Steelers, Ravens meet for rematch
The Baltimore Ravens are facing a season-defining game against their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Baltimore is 4-4 and in third place in the AFC North with a critical stretch ahead. The Ravens likely need to go 6-2 in the second half of the season to end a three-year playoff drought.
The challenge starts with first-place Pittsburgh (4-2-1), which is riding a three-game winning streak.
"They're playing really well," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said about the Steelers. "They're not giving up the big plays like they did a little more, earlier in the year. They've tightened up that part of it. They've talked about that. I've seen that.
"To me, they're playing Steeler football in that sense. They're playing hard defensively. They've made big plays on offense."
The Steelers and Ravens have been going in opposite directions since they met Sept. 30 at Heinz Field. The Ravens beat the Steelers 26-14 and asserted themselves as early favorites to win the AFC North.
However, since that victory, the Ravens have lost two of their past three and the Steelers have won three consecutive games to take over first place in the division.
"It's a big game for us," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's a division game. It's a road game. It's Baltimore. Pick one, or all of the above. We have respect for this rivalry and our participation in it, and we're preparing with that in mind."
The Steelers are coming off an impressive 33-18 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh held Cleveland to 237 yards, a season low for Steelers opponents. They also scored 30 points or more for the fourth time in their first seven games.
The Steelers will be looking for a similar showing this week against the Ravens. They played well below average on both sides of the ball in the first meeting against the Ravens. The Steelers had just 19 yards rushing and could only manage 265 through the air.
"We have to start faster," said Steelers running back James Conner, who was held to a season-low 19 yards in the first meeting between the rivals. "They have a great defense. They're one of the best defenses in football right now. We're going to have to protect the football, stay disciplined and move the ball."
The Pittsburgh defense, meanwhile, gave up 451 yards, including 355 passing, in the first meeting with the Ravens.
"I don't know if they controlled the line of scrimmage as much as they controlled possession downs," Tomlin said. "Usually, when you are losing possession downs, it's because they are unfavorable for you offensively or they are very manageable for your opposing offense. We didn't do well enough on possession downs, and some of them were very manageable for our offense and some of them were long for their offense.
"As I look back at it, particularly in the second half of play, where the game really unfolded, we didn't do enough on possession downs. We didn't get off the field on defense and we didn't sustain drives on offense. I thought that was probably the singularly most deciding factor in terms of how the game unfolded."
The Ravens' 36-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers last week was especially glaring because they looked completely unprepared.
The Baltimore defense, which entered the game against Carolina ranked first for fewest yards (280.6) and fewest points (14.4) allowed, was picked apart by quarterback Cam Newton. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 219 yards with two touchdowns. Newton also ran for a 12-yard score that provided a 33-14 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the game
Harbaugh took full responsibility for the debacle in Charlotte, admitting his team was completely dominated in every facet of the game.
"We just didn't have it," Harbaugh said. "We weren't there in terms of what we needed to do -- coaching, playing, it starts with me. It's on my shoulders completely. I'll take responsibility for it.
"We just didn't click in anything. We weren't good in any area. There was nothing we did well and that starts with me -- the coach. I mean that's where it belongs, so put it on me and then move forward and get ready for Pittsburgh."
The Ravens brought in some help this week with the acquisition of running back and kick returner Ty Montgomery from the Green Bay Packers for a seventh-round draft pick in 2020.
Baltimore's running attack is ranked 24th in the NFL with 96.6 yards per game.
In seven games this season, Montgomery has 105 rushing yards and one touchdown on 26 carries. He also has 15 receptions for 170 yards.
"He's a very versatile player -- running back -- obviously very good in the pass game as a running back, as well -- protection and catching the ball in the backfield and things like that -- lines up at receiver at times, and then, as a kick returner," Harbaugh said. "He's done a good job, too, so he brings some versatility for us."
Updated October 31, 2018