(CBS Baltimore) — The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers always seem to play each other close. And glancing back at results from the last decade, that perception seems to line up pretty well with the facts. This season’s first matchup, with neither team dominant, will likely play out the same way.
Larry Hartstein, senior analyst at SportsLine, has a similar view. “This matchup is always tight. In fact, the underdog [is] 7-1-1 against the number in the last nine meetings.”
The Ravens beat up on the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals to open the season, piling up 72 points against two of the NFL’s worst teams. Then they gave up 73 points to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns the next two weeks. While Chiefs can certainly score, sometimes seemingly at will, the Browns, who put up 40 last week, aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut.
Hartstein guesses the Ravens are “…probably somewhere in the middle. The fact of who they played in those first two weeks, when you look at Arizona and Miami and how terrible they are, they’re (the Ravens are) not that good. And now they’re giving up seven yards per play, the worst in the NFL, even worse than Miami.”
To which extreme are the Ravens trending?
Given the quality of recent competition, the last two weeks are probably the better gauge of where the Ravens stand. Against the Chiefs, Lamar Jackson threw for 267 yards and ran for 46 yards, while Mark Ingram ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns. The defense allowed Patrick Mahomes to throw for 374 yards and three touchdowns and allowed Darrel Williams and LeSean McCoy to combine for 116 yards. Against the Browns, Jackson had a similar day, while Mark Ingram was less productive. The defense let Baker Mayfield throw for 342 yards and Nick Chubb pile up 165 yards and three touchdowns on the ground — both players’ most productive outing this season.
“Only 21% of the time have the Ravens forced a three-and-out,” Hartstein elaborated. “There’s going to be opportunities for that Steelers offense to get on track.”
That’s good news for Mason Rudolph, who may be finding his rhythm in Pittsburgh. While the Steelers hung close in their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3, Rudolph only managed to go 14-27 for 174 yards in his first team start. He was better the following week against the Cincinnati Bengals, going an efficient 24-28 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. It seems only fair to point out that the Bengals, like the Dolphins and Cardinals, are win-less.
A solid Steelers ground game would help prevent Rudolph from having to do too much. It would also help keep the ball away from Lamar Jackson, who can put up points in bunches, which would, of course, force Rudolph to have to do more. Unfortunately, James Conner has struggled so far, failing to gain more than 50 yards in a game and topping a four-yard average only once. This could be the week Conner breaks out of that slump. But let’s hope that, for the Ravens’ sake, it’s not.
The Ravens play the Steelers Sunday @ 1 ET on CBS.