With the NFL season officially halfway in the books, the (4-3) Pittsburgh Steelers hit the road to renew a longstanding rivalry with the (3-4) Baltimore Ravens (1pm ET, Sunday on CBS). On the line for the winner is at least a share of the lead in the AFC North, which the Steelers currently hold over the second place (3-4-1) Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals may have won the division in 2013 and ’15 but other than that, the AFC North has long belonged to the Steelers and the Ravens. Entering into this season it seemed that would be much of the same as Baltimore began their year an undefeated 3-0 and Pittsburgh won three of their first four.
However since those strong starts, both the Ravens and Steelers have struggled mightily. Without Ben Roethlisberger (pictured), who is expected to return in Sunday’s contest, Pittsburgh has dropped each of their last two and not in particularly close outcomes either. In fact, between the loss to the New England Patriots and New York Jets the week prior, the Steelers have been outscored 57-31.
The Ravens have done even worse, turning an opening slate against three of the worst teams in the NFL into a 3-0 record only to follow that up with a four game losing streak. Unlike the Steelers, who have been plagued by key injuries, it is really hard to pinpoint what exactly has happened with Baltimore. It is very possible though that the Ravens were never as good as three wins over last place teams would suggest.
How will Big Ben Look in his First Game Back?
Pittsburgh has definitely missed their quarterback over the last two weeks and that has shown in the lack of offensive production the Steelers have managed. So the good news is, after missing two weeks, Roethlisberger is back and he is coming back at a time where the team really needs him.
The bad news is that Roethlisberger, over the last three years, has been very much a worse signal caller on the road than at home. The differences in the numbers aren’t negligible either. In fact, they are quite significant and that’s something that the Steelers are certainly aware of.
Since the start of the 2014 season, Roethlisberger’s passer rating at Heinz Field is a very impressive 111.5. However, when looked in context with his passer rating on the road, that home number looks even better. On the road, Roethlisberger has a very paltry 86.7 rating. That puts him among some of the lower ranked QBs in the league in this category.
It is not just his passer rating however that suffers when Roethlisberger plays games outside of Pittsburgh: 14-3 at home over the last almost three years, Big Ben is just 8-8 on the road. He has 51 touchdowns, an average of exactly three per game, at Heinz Field, and just 13 interceptions. On the road, it’s just 18 touchdowns which are matched by 18 picks. That’s over two picks per game thrown on average at opponents’ stadiums.
One last thing to consider is that when Roethlisberger missed time last year, four games, he returned in a loss against the Bengal, managing just one touchdown and three interceptions at home. That was one of his worst home games in the last three years. He will no doubt be looking for better production and a better outcome that that 16-10 loss.
Can the Ravens run on the Steelers D?
Once regarded as one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Steel Curtain years and those that followed, were some of the best in not only Pittsburgh history but among the entire NFL. It’s been quite a few years however since the Steelers have resembled this tough, rough and take no prisoner’s type of shutdown defense. This year especially, the Steelers have had trouble stopping the run.
While this would ordinarily be an area an opposing team would look to exploit, the Ravens are not a good ground team. In fact they really aren’t even serviceable. Baltimore ranks 26th in the league in rushing yards per game and 25th in yards per carry, which is just under four. Not to mention, the Ravens have had a tendency to abandon the run early in games as they rank well toward the bottom at 28th in overall attempts.
However, like as mentioned earlier in this preview, the Steelers aren’t exactly the best at shutting down the run, at least not with consistency. On the year, Pittsburgh has four wins and in those games, they’ve allowed just 65 yards per game. That’s incredible and would put them near the top of the league in that category. When you factor in that number during losses, over 162, it puts into perspective a weakness Pittsburgh has and one that should be a focal point for opposing game plans going forward.
The teams that have exploited this leaky run defense and have really put pressure on the Steelers have been the ones who have been able to win. It is certainly no coincidence that Pittsburgh has lost and lost badly this year when their opponents have run them into the ground.
Our Preview’s Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Ravens Betting Picks Verdict
It would be ridiculous to say Roethlisberger is ever a liability, even away from Heinz Field, but he is less of a sure thing. That being said, he still has LeVeon Bell, one of the best running backs in the league and still has Antonio Brown, one of the best wide receivers in the league. He has the weapons and he has the offense. But can he keep it together on the road? That’s a big question and one that will determine who walks away with the win in this NFL game.
If Roethlisberger can play near his best, then this should be an easy one for Pittsburgh. The Ravens have lost four in a row and it is not by accident. They are not as good a team as their opening record made it seem. Now that they have played much tougher outfits, that has been brought to the surface.
- So this preview’s betting predictions’ conclusion and the pick is to take the Steelers to get the win. Because of doubts over the line-ups for this game, the best of the legal offshore sportsbooks have yet to put up their betting lines for this game.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.