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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 03 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Rarely has a Week 9 game felt so important for the Ravens.

A win over Pittsburgh snaps a two-game slide and leaves Baltimore in solid shape in the AFC North entering their much-needed bye week. A loss leaves the Ravens under .500 at the bye for the fourth straight year and needing to win five of their final seven games just to finish with a 9-7 record — familiar territory — while outside talk of wholesale changes will only grow louder in the off-week.

They understand what’s at stake, but focusing too much on the big picture is a slippery slope, especially when playing against the Steelers.

“When you worry about the outcome of things before it has actually happened, that’s when you start making mistakes,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s when you start playing tentative.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals meet for the 50th time — counting the postseason — with Pittsburgh owning a 27-22 advantage. Including the playoffs, the series is tied 12-12 in the John Harbaugh era with 17 of those contests decided by a single possession. A victory would give the Ravens their fourth season sweep of the Steelers in their 23-year history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. First-round rookies Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson will each score a touchdown. Hurst grew up a Steelers fan and was drafted by the Pirates, making him eager to make his mark after sitting out the first meeting. The Ravens must start seeing a return for their first pick in this year’s draft, and Pittsburgh has struggled to defend tight ends this season. Meanwhile, a good Steelers run defense and multiple injuries along the offensive line should compel offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use Jackson more than usual to gain yardage on the ground and keep some pressure off Flacco.

2. Flacco will be sacked a season-high five times behind a patchwork offensive line. The 11th-year quarterback has played some of his best football against Pittsburgh over the years, but the absence of Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst leaves the Ravens in a tough spot against a defense that has 24 sacks in 2018. Baltimore will use plenty of max protect, but that will allow the Steelers to devote more attention to John Brown. The key to moving the ball will be quick throws over the middle of the field, but Pittsburgh rushers T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Bud Dupree will still be licking their chops.

3. The Baltimore defense will force its first second-half turnover since Week 4. The consensus message from players and coaches this week was that the takeaways will come, but the Ravens have only seven through their first eight games and really could have used one trying to protect a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New Orleans or to spark a comeback against Carolina. Wink Martindale’s defense did a good job confusing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first meeting and will need more of the same to set up a struggling Baltimore offense on a short field.

4. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald will catch touchdowns for the Steelers. Much like the Steelers defense, the Ravens are most vulnerable over the middle, which is problematic against Smith-Schuster in the slot and a capable pair of tight ends in McDonald and Jesse James. That area of the field is even more concerning as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Tony Jefferson deal with injuries. A returning Marlon Humphrey makes you feel better about keeping Antonio Brown from wrecking the game, but the linebackers and safeties must rebound from a poor showing in Carolina.

5. The banged-up Ravens will suffer their third straight loss in a 23-17 final. Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that his offensive line is healthy enough to win the game, and I fully expect his team to battle after last week’s clunker against the Panthers. However, Jermaine Eluemunor being trusted to block Flacco’s blindside is a scary proposition, and this offensive line hasn’t been effective enough in the run game to alleviate pressure in the pocket. On the flip side, the Ravens defense is also banged up and facing a Pittsburgh offense averaging just under 30 points per game. Playing at home will help, but 10 of the 24 Ravens-Steelers contests since 2008 have been won by the visitor and these teams have been moving in opposite directions since Week 4. I just haven’t seen enough of an “it” factor from the Ravens to believe they’ll overcome their current injuries and get the job done against a tough foe.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-14 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning their first road victory of the season in a 26-14 final over Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You can’t harp on the Ravens not being able to beat an elite quarterback on the road and not give proper credit when they do — without Jimmy Smith. That was their best win since the 2014 playoffs and puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

2. Despite a 96.9 season passer rating, Joe Flacco was annoyed about the offense squandering opportunities to score more points Sunday. Tell me again that his improvement is all about Lamar Jackson — which implies he didn’t care before — and not about the organization putting better talent around him.

3. John Brown already has a team-best six catches of 20 or more yards, which would have ranked second behind Mike Wallace’s 11 for the entire 2017 season. His 22.5 yards per catch average is third in the NFL. He’s fun to watch, and his chemistry with Flacco can still improve.

4. The biggest criticism of the defense in recent years has been the inability to close in critical games. Anthony Levine was responsible for ending all three of Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter drives by breaking up a third-down pass to force a punt, intercepting another, and batting away a fourth-down attempt. Clutch.

5. Too much is usually made about halftime adjustments, but Wink Martindale’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown after intermission in four games — allowing just nine points total — and pitched a second-half shutout at Heinz Field. He’s clearly doing something right.

6. John Harbaugh wisely expressed confidence Monday that Alex Collins will improve his ball security as he did last year, but his goal-line fumble completely changed a game that was bordering on becoming a blowout. The running game remains a concern, but the Ravens must stick with Collins’ upside.

