Steelers-Ravens Preview: AFC North Lead On The Line In Division Showdown

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(CBS Baltimore) — The Pittsburgh Steelers, at 6-0, remain undefeated. And they beat the Tennessee Titans, the AFC’s other undefeated team going into last Sunday’s action, to get there. By the end of the evening, with the Arizona Cardinals knocking off the Seattle Seahawks, the Steelers would become the NFL’s only undefeated team.

The Baltimore Ravens will look to challenge that perfect record in Week 8, when they host their AFC North rival. The Ravens, at 5-1, enjoyed a bye in Week 7. Any chance they had at a perfect record ended with a Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. This week’s matchup will be another chapter in the intense division rivalry that always seems to come down to a field goal.

>>READ: NFL Week 8 AFC North Picks: ‘When The Steelers Play The Ravens, Somebody Wins By Three Points,’ Says SportsLine’s Kenny White

The Ravens enter the game with some questions on offense. While they lead the NFL in rushing at 164.3 yards per game, and score close to 30 points per game, they’re near the bottom in passing at 177.8 yards per game. Part of the problem is that they just don’t attempt that many passes; their 165 attempts on the season is lowest in the NFL. Lamar Jackson only has 10 touchdown passes so far, well off last season’s 36-TD pace. He hasn’t thrown for 200 yards since Week 2. Opposing defenses have already sacked Jackson 15 times, which puts the team on pace to eclipse last year’s total of 23.

Jackson, of course, remains among the league’s more dynamic offensive players. And as NFL On CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle pointed out in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer, “It was such a historic year last season, that it probably isn’t fair to compare it. You can’t just assume that you come back and do exactly what you did a year ago. Teams adjust, teams figure it out. And then it’s incumbent upon you to now determine what your identity really is.”

Finding that identity against this Steelers defense is a tall order. The unit, ranked tops in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per game, excels against the run and the pass. Blitzing constantly, they also lead the league in sacks with 26 and have an active streak of 63 games with at least one sack.

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The Steelers were impressive again on both sides of the ball, at least at times, in their win over the Titans. By the time Tennessee had their second possession, Pittsburgh led 161-1 in terms of total offense. Ben Roethlisberger had two touchdown passes in the half, both to Diontae Johnson. Benny Snell had another on the ground. They jumped out to a 24-7 lead by halftime and held on to win at the end. Roethlisberger ended the day with 268 yards, on 32-49 passing. But he also tossed three interceptions, and the offense didn’t do much in the second half.

On the season, the Steelers are averaging over 30 points per game. But the offense ranks outside the top 10 in terms of rushing and passing yards per game. They certainly have their fair share offensive weapons, with Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Diontae Johnson among their receivers. James Conner is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. And Roethlisberger is spreading the ball around nicely, completing 68 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions on the season.

“I don’t even think we’ve seen them at their best,” says Eagle. “We have not seen major splash plays yet from the Steelers. That’s still in their arsenal and at some point, they’re going to hit on those. They have been very controlled in how they run their offense.”

“I just think Ben is playing some of the best football of his career. Despite a couple of mistakes last week, I just feel like his presence in that lineup gives them this real genuine feeling that they could win the whole thing.”

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They’ll be facing a Ravens defense that allows a league-low 17.3 points and a respectable 339.8 yards per game. The unit has forced at least one turnover in 19 straight games. Since the Ravens last played, the team also traded for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who has five sacks on the season with the Minnesota Vikings and 37.5 sacks in his four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He should improve the Ravens’ already solid pass rush.

Neither team has a clear advantage, though the Steelers, despite being undefeated, are four-point underdogs. That might just be home-field advantage. With 4,300 attendees allowed, the Ravens will enjoy some amount of fan support. And they will be more rested, with the Steelers coming off a hard-fought battle with the Titans. Regardless, look for a hard-fought game that comes down to a late field goal or defensive stop.

The Ravens play the Steelers Sunday, November 1 @ 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS. 

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