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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview and Prediction

Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin

The NFL’s Thanksgiving Day slate of action ends with a tasty matchup of AFC North archrivals, as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will meet up again at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. While Mike Tomlin’s Steelers and John Harbaugh’s Ravens both sit at 5-6, certainly not where they intended to be entering this season, they are part of the five-team jumble for the final AFC Wild Card spot and just two games behind the division-leading Bengals (7-4).

Pittsburgh has won the last two meetings with the Ravens, the most recent being a 19-16 victory in Week 7. The three-point victory is fitting, considering eight of the last 10 regular-season games have been decided by that exact margin. The Steelers hold a 20-15 edge in the all-time series during the regular season.

4 Things to Watch

When Last We Met
Entering Week 7, Pittsburgh (1-4) had finally gotten into the win column the previous week with a 19-6 victory over the Jets on the road. Baltimore was at 3-3 after dropping a 19-17 decision to Green Bay at home. On a Sunday night at Heinz Field, the defenses more or less dictated things, which is not unusual when the Steelers and Ravens get together. The home team struck first, Ben Roethlisberger connecting with tight end Heath Miller on a short touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead. The teams settled for field goals from there, with Shaun Suisham and Justin Tucker each connecting on three apiece to make the score 16-9 Steelers with less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense finally put a sustained drive together, culminating with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark and a tie game with less than two minutes to go. Emmanuel Sanders put the Steelers in good field position on the ensuing kickoff, taking it from deep in his own end zone for 44 yards. Starting from his own 37-yard-line, Big Ben led his team 39 yards in seven plays, setting up Suisham for the 42-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Statistically speaking, the game was pretty even in terms of total yards, first downs and time of possession. The Steelers had the lone turnover, a Miller fumble, but were able to overcome that and win their second straight game after starting the season 0-4. The Ravens, meanwhile, missed a golden opportunity to put their archrivals into a huge hole while also keeping pace with Cincinnati, who was 5-2 after Week 7.

Since Week 7
Baltimore went on bye the week after the loss to Pittsburgh, but the break didn’t help solve the Ravens’ offensive issues. A disappointing showing at Cleveland in Week 9 extended their losing streak to three games before bouncing back with a big overtime win over division-leading Cincinnati in Week 10. The momentum was short lived, however, as the Ravens fell to the Bears on the road the following Sunday in a game that was delayed nearly two hours due to severe weather. The roller-coaster ride continued last week with Baltimore’s defense smothering Geno Smith and the Jets for a comfortable 19-3 victory at home. The Ravens’ defense has done its part most of the season, holding opponents to just 16.8 points per game over the last four with seven takeaways. The offense, however, hasn’t returned the favor. Baltimore averaged just 274 yards and 19.3 points per game, while committing eight turnovers during this same four-game span. The running game has been an issue all season, as the Ravens rank 27th in the NFL in rushing offense, but Joe Flacco hasn’t exactly lit up defenses either. Pittsburgh meanwhile, was unable to build off of its Week 7 victory over Baltimore, as the Steelers made the trek across country to face the Raiders and put themselves into a 21-3 halftime hole they couldn’t crawl out of. The next week was even worse, getting drilled by New England 55-31 in Foxboro, Mass., in a game in which Pittsburgh set franchise records for most points and yards (610) allowed. The Steelers have since turned things around, however, winning their last three by an average margin of 13 points. The offense, behind Ben Roethlisberger, has been more productive and taken care of the ball (1 turnover in last three games), while the defense has had more moments of looking like the Steel Curtain of old. Take out one bad first half (27 PA) against Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in Week 11 and the Steelers’ defense has given up a total of 21 points in 10 quarters. The Steelers are starting to click on both sides of the ball, and as a result have gone 5-2 since a 0-4 start and are very much alive for a postseason berth.

Smash-Mouth Football
Things are usually pretty physical when the Steelers and Ravens get together, but that doesn’t mean that either team has had much success playing that way this season. Both rank near the bottom of the NFL in rushing offense, with the Ravens coming in at 27th (81.7 ypg) and the Steelers 30th (77.3 ypg). Ray Rice finally posted his first 100-yard game of the season two weeks ago when he went for 131 against Chicago, but he’s still averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and has scored a total of four touchdowns. Pittsburgh rookie Le’Veon Bell has played in two fewer games than Rice (8 to 10) and has fewer carries (143 to 156), yet he has five more yards rushing (455 than 450) and the same number of touchdowns as the Pro Bowler. In fact, Bell’s best game came against Baltimore in Week 7, when he rushed for 93 yards on 19 carries. The Steelers out-rushed the Ravens in that game 141 to 82, and this category should factor into tonight’s game too. Pittsburgh’s success against Baltimore on the ground was somewhat surprising; considering the Ravens have been pretty strong against the run all season. Baltimore is 11th in the league in rushing defense (102.6 ypg) and has given up a grand total of one rushing touchdown so far. The Steelers have had their issues stopping the run, as they rank 23rd in the league (118.8 ypg) and have surrendered 13 rushing touchdowns. However, as the first meeting showed, how things look on paper don’t always play out on the field, especially when it’s these two teams. Either way, whichever team can gain an edge in the battle of the trenches tonight should be well positioned to walk away with the win.

Key Matchup: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Joe Flacco
Even though these are two defensive-minded teams, the connection between the quarterbacks is pretty much unavoidable. Both have led their teams to Super Bowl wins, both are paid like franchise quarterbacks, and both have received their share of criticism. From a numbers standpoint, Roethlisberger is lapping Flacco this season, as Big Ben leads in all statistical categories. He has been buoyed by some big games lately, with 11 touchdown passes and two performances of 367 yards passing or more over his last four games. Flacco has struggled in the afterglow of last season’s Super Bowl championship and since signing his lucrative contract extension. He has the same number of touchdown passes as interceptions (14 apiece) and he is averaging less than 250 yards passing per game. He has surpassed his per-game average just once over his last five outings and Flacco has thrown at least one interception in each of his last four games. It’s no stretch to say that Roethlisberger has all the momentum headed into tonight’s game, but Flacco has already proven that he’s capable of playing at a high level when it matters the most. Tonight may not be the Super Bowl, but both teams need their quarterbacks to bring their “A” game if they want to stay in the thick of the postseason race in the AFC.

Final Analysis

It’s somewhat ironic that two teams that really don’t like each other will play on Thanksgiving Day. However, it’s NFL fans that should be thankful for getting a heated rivalry like Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore as the final course of the NFL’s Turkey Day tripleheader. The fact that the two teams are tied at 5-6 and in the thick of the chase for the final AFC Wild Card spot only makes it even more appetizing.

The Steelers have turned things around in a big way since starting 0-4, and would love to beat the archrival Ravens a third straight time. On the other hand, Baltimore would like to put an end to both of Pittsburgh’s winning streaks (Seelers have won their last three games, as well as two in a row over the Ravens), while also staying within striking distance of AFC North-leading Cincinnati.

Call it a Super Bowl hangover or the result of a lot of offseason changes; the Ravens are not the same team that won the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February. The Steelers meanwhile have seemed to find their second wind after their disastrous start, and appear to be peaking at the right time. It will be another instant classic, but Ben Roethlisberger and company find a way to claim their fourth straight win and bragging rights over the defending Super Bowl champions with a sweep.

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Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 17