The Ravens will match strength vs. strength with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8 as two of the best defenses in the NFL attempt to shut down quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Ben Roethlisberger.
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Lamar Jackson played well (16-for-27, 186 yards, one touchdown) against the Philadelphia Eagles' aggressive defensive front in a Week 6 victory, but he’s facing more pressure and punishing it less consistently than he did in 2019. That’s a concern against Pittsburgh’s NFL-best pass rush. Jackson threw three interceptions in his one start against the Steelers last season. Wide receiver Marquise Brown easily leads the Ravens with 26 catches, 42 targets and 376 receiving yards. Tight end Mark Andrews had a quiet game against Philadelphia but remains Jackson’s top red zone target with five touchdown catches. Jackson went to Willie Snead IV and Miles Boykin early against the Eagles, but targeted them just four times overall, continuing a season-long trend. The Ravens rank 31st in passing offense and 25th in yards per attempt.
STEELERS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back in charge after missing most of last season (including both games against the Ravens) with an elbow injury. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions in a narrow Week 7 victory over the Tennessee Titans but has completed 68.2% of his passes with 13 touchdowns on the season. He grades as the league’s 20th best quarterback, down from 16th in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. The Steelers found another dynamic pass catcher in 2020 second-round pick Chase Claypool, who’s averaging 18.5 yards per catch with four touchdowns through six games. They’ve needed the rookie, because fellow wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson have started their seasons unevenly, and tight ends Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald have struggled. Roethlisberger has targeted six players, including running back James Conner, at least 20 times. Pittsburgh ranks 23rd in total passing and 22nd in yards per attempt.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Jackson reasserted himself as a running threat with 108 yards on nine attempts against the Eagles. He’s carrying less frequently than he did in 2019 but averaging a league-best 6.9 yards per attempt. The Ravens remain well behind their historic production from last season but still lead the NFL in yards per game and yards per carry. Running back Mark Ingram II left the Eagles game with an ankle injury and could be sidelined or limited against the Steelers. Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins have combined to average 5.1 yards per carry but managed just 54 yards on 14 carries against Philadelphia.
STEELERS RUNNING GAME: The Steelers rely heavily on Conner and he’s been solid, averaging 4.7 yards on 95 carries with four touchdowns. The Ravens limited him to 55 yards on 14 carries in a Week 5 victory in Pittsburgh last season. Benny Snell Jr. has averaged 3.8 yards per carry as Conner’s backup. The Steelers rank 11th in total rushing and have surpassed 100 yards in five of six games.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens surrendered 194 yards on 18 carries against the Eagles, including a 74-yard run by Miles Sanders and a 40-yard run by quarterback Carson Wentz. They played without their top interior run stopper, Brandon Williams, who was on the reserve/COVID-19 list but is expected back against the Steelers. Before that, the Ravens had played well, holding the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Football Team to a combined 139 yards in Weeks 4 and 5. Rookie middle linebacker Patrick Queen leads the team with 44 tackles, but L.J. Fort grades as the Ravens' best run defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Safety DeShon Elliott has emerged as a punishing hitter in his first season as a starter.
STEELERS RUSH DEFENSE: Pittsburgh has terrorized opposing runners, holding them to 3.4 yards per carry. Only the Denver Broncos in Week 2 exceeded 100 yards against the fearsome Steelers front seven. Pittsburgh lost inside linebacker Devin Bush to a torn ACL, but defensive linemen Tyson Alualu and Cameron Heyward and outside linebacker T.J. Watt grade as elite run defenders. The Ravens, playing without Jackson, rushed for 223 yards in Week 17 last season, so the Steelers will be looking for revenge in this strength vs. strength matchup.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens have held opposing quarterbacks to 5.5 yards per attempt, second best in the league, and also rank second (behind the Steelers) in total pressures and pressure percentage, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (who missed practice Wednesday with an illness) is on track for another Pro Bowl appearance, and veteran Jimmy Smith has also excelled in coverage. Defensive end Calais Campbell has brought new pass-rushing punch to the front seven with a team-high four sacks. Now, he’ll be joined by former Jacksonville Jaguars teammate Yannick Ngakoue, who had five sacks in six games for the Minnesota Vikings before the Ravens traded for him last week.
STEELERS PASS DEFENSE: Pittsburgh has played the pass as well as the run, holding opposing quarterbacks to 5.7 yards per attempt and leading the league with 26 sacks. The Steelers rank second to the Ravens in blitz percentage, according to Pro-Football-Reference, so the Baltimore offensive line will have to improve on its poor performance against the Eagles to give Jackson a chance to operate. Watt leads a parade of five Steelers with at least three sacks each. Heyward, Alualu and defensive end Stephon Tuitt apply devastating pressure from the inside. The Steelers can’t match the Ravens in coverage, but cornerback Steven Nelson and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have played well.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Justin Tucker played a major part in the win over Philadelphia, hitting field-goal attempts from 55 yards and twice from 46 yards. He’s missed just once (from 61 yards) this season. Punter Sam Koch ranks seventh in the league with a net average of 43.2 yards. The Ravens have dominated on returns, with a combined 436 yards compared to 148 for their opponents.
STEELERS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Chris Boswell has made all nine of his field-goal attempts and 20 of 21 extra-point attempts. The Steelers replaced veteran punter Dustin Colquitt with Jordan Berry, who was their starter from 2015 to 2019. Ray-Ray McCloud has averaged 18.1 yards on punt returns and 26.3 yards on kickoff returns, so he’ll challenge the Ravens' excellent coverage units.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens are coming off their bye week and feeling inspired by the trade for Ngakoue. They beat the Steelers twice last season, though Roethlisberger did not play in either game. They will also play before a home crowd, albeit a severely limited one, for the first time this season.
STEELERS INTANGIBLES: The Steelers are off to their best start in decades, riding high with Roethlisberger and the league’s best defense. They suffered bad luck when the Titans' COVID-19 breakout pushed their bye to Week 4 and handed the Ravens a rest heading into this divisional showdown. But they’ll be eager to show 2019 was an anomaly in this enduring rivalry.
PREDICTION: This high-stakes showdown pits strength vs. strength all over the field. The Ravens' offensive line will have to perform better to keep the NFL’s best defensive front off Jackson, and the reigning MVP will have to punish Pittsburgh’s blitzes with a few big plays. 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. Ravens 27, Steelers 23.