It is difficult to explain the meaning of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry to an outsider. One needs to be apart of it to truly understand. Football is filled with rivalries, but few can match the intensity that the Ravens and Steelers demonstrate on the gridiron every time they meet. This installation of the rivalry is one that symbolizes major change. The old and timeless Joe Flacco vs Ben Roethlisberger matchups are no more, as Flacco now resides in Denver, and Roethlisberger’s future is in question. Now, the Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph era begins.
The Ravens are 3.5-point Las Vegas favorites. To prevent a loss to their bitter rivals, Baltimore must win on three key battles.
Ravens Weak Secondary vs Steelers Unproven Passer
It’s no secret that Baltimore’s secondary is weak. As demonstrated time and time again this season, the grade-a paper combination of Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Marlon Humphrey, and Brandon Carr has produced little more than despair in Baltimore. But fear, not Ravens fans, if there ever was a time for the group to rebound, it is now. Baltimore’s secondary is set to face the Pittsburgh Steelers passing attack. The usually formidable flyers are without their squadron leader, Ben Roethlisberger. In his stead is Mason Rudolph, the second-year quarterback out of Oklahoma State. Rudolph has looked decent in his first three games this season, but his inexperience provides the Ravens the ideal situation to revamp the secondary’s performance. It is crucial that defensive coordinator, Don “Wink” Martindale, creates a defensive gameplan that aims to confuse Rudolph and force him into uncomfortable and uncharted scenarios he has not experienced before in the National Football League.
Ravens Offensive Scheme vs Pittsburgh Preparedness
The Baltimore Ravens may have the number one statistically ranked offense in the National Football League in terms of total yardage, but the team demonstrated why that means absolutely nothing last week. The Ravens offense can accumulate as many yards as it wants, but so long as it is not scoring, the unit is basically useless. Greg Roman’s play-calling against the Browns was abysmal, and it disconnected the electric Lamar Jackson from his battery fueled by improvisation. Roman forced Jackson into too many highly scripted scenarios. Most of his runs looked designed, and the overwhelming majority of his passes were to designated short receivers. Roman needs to allow Jackson to sling the ball around the field, and play like the quarterback that defeated the Dolphins and Cardinals. If nothing in the gameplay changes, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be prepared, and ready to stifle this offense.
Ravens New Linebacker Group vs Steelers Offense
The Ravens have done some defensive remodeling over the past week. Out are Otaro Alaka (IR), Tim Williams, and Brynden Trawick (IR), and in are linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes. To be clear, it would be unfair to both Fort and Bynes to expect the two to instantly make the defense an elite unit, but the fresh air of change should be welcomed in Baltimore. The two linebackers will bring a new perspective to the defense, and should at least give the linebackers group, a unit that has struggled mightily, an infusion of confidence this week.
Tony Jefferson has found himself in the crosshairs of upset Ravens fans this past week, and the frustration demonstrated by fans is understandable. Since signing in Baltimore, Jefferson has struggled to fit into his role as the starting strong safety. He took a major leap forward in 2018, but it is obvious he regressed since Eric Weddle left him the senior member of the safety group. Jefferson played extremely poorly against the Browns, and it is critical he gets back on track this week against the Steelers. Jefferson will need to improve in tackling and pursuit angles and be much better in coverage.
As stated earlier, the Ravens’ inside linebacker’s group has been fundamentally unsound this season. Patrick Onwuasor inherited C.J. Mosley’s throne as leader of the unit and will need to lead the group back to greatness through his own example. If he’s not able to, Baltimore’s inside linebackers group will continue to be a liability.
Where, oh where, has Marquise Brown gone? The 2019 first-round rookie disappeared after posting the most impressive start to a career of any Ravens receiver ever. In his first two games, Marquise Brown caught 66.7% of targets and accumulated 233 yards through the air. In his next two games as a Raven, Brown only caught 37.5% of targets for 71 yards. This massive drop in production is extremely disappointing, especially for the Ravens, as the team was hoping that Brown would be the answer to the offense’s annual receiver question. Brown might be the most important player in this game. If he provides Lamar Jackson an explosive and high-powered downfield weapon, the Ravens offense is bound to break out of its shackles and return to elite status.
In all honesty, I am optimistic the Ravens can win this game, but based on the performance displayed over the last two weeks, I cannot in good conscience predict the Ravens to win. If the Ravens do lose, it will be a major wakeup call, as the Steelers will enter the race for the AFC North title as legitimate contenders.