Baltimore Ravens (2-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3)
WHERE: Heinz Field
WHEN: Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, 1 p.m. EDT
Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale summed up the Ravens' plight about as succinctly as possible this week: "We just gotta play better football."
The Ravens' promising 2-0 start has been erased by consecutive losses, during which the Ravens allowed more than 500 yards of offense -- the first time in franchise history that has happened in back-to-back games.
Now they try to regroup in the cauldron of Heinz Field against a Steelers team that is trying to regain a foothold in the AFC North race after an 0-3 start.
As the Ravens look to end the first two-game losing streak of quarterback Lamar Jackson’s career as a starter and put some distance between them and their fiercest AFC North rival, here are three key matchups to watch:
Ravens ILB Patrick Onwuasor vs. Steelers RB James Conner or Jaylen Samuels
Inside linebacker play this year has been troubling enough that this week the Ravens signed not one, but two, inside linebackers in former Steeler L.J. Fort and one-time Raven Josh Bynes. Onwuasor has struggled to replace C.J. Mosley as the Ravens' middle linebacker and quarterback of the defense, both in coverage and in diagnosing and effectively stopping the run.
With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out, the Steelers have opted for a simplified offense with backup quarterback Mason Rudolph, and that entails a lot of runs, Wildcat formations and short passes, which could attack Onwuasor and the other Ravens linebackers.
Both Conner and Samuels had 10 carries and eight catches in the Steelers' 27-3 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4. Conner, who leads the Steelers in rushing (44 carries, 139 yards) and receptions (19 for 153 yards), suffered an ankle injury in the Bengals' game and missed practice this week. His status for the game is uncertain.
That could mean a larger role for Samuels, a fifth-round pick last year out of NC State who also threw three passes out of a Wildcat formation.
Ravens T Orlando Brown Jr. vs. Steelers OLB T.J. Watt
Head coach John Harbaugh praised the offensive line play this past week, as the Ravens rushed for 173 yards in the loss to the Browns. The Ravens average a league-best 5.88 yards per carry and rank No. 1 in total offense and rushing offense. Expect the run game to be a big part of the Ravens' plan.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson, though, was sacked four times in the loss to the Browns, and Brown ranks 23rd among tackles in pass blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. (Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley, incidentally, is PFF's top-rated pass-blocking tackle.).
Watt had 1.5 of the Steelers' eight sacks of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton Sept. 30. This year he has totaled 2.5 sacks and a team-high nine quarterback hits, along with an interception and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Ravens G Bradley Bozeman vs. Steelers DT Cameron Heyward
Bozeman will have a big role in whether the Ravens can effectively establish the running game against the Steelers' defensive line. Bozeman couldn't have liked watching the film of him getting run over by Browns pass rusher Olivier Vernon for an early sack of Jackson, but Bozeman has held up well overall in his first year as a starter.
Heyward had 2.5 sacks in the Steelers' Week 4 win against the Bengals. He can be a disruptive pass rusher and is at the heart of the Steelers' run defense. The former first-round draft pick has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons and finished 2018 with 51 tackles, 18 quarterback hits and eight sacks. Heyward missed one practice this week nursing a quad injury he sustained against the Bengals.
The Steelers' defense ranks 19th overall and 22nd against the run, allowing 122.8 rushing yards a game.
There's no Ben Roethlisberger, no Terrell Suggs, no Hines Ward, no Ray Lewis. The names have changed, but this is still Ravens-Steelers and the hits figure to be loud and frequent. The Ravens desperately need to shore up their defense, especially at the second level in the middle of the field, where Rudolph and the Steelers want to operate. If they don't, it will be a long flight home. The Steelers, though, are dealing with significant injuries to their offense, beginning with Roethlisberger.
Lamar Jackson and the offense lamented leaving points on the field last week in terms of missed passes and costly turnovers. This week they will do just enough.
Ravens 25, Steelers 23.
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Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox