Tim Benz: 2 keys to victory for Steelers, for Ravens
As we get ready for Sunday night’s edition of Steelers vs. Ravens, as usual, it appears both teams are matched up fairly evenly.
The Steelers are 1-1-1. The Ravens are 2-1. Both teams’ losses are in conference. Both have failed to win their only divisional game.
Baltimore is fifth in the league in scoring at 32.3 points per game. The Steelers are seventh at 29.3. Both clubs are in the top 10 when it comes to passing yards per game. Yet, both are ranked poorly in rushing yards per game. The Steelers are 23rd, and the Ravens are 26th.
Baltimore’s defense is significantly better than the Steelers. But Keith Butler’s unit does have more takeaways and sacks.
The Ravens are also better when it comes to special teams and avoiding penalties.
So expect what we usually get when Black-and-Gold meets Purple-and-Black: a stomach-turning, angst-addled affair that will come down to the wire.
I tried to find two key advantages per team that may set them apart coming into this game.
1) It’s a divisional game
Mike Tomlin’s team is on an 11-game unbeaten streak within the division. Yeah, I know — the Cleveland tie dulls that mark. But it still wasn’t a loss even though it felt that way Monday morning after the opener.
The Steelers swept all six AFC North games last year. And they won the final four division games of 2016. The last time the Steelers lost within the division was that 21-14 defeat in Baltimore back in game eight of 2016.
You have to go back to a 2015 loss versus the Bengals on Nov. 1 for their last home defeat within the North.
2) The Steelers are playing at home in prime time
They are usually very good in those scenarios. In fact, on Sunday nights specifically, the Steelers are on a nine-game winning streak. That dates back to 2013 and features two victories over Baltimore.
Roethlisberger does some of his best work in those kinds of situations.
#Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is 21-3 in regular-season primetime games @heinzfield :Comp.-Att. 539-803Pass Yards: 6,830TD Passes 55INTs 16QB Rtg 108.0He is 9-0 in his last nine home primetime games:Comp.-Att. 245-355Pass Yards 2,933TD Passes 30INTs 4QB Rtg 117.5
— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) September 26, 2018
Big Ben will also be aided in the sense that Antonio Brown may have more room to operate than normal against the Ravens. Cornerback Jimmy Smith is out one more week because of his NFL suspension. And as ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley wrote , Brown averages 151 yards per game against the Ravens when Smith doesn’t play. He averages only 60 against Baltimore when Smith is out there.
1) Baltimore’s red zone offense
It’s perfect. Quarterback Joe Flacco has piloted his team to a 12-for-12 start scoring touchdowns inside the 20.
“They’ve got a smart quarterback that has been doing it for a long time,” said cornerback Coty Sensabaugh. “He’s making smart decisions. Their skill players are making great plays.”
Sensabaugh is right about that last part. Seven different receivers have caught touchdown passes from Flacco. And when it comes to field goals? Well, Justin Tucker’s personal red zone is pretty much whenever the team gets to midfield. So the Steelers better be aggressive and make some impact plays on defense when the Ravens are on their own side of the 50-yard line.
A “bend but don’t break” mentality will backfire this week.
“We’ve got to start early in downs,” said defensive captain Cameron Heyward. “We’ve got to get off the field early. We have got to get in some advantageous situations.”
2) Baltimore’s second-half defense
The Ravens have yet to allow a touchdown in the second half. In the final 30 minutes of each game so far, they shut out the Broncos and allowed two field goals to the Bengals and one field goal to the Bills.
So the Steelers aren’t going to be able to play catch-up in this game like they tried to do against the Chiefs.
In general, the Steelers need to be more efficient early in games. Their first three drives against Cleveland resulted in punts or turnovers. Their first three drives against Kansas City ended up in two punts and a missed field goal. And in Tampa, they started with a punt and an interception.
“We’ve got to be efficient in what we are doing,” said offensive lineman Ramon Foster. “We can’t drop the ball, or have bad plays or turn the ball over.”
Look back at how close a lot of these Steelers-Ravens games have been at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 39-38 here last year. They won on the Antonio Brown “Immaculate Extension” in 2016. The 2015 defeat went to overtime (thanks to Mike Vick and Josh Scobee for that one). You have to reach back to 2014 and that 43-22 win over Baltimore to find a game in which the Steelers won comfortably at home against the Ravens.
Expect some of these factors to come into play as well in this chapter. I’ve got a final score of 29-28 Steelers.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.