With the Ravens aiming to improve to an impressive 3-0 in AFC North road games and 4-1 overall traveling to Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Though Lamar Jackson has thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four) in his career against Pittsburgh, the far more significant problem has been his lack of availability with only three starts. That’s stunted Baltimore’s chances and the buzz of the rivalry itself, but he’s ready to go for this one.
2. Jackson hopes to have his starting left tackle back with Ronnie Stanley practicing fully and saying his return is “a strong possibility” after a three-game absence. That’s significant with right tackle Morgan Moses nursing a shoulder injury that has him in danger of missing his first game since 2014.
3. Meanwhile, Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett looks like he’ll be ready despite his knee injury. Given the way Pickett and that offense is struggling, however, I’m not so sure backup Mitch Trubisky wouldn’t be the better option. Interceptions aside, he moved the ball quite a bit against Baltimore’s defense last December.
4. With only limited practice in his return from mid-August foot surgery, Marlon Humphrey making his season debut Sunday remains up in the air. Though the Ravens haven’t faced a murderer’s row of opposing offenses, who would have predicted the pass defense faring this well without the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback?
5. Leading the NFL in red-zone offense, the Ravens will have a tough time continuing to score a touchdown on 80% of trips inside the 20, which is why Todd Monken wants to see more explosive plays. Still, red-zone improvement was one of their top priorities moving on from Greg Roman.
6. The downfield passing game remains a work in progress, but PFF has graded Jackson as the best in the league on passes targeted 10 or more yards downfield. The problem has been volume with Jackson ranking 30th in attempts of 10-plus air yards. A healthier offensive line should help matters.
7. According to Sharp Football, the Ravens are allowing a league-low 3.7 yards per pass play while Pittsburgh’s pass plays have resulted in a first down or touchdown an NFL-worst 22.5% of the time. That’s bad news for an offense with a banged-up quarterback trying to find his way.
8. A 4.4 yards per carry average is nothing special, but Jackson’s athleticism and the effective use of pre-snap motion continue to make an efficient ground game. Though the Ravens aren’t using nearly as many heavy formations, Roman’s fingerprints linger, which is wise when talking about the rushing attack.
9. The sack numbers for Jadeveon Clowney in recent years don’t compare to T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith on the opposing side, but the disruptive veteran continues to pile up pressures. The Steelers won’t have left tackle Dan Moore, so first-round rookie Broderick Jones will have his hands full Sunday.
10. Hearing Patrick Queen point out Baltimore’s 1-5 record against the Steelers since his arrival and some perceived disrespect from Mike Tomlin during his rookie season leads one to believe he has no shortage of motivation this week. He and Roquan Smith have been really fun to watch this year.
11. Terps fans will remember Matt Canada for doing a respectable job as interim head coach in the wake of Jordan McNair’s death and DJ Durkin’s termination, but how much longer can Pittsburgh stick with him as offensive coordinator? The numbers aren’t pretty and don’t appear to be getting any better.
12. It’s strange for Ravens-Steelers to be playing second fiddle to the Orioles beginning the push for their first World Series in 40 years, but Sunday figures to be one of the most memorable sports days in this city in a very long time. The hype video below says it all.
Prediction: On paper, the Ravens have advantages all over the place and easily look like the class of the AFC North through the first quarter of the season, which might lead one to anticipate a fairly comfortable victory for John Harbaugh’s team. But I have too much respect for the history of this rivalry and have witnessed too many examples of the underdog rising to the occasion to pull off an upset or at least give the better team everything it can handle. I’m betting on this Steelers defense having too much pride to continue to play as poorly as it has early on, which will keep this game tight. However, Jackson — with heavy lifting from the Baltimore defense — will be a little too much to handle and will earn his first victory over Pittsburgh since 2019 in a 20-13 win for the Ravens.