ravens

A wide receiver reportedly on the trade block who would boost the Ravens' championship aspirations is Golden Tate, according to NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund.

The New York Giants receiver would boost the Ravens' chances of winning the Super Bowl from 8.8 percent to 11.6 percent in Frelund's mathematical model.

"Tate's ability to execute routes in the middle of the field projects to help perimeter receivers," Frelund said. "His ability to do so for multiple teams means a very short learning curve in a very high traffic part of the field. This could be a great insurance policy for Lamar Jackson, especially as Ravens wide receivers have just two touchdowns at this point in the season."

Do Ravens Need to Make Any More Trades?

After acquiring Ngakoue, General Manager Eric DeCosta said: "We are not finished building this team, as we continue to chase our ultimate goals."

However, USA Today's Nate Davis doesn't think the Ravens need to make any more trades before the Nov. 3 deadline.

"No glaring holes here, especially after the addition of DE Yannick Ngakoue," Davis wrote. " ... More depth at receiver or offensive line would be nice but also qualify as luxury moves."

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