After having their worst game of the season against the Browns, the Ravens already face what is arguably a “must win” game in week 5. Not only would a loss against the Steelers drop them to 2-3 with an 0-2 record in the division, it would mean that the Ravens dropped 3 in a row, including losses to teams that were 1-2 and 1-3 at the time. Games like this one are not games that good teams lose: if the Ravens are to be contenders this season, they have to win this game. Fortunately for the Ravens, they are facing the Steelers’ backup quarterback, who has constantly struggled to complete passes downfield. This game could be the antidote for their struggles in the secondary.
The Steelers team overall is surprisingly solid. Their defense has given up fewer yards per play than the league average in both passing and rushing. From Cam Heyward to Devin Bush to Joe Haden, every unit on defense has a reasonable amount of talent, and it shows with their above average defensive results despite facing a tough schedule of offenses for the first 3 weeks. The Steelers also have an above average offense line anchored by David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva, and thanks to the presence of Juju Smith-Schuster maintain a solid receiving corps.
Don’t let some relatively decent box score stats fool you: Mason Rudolph has been playing like a backup quarterback this season. Almost all of his production has come after the catch, and he has been the least effective quarterback in football at pushing the ball downfield. His 2.2 yards in the air per attempt ranks dead last. Their running game has also fared very poorly this season. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, their top 2 running backs, both average only 3.2 yards per carry. Barring a breakdown in the secondary, the Steelers should struggle to put up points or move the ball with any kind of effectiveness.
Key Matchup: Offense
Lamar Jackson vs Devin Bush and TJ Watt: When trying to defend against Lamar Jackson, great linebackers are a must. Jackson is at his most effective passing when targeting players over the middle of the field. He is also extremely dangerous on scrambles as the play develops, and defensive ends rush past the QB. Teams need fast linebackers with good instincts in order to defend against these kinds of plays. The Steelers, fortunately for them, have invested two of their last three 1st round picks in linebackers, and both are playing well this season. Neither of them are quite the athlete that Lamar Jackson is, so it will still take good scheming from their defense to keep him in check. If the Steelers can’t limit Lamar’s first down scrambles, or completions to an open Mark Andrews over the middle, the defense is in for a long afternoon.
Key Matchup: Defense
Marlon Humphrey vs Juju Smith-Schuster: Juju Smith-Schuster has been the Steelers’ most productive receiver this season and last and is one of the best receivers in the NFL overall. While the Steelers have struggled passing the ball so far, Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers receivers in yards, yards per target, and catch rate. He led the Steelers in all three of those stats last season, even with Antonio Brown on the team. Against Humphrey, however, Juju will have a tough time. Humphrey completely smothered Odell Beckham against the Browns last week and has only allowed 2.8 yards per target all season: the lowest of any player in the NFL with a significant number of targets. With an inexperienced 2nd year QB throwing the passes, Marlon Humphrey has the edge here.
Betting Line and Prediction
The Ravens are 3 ½ point favorites against the Steelers according to the Vegas Insider consensus. This is an opportunity for the Ravens to end their skid, and while the defense struggled against Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield, they are too talented to lose to a backup like Mason Rudolph. The offense had a couple of sloppy games as well but has still played at a high level overall this season, and still hold onto the league lead in points per possession thanks largely to the Miami game. They need this win and they will get it. Ravens 27, Steelers 16.