Steelers Writer: Pittsburgh Can Dominate Ravens If Defense Avoids Mistakes
Forecasting the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North over the heavily favored Ravens might classify as a bold prediction. But suggesting the Steelers could dominate the Ravens when they meet? Now that's BOLD.
After analyzing film of last season's two Baltimore-Pittsburgh games (both won by the Ravens), Behind The Steel Curtain's Geoffrey Benedict concluded that if the Steelers eliminate defensive mistakes, they can dominate the Ravens in 2020.
"If the defense can perform like they did in the second half of the Week 5 Ravens matchup, the Steelers won't be in a position to be competitive with their division rivals, they will be in a position to dominate them and take back the AFC North title," Benedict wrote.
The Ravens won that Week 5 matchup at Heinz Field, 26-23 in overtime, to end a two-game losing streak and start a 12-game winning streak. Baltimore also beat the Steelers in Week 17, 28-10. With the top seed in the AFC clinched, the Ravens rested Lamar Jackson and several other starters in that game against a Pittsburgh team that was battling for a playoff berth.
"The 2019 Steelers defense had Lamar Jackson largely solved," Benedict wrote. "There were a few big problems, most notably [linebackers] Mark Barron and Devin Bush making mental mistakes in Week 5, and [defensive tackle] Javon Hargrave being exploited by power run schemes in Week 17.
"Devin Bush is not a rookie, and improved steadily in the mental side of the game as the season went on. Mark Barron and Javon Hargrave are gone. [Defensive end] Stephon Tuitt isn't going to get moved off his mark as easily as Javon Hargrave, and [linebacker] Vince Williams is a much better player to play against the Ravens than Mark Barron."
It's true the Steelers did a better job of containing Jackson than any other team last year. He threw three of his six interceptions on the season in that contest, had a season-low 54.9 quarterback rating and was sacked a season-high five times.
Jackson will never make excuses, but here's what The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote about his performance:
"In some respects, Jackson was unfortunate. Tight end and top target Mark Andrews was upended right as (and maybe a smidge before) his second-quarter pass arrived over a crowded middle and fell into Steelers cornerback Kameron Kelly's hands. In the third quarter, tight end Nick Boyle's full-extension attempt tipped a pass into the unlikely hands of linebacker Devin Bush, who had his head turned away from the ball on the play. Andrews and rookie wide receiver Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown (three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown) cycled in and out of the game with minor injuries."
Bottom line: Despite having his worst game of the season, Jackson led the Ravens to a gritty win over their archrivals in his first road start against an AFC North foe. Trailing 23-20 with 2:41 remaining in regulation, Jackson directed a 45-yard drive that set up Justin Tucker's 48-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
With the return of Ben Roethlisberger and a stout defense, the Steelers figure to be a formidable foe for the Ravens, but Baltimore has too much talent on both sides of the ball to be dominated by any team. I fully expect to see the typical Ravens-Steelers slugfests this season.
Speaking of which, "Good Morning Football's" Peter Schrager made the case for Pittsburgh having the best defense in the NFL, but his colleague, Kyle Brandt, disagreed.
"I love the Steelers, but they don't even have the best defense in their own division, because it's the Ravens," Brandt said. "Give me Baltimore. The secret about Baltimore last year was after they got Marcus Peters they were the best defense in the league the rest of the way. I think the optics are bad with them because we remember what happened against Tennessee [in the playoffs]. So what do they do? They got Calais Campbell. They drafted Patrick Queen. They got muscle."
Bleacher Report's Chris Roling also gave the edge to the Ravens. In his rankings of the top seven defenses in the league, he placed the Ravens at No. 1 and Steelers at No. 2.
How Will George Kittle, Travis Kelce Blockbuster Deals Impact Andrews?
Yesterday was a good day for elite tight ends. George Kittle agreed to a five-year extension reportedly worth $75 million with the San Francisco 49ers, and Travis Kelce agreed to a four-year extension reportedly worth $57.25 million with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The news of those deals undoubtedly put a smile on Andrews' face.
"This kind of extension will undoubtedly impact the Baltimore Ravens as Mark Andrews enters his third NFL season," Baltimore Beatdown's Kyle P Barber wrote. "He also enters as one of the best tight ends in the NFL. … Andrews is also becoming one of Lamar Jackson's favorite targets and with TE Hayden Hurst traded to the Atlanta Falcons, I expect his numbers to only increase."
Andrews, a 2018 third-round pick, had a breakout season last year. He led all tight ends with 10 touchdown catches and finished first on the Ravens in receptions (64) and receiving yards (852).
"Though Andrews is two years away from being an unrestricted free agent and a year away from an extension even being possible, the bar has been set for what top tight ends earn, of which Andrews is on the precipice of becoming," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote.
Dez Bryant's Tweet to Jackson Reignites Speculation
Before the Antonio Brown-to-Baltimore speculation became a recurring hot topic, another mercurial star wide receiver – Dez Bryant – was often linked to the Ravens. Talk of Bryant's interest in signing with the Ravens has resurfaced after Bryant responded to one of Jackson's tweets.
Bryant, a three-time Pro Bowler during his eight seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, hasn't played in an NFL game since 2017. Bryant, 31, reiterated earlier this week on Twitter that he remains interested in making a comeback.
In January, Bryant tweeted that suiting up in black and purple was one of his "dream goals."
After becoming a free agent in 2018, Bryant signed with New Orleans that November, but suffered a torn Achilles in practice two days later and never played a game for the Saints. Bryant reportedly had turned down a multi-year offer from the Ravens before the start of the 2018 season.
In response to Bryant's tweet to Jackson, a fan tweeted that he should've signed with the Ravens when he had the chance. Bryant replied that he "wasn't mentally prepared" to do so at that time.
Predictions: Ravens Will Break Their Rushing Record, Win Super Bowl
What can the Ravens do for an encore after breaking the record for rushing yards in a season? Break it again, of course.
The Ravens rushed for 3,296 yards last year, shattering a record that had stood since 1978, when the New England Patriots ran for 3,165 yards. CBS Sports' Tyler Sullivan predicted the Ravens will make history on the ground again in 2020.
"The Ravens have the personnel, the talent, and buy-in from the coaching staff to run the football early and often, so they are extremely well-positioned to break their own record this year," Sullivan wrote.
To Sullivan's point, the Ravens not only return Jackson – who set the single-season rushing record for a quarterback last season – and running backs Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, but they also added second-round pick J.K. Dobbins, who rushed for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns at Ohio State last season.
"The Ohio State product runs extremely well out of the shotgun formation, which is how Baltimore does most of its rushing damage," Sullivan wrote.
On a side note, Sullivan also predicted Brown to have more than 1,000 yards receiving.
"Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown is a popular pick to enjoy a leap in production as he enters his second year in the league and we're firmly on that bandwagon," Sullivan wrote. " … He's the clear-cut top receiver in this potent offense and Lamar Jackson will likely look his way early and often when he drops back to pass."
Speaking of predictions, Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson picked the Ravens to be the top seed in the AFC and win the Super Bowl.
"If the league hasn't figured out how to stop Lamar Jackson – and he may be such a singular force that there is no magic blueprint to be discovered – it's hard to see how anybody will contain this team without the benefit of some lucky breaks again and burying them in a significant deficit in the playoffs to change the game flow," Monson wrote.