There are few teams in this century that have been more defined by their defense than have been the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, and those two rams have butted horns twice (sometimes three times) a year in tough, physical, hard-fought, and frequently close games, which are often enough decided by a key late defensive stop.
This year, the stakes are very high for a game in the first half of the season. The Steelers come in 6-0, the Ravens, hosting, 5-1. The winner of the game will be the leader in the AFC North. Both offenses have been notable, but so, too, have the defenses.
The Ravens actually possess the top-ranked scoring defense for the moment, but it does seem the Steelers somehow overshadow them due to their pass rush. And Baltimore is coming into this game looking to prove that they have the best defense in the NFL.
“It’s more exciting for this game for me, because they are the No. 1 defense and that’s where we want to be at”, edge rusher Pernell McPhee said. “So, it’s definitely a defensive game for me. I tell my guys every week – the outside linebackers – that in order for us to be what we want to be [and] get a win, our outside linebackers have to play their edge guys and our defense has to outplay their defense. So, most definitely; they’re coming in our hometown and they’re the No. 1 defense – why not outplay them and try to move towards our goals of being the No. 1 defense?”.
The Steelers do rank first in total yards allowed. The nearest team that has already played seven games has given up more than 300 additional yards, so they are also leading in yards allowed per game. But they rank sixth in points allowed. They are also third and yards per play, sixth in passing yards, and second in rushing yards, allowed per game. Finally, they rank third in percentage of drives allowing a score (Baltimore is first), but now only 12th in takeaway percentage.
“It’s a big deal. This game has always come down to defense – both defenses”, Jimmy Smith said. “Not saying they … You know who they have over there at quarterback and what they do on offense. But this is one of those physical, heavyweight fights. And it does usually come down to the defensive plays, and they have one of the best ones [defenses] in the NFL right now. It’s definitely going to come down to defensive plays made on Sunday”.
There has been a lot of turnover on both sides over the years, but Smith and McPhee have among the longest tenures in this rivalry on the Ravens’ side. They know some of the better defenses that they have seen in Pittsburgh. They have seen what the Steelers are doing now, and they are ready to match up toe-to-toe.