Another installment of the best rivalry in the NFL is on tap in Week 4 as the Steelers travel to square off against the Ravens in Baltimore. The AFC North showdown will pit strength against strength when Pittsburgh’s well rounded offense faces the Ravens opportunistic defense. The winner of this contest will stake an early lead in the race for divisional supremacy.
Both teams are dealing with injury concerns in the trenches this week. Steelers starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and left guard Ramon Foster, as well as defensive end Stephon Tuitt and edge rusher T.J. Watt are all listed as questionable with various ailments. The Ravens have also been battered by injuries, their top three guards are all on injured reserve and possibly two thirds of the starting defensive line will be unavailable.
In each of the last four meetings between these arch enemies, the team that accrues more rushing yards has earned the win. Naturally, the team with the highest rushing total has won the time-of-possession battle as well. Each hard hitting defense will attempt to impose their will on the opposition. Expect a street fight this Sunday.
Five key matchups:
QB Joe Flacco vs ILB Ryan Shazier
Facing the Steelers could be just what Flacco needs to snap out of his funk. Many of the best performances of his career have come against Pittsburgh, as evidenced by his 20:9 touchdown to interception ratio in regular season meetings. Following his two interception, zero touchdown, 28 passing yard output in Week 3, Baltimore’s coaching staff will aim to get Joe into an early rhythm by using the short to intermediate passing game. Shazier, a rangy Pro Bowl linebacker, will draw coverage responsibilities against Ravens tight ends and running backs. He has posted 26 tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass defensed on the season so far. The chess match between these two players will have a strong correlation to the Ravens third down conversion rate.
WR Jeremy Maclin vs CB Artie Burns
The veteran offseason acquisition has been far and away the Ravens best receiver so far this year. Last season, Maclin posted 78 yards on five catches against Pittsburgh. He will draw an easier matchup that he saw last week versus Jacksonville’s elite cornerbacks. But Burns is no slouch, the young corner has 15 pass deflections and three interceptions in 19 career games. A shorthanded Baltimore offense desperately needs Maclin’s involvement and yards after the catch potential to help move the chains.
RT Austin Howard vs DE Cameron Heyward
After two solid games against the Ohio teams, Howard was manhandled by Calais Campbell and the Jaguars front in London. Heyward, a team captain, will often be lined up across from Howard. He has recorded one sack against the Ravens and made a large impact with his run stopping ability. Cam has three quarterback hits and two tackles for a loss this season. It is no secret that Flacco struggles when pressured in the pocket. If the Ravens are to pull off the upset, Howard must also open up some holes for the Ravens running back committee.
OLB Terrell Suggs vs QB Ben Roethlisberger
Suggs is in vintage form with three sacks, two forced fumbles and a turnover producing pass deflection already this season. However, he was rather quiet in Week 3, mostly due to Dean Pees passive scheme. Pees usually utilizes a more aggressive gameplan against Roethlisberger, which has helped Suggs produce numerous memorable sacks and takeaways. Ben has developed a reputation for struggling on the road in recent seasons. He posted an 82-percent quarterback rating against the lowly Bears last week and fumbled on one of their three sacks. Marquee players have to step up in big games, and these two veterans are the undisputed leaders of their respective teams.
CB Brandon Carr vs WR Martavis Bryant
Another crucial new Raven, Carr has six passes defensed and a pair of interceptions through three weeks. However, he was beaten for a 35-yard completion down the right sideline last week. Bryant is rounding into form after missing 2016 with a drug related suspension. The explosive playmaker has scored three touchdowns in three career games against Baltimore. Much attention will be paid to Antonio Brown, but this secondary matchup is just as important for both teams. The Ravens have proven generating turnovers is an essential element of their winning formula this season. If Carr can create another takeaway, it would be huge for the home team.