The Week 4 NFL slate brings a primetime showdown in Pittsburgh between traditional AFC North rivals. The improved Ravens are aiming to snap a three game losing streak against the resurgent Steelers. Mike Tomlin holds a slim 12-to-11 edge over John Harbaugh in head-to-head meetings.
After both teams earned impressive victories in Week 3, Pittsburgh is currently a 3-point home favorite and oddsmakers expect a high scoring affair with the point total set at 51. Trends favor Pittsburgh, the Steelers have won 13 of their last 19 games at home, 24 of 32 as a favorite and are 11-1 within the division recently. Furthermore, Baltimore is just 3-10 as an underdog and 6-10 on the road since 2016.
With a couple marquee players unavailable due to off-the-field issues and several other key contributors questionable due to injury, these five key matchups will determine who emerges from this grudge match victorious:
DT Brandon Williams vs C Maurkice Pouncey
Several Ravens run defenders will be playing through injury, if they suit up at all. The defense needs their well paid nose tackle to elevate his game in order to contain back James Conner. Fortunately, many of Williams’ best games have come against the arch rival Steelers.
Pouncey, a six-time Pro Bowler, is the rock in the middle of their stout offensive line. If Williams can hold his ground against Maurkice and guard Ramon Foster, it will allow rookie linebacker Kenny Young to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield. Perhaps more importantly, stuffing the Steelers rushing attack will enable the Ravens to devote more players into coverage against a dangerous receiving corps.
LT Ronnie Stanley vs OLB Bud Dupree
Stanley bounced back in a big way against Von Miller and company following a poor outing against the Bengals. Still dinged up with knee and elbow injuries, the team’s most irreplaceable player revealed his resilience. Matchups such as this are exactly the reason why Baltimore spent a top-6 overall draft pick on their blindside protector.
Pittsburgh will blitz with all four of their linebackers and both defensive ends Cam Hayward and Stephon Tuitt can get after the quarterback. Dupree has also been an impact player thus far with five hits on the quarterback, two sacks, two pass deflections, an interception and a forced fumble. The Ravens need Stanley to anchor their pass protection against a Steelers defense that is currently tied for the second most sacks in the NFL.
CB Brandon Carr vs WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Following a strong start to the season, Brandon Carr turned in perhaps his worst performance as a Raven last week against the Broncos. Demaryius Thomas and Courtland Sutton beat his coverage throughout the second half. Carr allowed completions on seven of eight targets for a total of 88-yards.
Meanwhile, Smith-Schuster has emerged as Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to man so far this season. The second-year wideout has already amassed over 350-yards on 27 receptions in 2018. Nonetheless, with Jimmy Smith serving a suspension and Marlon Humphrey expected to mark Antonio Brown on most plays, the Ravens will be forced to trust their veteran corner against JuJu. Minimizing chunk plays will be the main objective.
WR John Brown vs CB Joe Haden
‘Smokey’ has been the linchpin behind the Ravens passing offense’s improvement. He provides a vertical element that opens up the middle of the field for Joe Flacco and his 12-222-2 stat line includes multiple highlight reel contested catches. Baltimore will probably need to connect on a couple deep shots to their top playmaker in order to keep pace on the road.
Starting corner Artie Burns struggled to contain the Bucs receivers last week, but top cover man Joe Haden had a successful return from injury. However, the former top-10 overall draft pick does not have the top speed necessary to chase Brown. Flacco should be able to effectively spray the ball around to his other receivers and tight ends, especially without Ryan Shazier roaming the middle of the field. Still, with the Steelers likely to to stack the box and stonewall Baltimore’s rushing attack, they could certainly use some splash plays from Brown.
S Tony Jefferson vs TE Vance McDonald
Jefferson has fared much better under new coordinator Don Martindale than he did in 2017. Last week, Tony blanketed Jake Butt on a crucial fourth-down stop. While coverage will never be his specialty, Tony has proven he the skills to limit middle-tier tight ends.
McDonald has been considered a major disappointment since the Steelers acquired him from the 49ers. However, he just turned in his best game of his tenure on Monday night, including a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown that displayed his athletic gifts. Baltimore’s safeties must stay behind the Steelers tertiary receiving threat, especially when Roethlisberger improvises.