The Ravens and Steelers are gearing up for another game in their storied rivalry, with the latest matchup coming in Week 8 between two of the best teams in the NFL.
Lamar Jackson is preparing for just his second-ever start against the Steelers, and his first with Ben Roethlisberger on the opposing sideline. The Ravens have the advantage of coming off their bye week, while the Steelers are the final unbeaten team in the NFL this season. By all accounts, Sunday's game looks like it will be yet another classic between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
To help break down the most highly-anticipated game on the Week 8 schedule, let's dive into some statistics that better tell the story of Ravens-Steelers.
The Ravens and Steelers have played in some epic matchups over the years, and it's led to the NFL's most balanced rivalry. Since 1999, each team has beaten the other 23 times, and their PPG in those 46 games are less than a single point apart.
The best rivalries are those where the two sides are actually competitive with each other and it doesn't get much better than Steelers vs. Ravens. pic.twitter.com/uxnpRCw52v
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 28, 2020
The rivalry has become even more evenly-matched in recent years. Since John Harbaugh took over the Ravens in 2008 (Mike Tomlin became the Steelers' head coach in 2007), the Ravens-Steelers rivalry has the lowest average margin of victory at just 7.3 points per game. That was most true early in Harbaugh's tenure - 10 of his first 12 regular season games against the Steelers were decided by 3 points or fewer, and one of the remaining two was decided by four points.
Only two of their last eight matchups have been decided by less than a touchdown, so there has been a little more separation recently. But considering Baltimore and Pittsburgh have combined for eight of the last 10 AFC North titles, both sides are expecting another close battle on Sunday.
The Ravens and Steelers are both in the top-10 in the NFL in points per game, though neither number tells the full story. The Ravens are eighth in points per game, but just 27th in yardage. The Steelers are sixth and 21st, respectively. Both offenses are boosted by excellent field position from their defenses and special teams, and the Ravens have received multiple scores from their defense.
For all their struggles in living up to last season's record-setting offense, the Ravens have still consistently put points on the board in 2020, even if it hasn't looked nearly as easy.
The Ravens are back in action this week and they have scored in every quarter so far this season.
Their 24 straight quarters with a point is tied for the longest streak to start a season in NFL history according to @EliasSports. pic.twitter.com/6l1y7Of5vt
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 28, 2020
It speaks to the Ravens' potential for an explosion that they have managed to still tie NFL records offensively while managing regression from Lamar Jackson and the rushing attack as a whole. Even with the running game taking a step back, however, Jackson is still leading the NFL in yards per carry.
The advanced metrics back this up - the Ravens are 19th in overall offensive efficiency by DVOA ranking, but they are fifth in rushing efficiency. The Steelers are more balanced, coming in at 19th in passing and 15th in rushing by the same metric.
It's been the receivers where the difference is most notable this season. The Ravens have just two receiving touchdowns by their wideouts, which is tied for 30th in the NFL. The Steelers, on the other hand, are tied for 2nd with 12.
Neither quarterback has truly excelled in the matchup. Jackson has only had one opportunity against Pittsburgh, and he threw three interceptions in the game. The rest of 2019 combined, he threw three other picks. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger has 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his career in Baltimore.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens and Steelers are defined by the same thing: blitzing. Both franchises love to bring added heat against opposing quarterbacks, and they both excel when bringing pressure.
The Steelers lead the NFL in pressure percentage at 40%. This could be problematic for Lamar Jackson, who has just a 53.5 QBR this season when pressured. The Steelers get pressure by blitzing 42.7% of the time - 2nd highest in the NFL.
Steelers & Ravens blitz at the two highest rates in the NFL per @NextGenStats. Big Ben leads the NFL, completing 70.5% of passes vs blitz this season in part due to having the fastest time to throw (2.29s). Lamar Jackson has not taken advantage of the blitz the way he did in 2019 pic.twitter.com/lQgmw1ncRl
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 27, 2020
Of course, Baltimore is the only team that blitzes more often than the Steelers, at 47.2%. But unlike the Ravens, the Steelers have a quarterback who has excelled under pressure. Roethlisberger is getting rid of the ball faster than he ever has in his career, and as a result he has the highest completion percentage in the league against blitzes, plus the second-most touchdowns.
Both teams are top-three in defensive efficiency by DVOA, with both coming in top-eight against the pass and top-three against the rush. Whichever way you slice it, the numbers show these are two of the NFL's elite on defense. And those numbers have all come without Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in Baltimore, who is expected to make his Ravens debut this weekend.
This is a matchup between the number one scoring defense in the NFL (Ravens) and number one total defense (Steelers). That's happened 15 times in NFL history, but in the last 10, the number one total defense has won. Hopefully for the Ravens, that trend reverses on Sunday.
Most of the games played in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry have been high stakes, but Sunday's matchup takes it to a whole new level. Their combined record of 11-1 entering Sunday's game is the best in the history of the rivalry.
The NFL's best rivalry takes it up a notch on Sunday.
The Steelers and Ravens are a combined 11-1 this season.
Their combined .917 win percentage will be the highest entering a Pittsburgh-Baltimore game in the series history.
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) October 28, 2020
The Ravens are the NFL's best team after the bye week since division realignment in 2002, and under Harbaugh they are 10-2 while outscoring opponents 315-184 after a week of rest. They are hoping those patterns will hold in Week 8, as the winner of the game will be in the driver's seat not only for the AFC North crown, but perhaps the top seed in the AFC as well.
Per ESPN, this is just the fifth game in NFL history between the reigning MVP and a team 6-0 or better. The unbeaten Steelers will have history on their side, as the MVP has fallen in three of the previous four such instances.
This is a massive matchup in every way. History, elite units on both sides of the field, and of course, supremacy in perhaps the NFL's best division on the line. It will be fascinating to see how both teams approach this game, especially considering how their strengths and weaknesses match up against one another.
There will be no surprises when the Steelers and Ravens take the field. Just two upper echelon teams who will want nothing more than to take down the other. Make sure to clear your schedules for Week 8, with the league's best rivalry kicking off at 1 p.m. Sunday.