(Updated: Saturday 12 p.m.)
With the Ravens looking to remain atop the conference and the AFC North and bury rival Pittsburgh at Heinz Field on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Sitting out the 2019 finale and missing last year’s Pittsburgh trip due to COVID-19, Lamar Jackson has started against the Steelers only twice in his career, which hasn’t helped a rivalry that’s lost some luster. Given his recent struggles, this would be a good time for his first signature performance.
2. Jackson minced no words about last week’s poor showing against Cleveland, saying he needed to “feel that pain” for a couple days. With interceptions being a recent concern, it’s notable that Jackson played arguably his worst game of each of the last two seasons against Pittsburgh with five total picks.
3. Some illnesses in the secondary are worth monitoring with cornerback Kevon Seymour testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, and rookie Odafe Oweh was added to Thursday’s injury report with a shoulder issue. It’s just been two steps forward, two or three steps back all year on the health front.
4. Alejandro Villanueva is part of the select group to play for both teams in this rivalry, and he praised the longevity of both John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin and how they’re “just resisting to give in to each other.” Counting the postseason, Tomlin has a slight 15-14 edge over Harbaugh.
5. Asked about Pittsburgh’s quarterback, Tyus Bowser said, “He’s still Ben Roethlisberger. He’s still that Hall of Fame great guy, and you have to respect that.” Roethlisberger is 34th of 36 qualified quarterbacks in PFF’s grading and ranks 24th in ESPN’s QBR. It’s sure looking like the end of the line.
6. According to Sharp Football, the Ravens have scored a touchdown on a league-worst three of their last 35 drives over the last three games, which isn’t going to cut it down the stretch. Greg Roman says they have “tons of stuff sitting in the vault.” It’s time to open it.
7. The Steelers have surrendered 586 rushing yards at 5.7 yards per carry over their last three games. With that in mind and the status of Pro Bowl outside linebacker T.J. Watt in doubt until Saturday, you’d like to see the non-Jackson portion of the running game take advantage.
8. In contrast, the Ravens have allowed no yards on a league-best 27.8% of rushes against them, per Sharp Football. That — as well as the anticipated return of Calais Campbell — should mean bad news for a Steelers ground game averaging only 3.7 yards per carry for the season.
9. As maligned as Roethlisberger has been, Pittsburgh is tied for fourth in the NFL with eight completions of 40 or more yards with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool catching seven. Baltimore has allowed the most completions of both 20-plus yards and 40-plus yards. Big plays are the great equalizer.
10. While Patrick Queen has shown improvement since a position change in October, the Steelers traded up in the 2019 draft to take Devin Bush, whom PFF has graded 80th out of 83 qualified off-ball linebackers. Given both teams’ rich history at the position, you wouldn’t expect to see such difficulties.
11. Baltimore is tied for 27th with a minus-seven turnover ratio and tied for 28th with 10 takeaways. Of the nine times the Ravens have finished 20th or worse in turnover ratio, they made the playoffs only twice: 2001 and 2018. It’s another example of their 8-3 record defying the odds.
12. Sunday will mark the first time the Steelers have been a home underdog against the Ravens with Roethlisberger starting, which says plenty about where he and Pittsburgh are right now. I’m not a gambler anyway, but you still never really know what’s going to happen in this rivalry.