Aside from the NFC West division, the AFC North is easily the most tightly-contested divisions in all of football. With three teams having at least five wins through seven weeks, you best believe that these next few games for Baltimore are absolutely crucial. Most notably, this upcoming Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh could be an early preview of the 2020 AFC North Divisional Champion.
Yes, we all know how the Ravens swept the Steelers last year with the aid of Marlon Humphrey’s trademarked punch, but in both of those games, the Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger. Throughout the years, we’ve seen how there is an absolutely colossal difference between a Ben-less Steelers team and a Steelers team with Ben at the helm.
In the two games from last season, a Steelers offense led by Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges looked to upend a rock-solid Ravens defense. In a sloppy Week 5 game at Heinz Field, Humphrey took the game into his own hands and forced a fumble in overtime. This allowed for a game-winning kick by the leg of Justin Tucker, which gave the Ravens a 26-23 victory.
In the Week 17 matchup, Lamar Jackson received a rest week after the Ravens earned themselves a bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. As a result, Robert Griffin III received the starting nod, played modestly, and dismantled a below-.500 Steelers team that started Hodges at quarterback.
As great as sweeping the Steelers was, let’s look at how the Ravens have fared against a Steelers team led by a healthy Roethlisberger.
In the past seven meetings where Roethlisberger has started, the Ravens have won only three of them. Ever since the infamous Christmas Day game when Antonio Brown pulled off one of the greatest stretches in football history (kind of like the Michael Jordan Space Jam stretch), Roethlisberger and the Steelers have been 3-1 against the Ravens.
Their most recent win came during Jackson’s rookie season when he was still being used as gadget-type player. It was also the year when Le’Veon Bell took a year long vacation after he and the Steelers repeatedly failed to come to terms on a new contract extension.
In the Week 9 matchup of 2018, a Roethlisberger-led Steelers team appeared to be in control during the entire duration of the game. The Steelers took a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter after a couple of Roethlisberger touchdown throws to James Conner and Antonio Brown.
The Ravens trimmed the lead down to eight after a Tucker field goal to end the half. In the third quarter, the Steelers maintained control and extended their lead as Roethlisberger punched in a goal-line sneak after a long, time-consuming drive.
The Ravens responded with a touchdown of their own by Alex Collins to trim the Pittsburgh lead down to seven. However, a responding field goal by Chris Boswell extended their lead to 10, which essentially ended the game for the Ravens as only three more points were scored — with Tucker being the beneficiary.
In a low-scoring 23-16 Steelers victory, Joe Flacco played at a sub-par level. He completed 23-of-37 pass attempts for 206 yards with no touchdowns or turnovers. Interestingly enough, Flacco contracted a back injury from the game, which prompted John Harbaugh to make history and start Jackson the very next week against the Bengals.
For Flacco’s sake, it’s pretty unfortunate that his final Ravens start resulted in him being out-dueled by Big Ben and the Steelers.
What can be expected this Sunday?
As if I couldn't get any more poetic, Lamar Jackson will be making his first career start against a Roethlisberger-led Steelers team.
In the most important matchup thus far for Baltimore in 2020, Jackson will have to face the NFL’s best overall defense that allows the fewest yards per game, sixth-fewest passing yards per game, and the second-fewest rushing yards per game.
I’d by lying if I said that my personal expectations for the Ravens are high based on what I’ve seen so far this season; however, one thing I can definitely do is hope. I hope that Jackson has a career day and mentally locks himself into the game from the jump.
Baltimore’s defense must have their best game all season if they want to mitigate the talent and firepower of Pittsburgh’s complete offense. The addition of Yannick Ngakoue couldn't have come at a better time, and the likes of him, Matthew Judon, Calais Campbell, and Tyus Bowser will have to pressure Roethlisberger if they want to stymie Pittsburgh’s pass-first offense.
The Ravens secondary will also need to put forth a stellar performance for a chance at a Ravens victory, too. The challenge of facing Pittsburgh’s offense will be different than that of others because of Roethlisberger’s tendency to pick apart defenses with shorter and quicker throws that allow for the gain of easy yardage.
Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Jimmy Smith must be atop their games to limit the effect of an extremely talented Steelers wide receiving corps.
Win or lose, a game like this figures to bring back childhood memories of classic Ravens and Steelers football. Jackson beating Roethlisberger would would be pure poetry and reminiscence of Flacco coming out on top during his era.