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Ravens Insider: Ravens vs. Steelers scouting report for Week 18: Who has the edge?


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The Ravens thrashed the Miami Dolphins, 56-19, to clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. The Steelers kept their playoff hopes alive with a 30-23 road win over the Seattle Seahawks. Who will have the edge when these rivals meet in Saturday’s regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium?

Ravens passing game vs. Steelers pass defense

Lamar Jackson played perhaps the best game of his career in the blowout over the Dolphins, likely securing his second NFL Most Valuable Player trophy and ensuring he will be inactive against Pittsburgh. With three other quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, the Ravens have options for covering Jackson’s snaps. Tyler Huntley will start, with third-stringer Josh Johnson as his backup. The Ravens could also use the second half to look at Malik Cunningham, whom they signed off the New England Patriots’ practice squad to compete for their backup job next summer. Cunningham also took practice reps at wide receiver Wednesday. Huntley is 3-5 as a starter in his career and has completed 65.6% of his passes, but the team’s offense will be less explosive, with wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers also candidates to rest for most or all of Saturday’s game. That could lead to increased opportunities for wide receivers Rashod Bateman (four catches, 54 yards against the Dolphins) and Nelson Agholor and tight end Charlie Kolar. Offensive line starters Morgan Moses, Ronnie Stanley and Kevin Zeitler might be active against Pittsburgh, but don’t expect significant workloads for them either.

The Ravens could be in for a difficult afternoon against the Steelers’ talented pass defense, which ranks seventh in DVOA and ninth in pressures per dropback. Pittsburgh blitzes frequently and features two of the league’s best edge rushers in T.J. Watt (17 sacks, 34 quarterback hits, eight passes defended) and Alex Highsmith (seven sacks, 18 quarterback hits). Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward is usually in the same class but has struggled with a groin injury that sidelined him for six games. Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. has flashed considerable potential and made his lone interception in the Steelers’ Oct. 8 win over the Ravens. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, normally the top playmaker in Pittsburgh’s secondary, is working through a knee injury and was limited in practice Wednesday.

EDGE: Steelers

Steelers passing game vs. Ravens pass defense

The Steelers have sprung to life over the last two weeks with Mason Rudolph at quarterback and his positional coach, Mike Sullivan, calling the plays. Rudolph began the season third on the depth chart behind Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky, but Pittsburgh has scored more than 30 points in both of his starts after failing to reach even 20 in the previous five games. He has completed 68.5% of his passes with no interceptions, and the team’s most dynamic receiver, George Pickens, has exploded for 326 yards over the past two games. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson and tight end Pat Freiermuth, neither of whom played against the Ravens in October, are also back in the mix as significant targets. Starting tackles Broderick Jones and Dan Moore Jr. don’t grade as good pass blockers, according to Pro Football Focus, but the Steelers have allowed just 33 sacks this season.

They will take on a Ravens defense that ranks No. 1 in DVOA against the pass after holding Miami’s fast-paced aerial attack in check. They did it largely without starting cornerbacks Brandon Stephens and Marlon Humphrey and without do-it-all safety Kyle Hamilton. Expect those three to play little, if at all, against the Steelers, meaning cornerbacks Rock Ya-Sin, Ronald Darby and Arthur Maulet will again have to step up. Coordinator Mike Macdonald eschewed blitzes and trickery at the line of scrimmage in a successful second half against Miami, and it will be interesting to see if he goes vanilla against the Steelers given the low stakes. The Ravens lead the league in sacks, and veterans Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy are shooting to reach double digits, but they, along with top interior pass rusher Justin Madubuike, could rest more than usual.

EDGE: Ravens

Ravens running game vs. Steelers run defense

The Ravens lead the league in rushing and added 160 yards on 32 attempts against the Dolphins despite missing speedy rookie Keaton Mitchell, who’s out for the season. They will probably look quite different against the Steelers without Jackson drawing defensive attention and with top running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill seeing limited work. It could be a big day for veteran Melvin Gordon III, who bided his time on the practice squad most of the season but churned for a 7-yard score when he got in against Miami. The Ravens could also call up Owen Wright to take some carries.

They’ll take on a decent Pittsburgh run defense that has allowed 4.3 yards per carry but has held opponents under 100 yards three of the past four weeks. The Steelers’ top tackler, linebacker Elandon Roberts, is dealing with a pectoral injury that limited him in practice Wednesday. Watt and Highsmith are excellent run defenders on the edges, while Heyward is still sturdy in the middle.

EDGE: Even

Steelers running game vs. Ravens run defense

Pittsburgh continues to split carries between Jaylen Warren, who averages 5.4 yards per attempt, and Najee Harris, who’s coming off his best game of the season in Seattle. The pair combined for 197 yards on 40 carries against the Seahawks, though Harris did not practice Wednesday because of a knee injury. The Steelers weren’t a dynamic running team early in the season but have ground out at least 150 yards in five of their past nine games.

They will test a Ravens defense that has often conceded running room this season by going with lighter boxes. Miami’s De’Von Achane attacked them on the edge with 107 yards on 14 carries, knocking Macdonald’s defense down to 27th in yards per attempt allowed. Linebacker Roquan Smith is nursing a pectoral injury while his partner, Patrick Queen, aggravated a shoulder injury against the Dolphins, so the Ravens might rest their top two tacklers, though Queen said he plans to play. Malik Harrison, one of the team’s top edge setters, did not practice Wednesday because of a groin injury.

EDGE: Steelers

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker adds the point after try to the board as outside linebacker Tavius Robinson and Miami Dolphins defensive back Elijah Campbell watch during the fourth quarter of an AFC matchup of NFL football in Baltimore. The Ravens became the AFC North champions, securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs with their 56-19 drubbing of Miami. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
The Ravens will have the edge in special teams for Saturday’s game against the Steelers, thanks in part of Justin Tucker, left. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Ravens special teams vs. Steelers special teams

The Ravens have vaulted all the way to No. 2 in special teams DVOA thanks to a return game that has only grown more dynamic with Tylan Wallace fielding punts and Hill taking kickoffs. Hill’s 78-yard kickoff return to start the second half helped bury the Dolphins. Justin Tucker has made 31 of 36 field goal attempts, though coach John Harbaugh chose to go for it on fourth-and-7 rather than ask Tucker to kick from beyond 50 yards into the wind against Miami.

The Steelers rank 18th in special teams, with kicker Chris Boswell’s excellent work (28 of 30 on field goal attempts, including 6 of 7 from 50 yards and beyond) mitigating below-average performance on punt coverage and punt returns.

EDGE: Ravens

Ravens intangibles vs. Steelers intangibles

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin faced unusually bitter criticism this year for sticking with offensive coordinator Matt Canada until late November, but he has his team in position to steal another playoff berth with a win over the Ravens and a bit of help. Like Harbaugh, Tomlin never seems to lose his grip on a season, and his team will certainly be motivated to keep its postseason chances alive. Pittsburgh has won six of its past seven against the Ravens, none by more than a touchdown and many of them with late rallies.

The Ravens could not be riding higher coming off demolitions of the Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers, but they earned the right to rest Jackson and their many banged-up starters in a game they have little incentive to win.

EDGE: Steelers

Prediction

The Ravens would be favored by at least a touchdown if they needed to win this game, but they don’t, and the Steelers will be fired up to keep their season alive. Rudolph has given their offense a jolt, and they’ll move the ball against the Baltimore reserves. The Ravens will keep it close — is it ever not when these teams play? — but won’t sacrifice the greater good to chase victory. Steelers 20, Ravens 19

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