The Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-0, but their toughest game may lie ahead of them on Sunday. After defeating the Tennessee Titans 27-24, the Steelers are riding high into Baltimore as they face the Ravens coming off a bye. Maybe that makes this matchup just that much harder. Given the fact that the Ravens have two weeks to prepare for the Steelers, who are battered and bruised from a physical game in Nashville. What should the Steelers expect when they head to Charm City?
The Ravens offense is primarily an offense that operates out of the shotgun and pistol formations. Under offensive coordinator Greg Roman, they have implemented a multitude of innovative concepts, including some college concepts that are creeping through. The bread and butter of the offense is the running game. They thrive off of read options, zone options, and inverted veer to really throw off the defense. It is this running game that gives so many looks to throw off opposing defenses.
This play is a perfect encapsulation of what the Ravens do on the ground. It is a trap play, and the blocking is beautifully done, especially by the center to kick out the 1-technique here. However, the premise of the play remains the same whether this is a zone run, power, counter, or whatever the Ravens dial-up. All of those are in their repertoire and they have a diverse and plentiful run game. Tight End Nick Boyle is often offset to Lamar Jackson as a do-it-all blocker. On split zone runs especially, Boyle is deadly at kicking out the edge. However, the motion aspect of this play is huge. The Ravens love motion and will use jet sweeps from time to time. Note how this shifts the Eagles linebackers. It forces them to change gap responsibilities and throws the whole unit out of their run fits. Now, Nate Gerry has to hold the edge in case Jackson keeps this or the sweep comes. With no one else left to fill that void, Mark Ingram gets a huge hole to run right through. The Ravens love putting teams out of alignment in their run fits.
In the passing game, the Ravens like to use a lot of concepts that create traffic. However, they have been trying to throw outside the numbers for a bit in their gameplans. As for why is a mystery, as Jackson struggles on those throws, but they are trying to push the ball down the field. The Ravens have some speed at receiver that is necessary to hit those balls, but they are not high percentage plays. Jackson is at his best attacking the middle of the field, which is where the Ravens can create traffic and leverage.
In the red zone, the Ravens like to run this air raid mesh concept. The motion by Snead identifies the coverage they are working with, and more importantly creates leverage for them to hit this throw to the pylon if they get an advantageous matchup with Snead. However, the play-action sucks in the linebackers and safety, so Boyle can slip behind them to get open. It is tough for linebackers and defensive backs to keep track of everything here, which is why it is successful.
As for the Ravens defense, they are an aggressive bunch. The Ravens blitz more than anyone else in the NFL this season. Yes, even the Steelers themselves. The Ravens have done this to help create one-on-one matchups and will send anyone from their free safety to even boundary cornerbacks at times. They are a creative unit that mixes up their blitz packages and looks quite nice. Baltimore will get handsy and play a lot of bump and run or press coverage. They run more man coverage than most teams as a result of that heavy blitzing number as well. Even still, that means a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks similar to the Steelers defense. There are Cover 2 and quarters looks in this defense, but it has not been what they have shown thus far on the season.
Players to Watch
QB Lamar Jackson
The star of this matchup will be facing Ben Roethlisberger for the first time in his career. However surprising that maybe, Jackson is a threat with both his legs and his arm. In the open field it is not just his speed, but his vision, contact balance, and quickness that allow him to break so many tackles and break big plays against defenses. In the air, Jackson makes some beautiful throws, especially over the middle of the field. However, he has struggled outside the numbers his entire career. When Baltimore gets shut down, it usually becomes teams force Jackson to make those throws outside the numbers and hashes. The accuracy there for him is just inconsistent.
TE Mark Andrews
The main weapon that Jackson loves to throw to, Andrews has given the Steelers some trouble in the past. Drafted out of Oklahoma, it is Andrews’ strong hands and ball skills that make him such a mismatch. Defenders can have blanket coverage on Andrews, but he will play bully ball and go up the ladder to go get it. His athleticism also allows him to line up all over the formation and run a full NFL tight end route tree at a high level. Andrews is one of the best tight ends in the NFL and is a mismatch problem.
DE Yannick Ngakoue
While Calais Campbell and Matt Judon may be on the minds of fans more so than Ngakoue, the newly acquired edge rusher from the Minnesota Vikings has been relatively solid thus far on the year. His pass-rush numbers are up across the board, and with the familiarity with Campbell’s pass rush style, these two can work off of each other. Ngakoue has millions of dollars on the line based on his performance with the Ravens for the rest of the season, so in order to earn that contract, he will be motivated to have a big game on Sunday.
CB Marcus Peters
Marlon Humphrey is the number one cornerback on this Ravens squad, but Marcus Peters is the real dangerous one to watch for this Steelers team. With Peters, it is feast or famine, however, the man coverage, overly aggressive Ravens scheme fits Peters perfectly. He will take gambles to try and jump balls for pick-sixes, but in the process can get caught biting on double moves and giving up the big play. That is the trade the Ravens make with Peters, and he could show up on Sunday in either light.
Matchups to Watch
Chase Claypool and James Washington vs Ravens Cornerbacks
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marlon Humphrey are heading for a clash and it is likely that Diontae Johnson and Marcus Peters are as well. That means the Steelers two Z-receivers and outside deep threat in Chase Claypool and James Washington must step up to the task. The good news for the Steelers is that both of these guys do their best work against man coverage when they can really take advantage of the defense’s aggressiveness and beat them with subtle physicality. Both will yearn for the physical matchup they face, so they should be able to step up and make plays.
Steelers Offensive Line vs Ravens Blitzes
More important than anything in this game is keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright. That means communication among this offensive line is going to be key. They must be able to identify their assignments and pass off stunts with ease. The Steelers are facing a talented and unknown group with Ngakoue added to the mix, so it will not be easy, but they have to hold up to a decent degree to make sure Roethlisberger has time to lift this team-up.
Lamar Jackson vs Steelers Inside Linebackers
With the Steelers missing Ulysees Gilbert III and Devin Bush out for the season, it is up to Robert Spillane and Marcus Allen to help the Steelers slow down Lamar Jackson and his speed. The sideline-to-sideline discipline and mental processing have to be on point to contain Jackson as he tries to win on the edges away from the Steelers’ blitzes. If they are able to keep pace with Jackson and make some key tackles, the Steelers can shut down the offense and possibly pull this one out.