The Pittsburgh Steelers are back at it again, this week at home after securing two wins on the road in a six-day span. And today’s game marks the first of the season against the Baltimore Ravens, who have a three-game advantage over Pittsburgh in the AFC North standings, though are tied at 8-4 with the Cincinnati Bengals.
If the Steelers have any even remote hope of becoming relevant in the division this year, or even the playoff race broadly speaking, then that makes this game a must-win affair for all intents and purposes. And it should be winnable with the way they have been playing.
The biggest concern would have to be the run defense. Even with the Ravens being at less than full capacity in terms of personnel and health in the run game, they still command one of the deadliest units in football, and that’s regardless of who is at quarterback.
Pittsburgh held its own against another good run defense last week, that of the Atlanta Falcons, in the first half. The second half was another story and it came close to costing them the game if not for Atlanta stalling in scoring position due to penalties.
You certainly can’t expect that kind of help on any consistent basis, so that simply means that they have to play better. The Ravens are very much capable of playing for 60 minutes the way that the Falcons played for about 20 in the second half a week ago.
But the Steelers’ own running game has come alive in the past month. Can they keep it going against the Ravens? It’s probably the best run defense they’ll have faced in this stretch, especially if you factor in health, and some of Pittsburgh’s backs are a bit banged up as well, not to mention right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor.
As for the Ravens’ passing game, well, it’s mostly about Mark Andrews, the All-Pro tight end, and that’s how it’s been for the past half a decade by now. He has a substantial lead in every receiving statistic on the team—yet his numbers aren’t so far removed from that of Pat Freiermuth this year, aside from the 5-for-1 touchdown advantage. Andrews did miss a game.
The skill positions have largely been a revolving door for Baltimore this year outside of Andrews as the fixture and perhaps wide receiver Devin Duvernay, which isn’t saying all that much. But it’s been a long time since the passing game was the heart of a Ravens offense.
That’s because whether it’s Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley, they have a dynamic running threat at quarterback behind an offensive line built to run-block and a system in place that forces everyone to buy in. The strategy has long been to put the ball in the quarterback’s hands and make him beat you that way. That applies today as ever. But the Steelers have to stop the run first.