7. Kenny Young played 24 defensive snaps compared to Patrick Onwuasor’s six, signaling a shift in the competition for the inside linebacker job next to C.J. Mosley. That said, both must improve in coverage or we’ll continue to see Martindale use Levine (28 snaps) as a dime more frequently.

8. The third-and-1 completion to Maxx Williams to extend a long fourth-quarter drive drew praise — and controversy — because of his alignment. Flacco said after the game they’d practiced that play for two years, and it was the first time Williams had gotten through the line of scrimmage unscathed. Interesting stuff.


(Screen capture courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

9. My guess is the Ravens continue to carry four tight ends with the anticipated return of Hayden Hurst this week. However, with Williams and rookie Mark Andrews playing so well, you wonder if Nick Boyle would be the most vulnerable if a move needed to be made there.

10. Sunday night was an example of how to play strong defense without much of a pass rush as the Ravens faked blitzes, effectively disguised looks, and covered very well. Baltimore is tops in the NFL in yards per play allowed at just 4.4.

11. Tony Jefferson hasn’t made as many splash plays as you’d like after the Ravens gave him a four-year, $34 million contract, but his strip and recovery against Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh’s opening drive was spectacular. He fairly noted after the game how that could have been ruled an interception.

12. If you didn’t hear Harbaugh’s post-game press conference on Sunday night, take a listen at the 2:45 mark HERE. Kudos for recognizing the memory of Bobbi Engram, the daughter of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and giving her a game ball. Powerful stuff.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 29 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Making predictions for a Ravens-Steelers game is often a fool’s errand.

We know it’s typically close — 17 of the last 23 meetings including the playoffs have been decided by a single possession — but something crazy usually happens in the process.

Safety Eric Weddle said this week these aren’t the same old Ravens and they’ve learned from the last two heartbreaking defeats at Heinz Field in which they held double-digit fourth-quarter leads, but this is the chance to prove it and make an early statement that 2018 will be different than the last three non-playoff seasons. Sunday night marks the fifth consecutive season the Ravens’ trip to Pittsburgh will be televised before a national audience.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series. Pittsburgh holds a 24-20 advantage and is 12-11 — including the playoffs — against Baltimore in the John Harbaugh era. The Steelers have won the last three meetings in this AFC North rivalry.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the Steelers wide receiver giving the Ravens the biggest headache. It remains to be seen how defensive coordinator Wink Martindale approaches the challenge of covering Antonio Brown, but the 6-foot-1 Smith-Schuster does most of his damage from the slot, presenting a challenge for the 5-foot-9 Tavon Young. The nickel corner was exposed in Cincinnati in Week 2 and is still looking to regain his rookie form after last year’s knee injury. The Ravens will change up their coverages, but the defense needs a strong night from Young in order to get off the field.

2. John Brown and Willie Snead will each catch a touchdown against an injury-depleted Steelers secondary. Pittsburgh ranks 28th in the NFL in pass defense and is expected to be without starting safety Morgan Burnett and nickel corner Mike Hilton. It will be interesting to see how Steelers cornerback Joe Haden is used, but no one in the Pittsburgh secondary can run with the speedy Brown, who leads the Ravens with 222 receiving yards. If the protection can slow a capable Pittsburgh pass rush, Brown could be in line for a big night while Snead should find room in the middle of the field.

3. Pittsburgh tight ends and running backs will combine for 13 catches and a touchdown reception. Le’Veon Bell won’t be out there, but Steelers running backs and tight ends combined for 24 catches and two touchdown catches last December. The Ravens won’t have quite that much trouble, but C.J. Mosley will be less than 100 percent and the Steelers won’t hesitate to test Tony Jefferson and Weddle in coverage. Even with so much attention paid to Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner and tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald can’t be ignored.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect his first full sack against the Steelers since 2013. The personal rivalry between Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger goes back to 2004, but the seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has just one-half sack in his last eight games against Pittsburgh. The Steelers will be welcoming right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert back to the lineup, which will only increase the challenge of pressuring the pocket. The Ravens finished with three sacks in the last meeting when Roethlisberger threw an absurd 66 passes. That can’t happen again if they want to win.

5. Joe Flacco and the offense will show up, but the Ravens defense falls short in a 31-27 loss. A rivalry once known for low-scoring affairs saw a whopping 77 points scored in the Week 14 contest played at Heinz Field last year. This one will follow a similar script as the Ravens offense will move the ball and score points, but the absence of Jimmy Smith once again looms large. After incorrectly picking Baltimore to win in Pittsburgh last December and watching Andy Dalton carve up the secondary in the first half of the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati, I need to see the Ravens prove they can get over the hump this time around. If it’s a different outcome, special teams could be the difference as Justin Tucker remains the best kicker in the NFL and Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell is a total mess now.

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