By Daniel Benjamin
The Ravens currently sit one game behind the first-place Steelers in the AFC North. A win over the Steelers—and a win in Cincinnati over the Bengals in Week 17—will give the Ravens their first division title since 2012. Conversely, a loss to Pittsburgh will likely end the team’s quest of getting back to the playoffs.
Baltimore has won six of the past seven meetings with the Steelers, which includes a 21-14 victory in Week 9. In the first meeting of the year, the Ravens’ defense had a masterful game, holding the Steelers scoreless through three quarters and permitting just 274 total yards of offense.
The two teams meet once again in Week 16 on Christmas Day.
Steelers record: 9-5
Pittsburgh is playing their best football of the season and enter Saturday’s game having won five in a row. The Steelers are coming off a 24-20 come-from-behind victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, where they trailed 20-9 at halftime. They have outscored their opponents 127-70 during the winning streak.
The Steelers are 4-2 at Heinz Field this year with a plus-65 point differential.
Steelers on offense
The Steelers offensive line is the second best in the league, and they’ve been rolling on offense during the winning streak, accumulating 1,913 yards of total offense or 382.6 yards per game. Pittsburgh has kept defenses off balance with a nice mixture of runs and passes, averaging 230.4 yards per game via the air and 149.6 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been good, though not great, over the last five contests, completing 62.2 percent of his passes to go along with six touchdowns and four interceptions—three of which came in the blustery Buffalo weather two weeks ago. Big Ben is coming off a 21-for-36 for 286 yards and one touchdown performance against the Bengals. The 13-year veteran has completed 63.9 percent of his passes this season for 3,540 yards along with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Roethlisberger is 9-9 in 18 career starts against the Ravens, completing 59.1 percent of his passes for an average of 231.7 yards per game along with 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He completed 23 of 45 passes for 264 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the first game against the Ravens this year.
Pittsburgh has rushed for 97 yards in each of the team’s last five games. The Steelers average 111.7 yards on the ground for the season, but they were limited just 36 yards against the Ravens in Week 9.
Antonio Brown is the Steelers’ major threat at wide receiver, hauling in 96 passes for 1,188 yards and 11 touchdowns so far this year.
Steelers on defense
Just like their offense, the Steelers defense has shown significant improvement the last five weeks. Over the last five games, the Steelers are giving up 262.4 yards and 14 points per game. They have also forced at least one turnover in each one of those contests and a total of eight throughout the win streak. In addition, the Steelers have registered 19 sacks.
Pittsburgh ranks No. 9 in scoring defense (19.7), No. 8 in total yards allowed (334.1), No. 14 in pass defense (245.0) and No. 4 in rushing defense (89.1) overall.
Players to watch: Le’Veon Bell and Artie Burns
Le’Veon Bell has been terrific over the past several weeks. The running back has garnered 713 yards on 141 carries (5.06 yards per carry), of his 1,146 rushing yards this season over the last five games. He has also scored each one of his six rushing touchdowns during that stretch.
Bell is not only a running threat, but is also a huge weapon out of the backfield catching the ball. The fourth-year back has 72 receptions, which is second most on the team, for 601 yards and one touchdown.
While Bell did not have great success running the ball against the Ravens in the first meeting (32 yards on 14 attempts), he did total 70 yards from scrimmage as he grabbed six receptions for 38 yards. Bell averages 67.7 rushing yards a game and 35.7 receiving yards a game in his career against the Ravens.
Rookie cornerback Artie Burns has been everything the Steelers had hoped for when they nabbed him with the No. 25 overall pick in this past year’s draft out of the University of Miami. Burns leads the team with three interceptions and is second on the squad with 12 pass defensed. He is also sixth on the team with 50 tackles.
This game is a coin flip. In order for the Ravens to come out on top, they will have to find a way to stop Bell. The Ravens own the No. 2 rushing defense in the league (82.1), but they inexplicably gave up 169 yards to the Eagles last week.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has to protect the ball better if he wants to help his team get the win. Flacco, No. 7 in the league with 13 picks, has thrown an interception in each of his last four games and nine in his last eight games.