Ravens-Steelers game postponed until Sunday afternoon.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 25, 2020
**Update: While it is unfortunate that this rivalry game won’t be the night game for Thursday night football, we do get to see this huge AFC divisional battle played on Sunday. More time shouldn’t have a huge impact on the game, I think both Ravens RB’s will still be out. But the NFL has a remarkable lack of consistency with Covid protocols. It’ll be a wait and see.
Previously in my Thursday Night Football Preview series, I correctly gave readers the correct spread and O/U, while missing the score of the game by a field goal. Looking to continue some momentum, we have the best rivalry in the NFL on Thanksgiving prime time when the Baltimore Ravens visit their undefeated division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens will look to stop the bleeding of a two-game losing streak and ruin the Steelers’ dreams of a perfect season, while the Steelers will try to take advantage of a team down their top two running backs. In their first matchup in Week 8, the Steelers won a back-and-forth game 28-24 that saw the Steelers outscore the Ravens 21-7 to come back and take the first matchup between the two in the 2020 season. Both defensive units are in the top tier in the NFL; will this game be a lower-scoring, physical game that we attribute to Ravens-Steelers games of the past?
Baltimore Ravens (6-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0)
Spread: Steelers -5.5 | Over/Under 44.5
Entering this week, the Baltimore Ravens are 15-5 straight up in their last 20 games, including 10-1 straight up in their last 11 games on the road. The Ravens are 2-4 ATS in their last 6 games this season but are 4-0-2 ATS in their last 6 games playing on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The total has gone UNDER in 7 of the Ravens’ last 9 games against opponents from the AFC. The Steelers are 5.5 favorites according to Space Casino. Not to be outdone by their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 15-2 straight up in their last 17 November games. The Steelers are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games, including 6-0 ATS against their last 6 opponents from the AFC. The total has gone OVER in 4 of the last 6 games played against the Baltimore Ravens. The total has gone UNDER in 5 of the Steelers’ last 7 games played in November and 11 of their last 16 games played in Week 12.
Despite throwing 49 passes that travel 20 or more yards in the air (No. 4 among quarterbacks), Ben Roethlisberger has only thrown 15 passes deemed unnecessary that could have resulted in a turnover (No. 28). The reason for Roethlisberger’s ability to throw it far in the air and not in danger of being intercepted is his offensive line this year. His offensive line has a 92.2-percent (No. 1) Protection Rate on PlayerProfiler. It also helps that even when his offensive line does allow pressure to get to Roethlisberger that he can complete 56.1-percent of his passes under pressure (No. 3). Roethlisberger’s 67.1-percent completion percentage (No. 18) is deceptive this season. His receivers have dropped 66 passes, which leads the NFL. When factoring out dropped passes and throwaways for all NFL quarterbacks, Roethlisberger’s 81.7-percent completion percentage is No. 3 among all quarterbacks. As a passer, this is the best we’ve seen Roethlisberger in his career. In week 8, Roethlisberger had his second-fewest passing yards of the season with 182, but that game was affected by bad weather.
In comparison to Ben Roethlisberger, Lamar Jackson has been one of the least accurate quarterbacks this season. When factoring out dropped passes and throwaways, Jackson is No. 28 in completion percentage with 70.3-percent accuracy. His inaccuracy has lead to being top-5 in quarterback danger plays (29) and interceptable passes (18). The way to beat Jackson in 2020 is to bring pressure (pressure completion percentage: 35.8-percent, No. 24), but keep him in the pocket (play-action completion percentage: 71.7-percent, No. 7). The Steelers have the outside pass-rushers to contain Jackson with T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Stephon Tuitt. Jackson’s offensive line will have their hands full containing this trio. In Week 8, the Steelers showed how they would beat Jackson by opting to not pressuring Jackson (0 quarterback hurries) and forcing him to stay in the pocket and beat them with his arm (46.4-percent completion, season-low).
Not good news for the Baltimore Ravens rushing attack this week as J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram tested positive for Covid-19 late Sunday night and ruled out for the Thanksgiving game. The good news for fantasy managers is that the Ravens’ backfield is no longer a three-headed RBBC. Time to get on the Gus Bus if haven’t already. Coincidentally, Gus Edwards’ best game of the season came against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense in Week 8 when he carried the ball 16 times for 87 yards and a touchdown. Edwards is a one-dimensional running back; in 37 career games, he has 12 catches on 16 targets. Because of his lack of passing game involvement, Edwards has been a fantasy non-factor all season in this running back committee. However, Edwards is a strong runner that benefits from defenses spying on Lamar Jackson because of his rushing ability at the quarterback position. Edwards averages a healthy 4.4 yards per carry on the season that includes a 4.7-percent breakaway run rate. Expect Edwards to see a similar volume as week 8 with the potential to run for 100 yards and a touchdown without his RBBC partners playing in this game.
Gus Edwards isn’t the only running back in this game set to dominate running back touches in his backfield. James Conner has remained healthy this year after a brief scare in Week 1 and has a 65.1-percent opportunity share of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back opportunities. Conner has done his damage solely on the ground this season (645 rushing yards, No. 8). Ben Roethlisberger has not looked Conner’s way in the passing game (7.9-percent target share, No. 34), despite Conner running 185 routes this season (No. 9). While it’s disappointing to see Conner involved minimally in the passing game, he’s running efficiently. His 9 carries of 15+ yards are No. 2 in the NFL and he has a healthy 24.7-percent juke rate (No. 20). Among running backs with 100 carries, Conner’s juke rate jumps up to No. 9. Conner can’t be stopped this season; his 4.4 yards per carry becomes impressive when considering that the 7.1 average defenders in the box that he sees are the 14th-most faced on average by a running back.
Out of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ trio of 500+ yard receivers, Chase Claypool is the receiver to lead the team against the Baltimore Ravens this week. Claypool led the team in targets (9) in their previous encounter with the Ravens in Week 8. He managed to convert those targets into 5 catches for 42 yards and 1 touchdown. As a 6-4, 227 pound wide receiver that runs a 4.42, he’s a difficult wide receiver to cover even one as talented as Marcus Peters. Target hog Diontae Johnson is a safe play in this game too. Johnson has seven games this season where he has played at least 75-percent of the snaps. Only one of those games has he failed to record 10 targets and he’s recorded 23+ fantasy points in four of those games. Johnson records the high target rate of the wide receiver trio and Claypool gets the deep throws worth the most fantasy points, but JuJu Smith-Schuster is left with the low average depth of target passes that result in stat lines like last week’s 4/19/0 on 5 targets. Matched up with the toughest of the cornerback matchups in Marlon Humphrey, I’m fading Smith-Schuster this week.
No more Hollywood hype for Marquise Brown. The only thing Hollywood about Brown is that his 0/0/0 stat line from last week’s line can be used as the o’s in the Hollywood nickname. He’s certainly not doing anything this week matched up against Joe Haden (91-percent lined up on the right side of the field from the offense’s perspective) while he’s lined up across from him (lined up right 51-percent). Willie Snead has been the better option in fantasy, but that doesn’t say much. Snead does most of his damage in the slot (lined up in the slot 81-percent of the time), but Cameron Sutton is PFF’s highest-graded slot corner and doesn’t allow his coverage assignments to do much against him. Miles Boykin is a fantasy afterthought now; His 0.94 yards per route run shows two things. One, he’s a vertical threat decoy that doesn’t see many targets despite running routes. The second thing it shows is that he’s not even good when he does get the ball. Don’t look now, but Dez Bryant is back and out-snapped Boykin. It’s not time to start Bryant in 2020, but he’s worth watching because of the ineffectiveness of the Ravens’ wide receiver core at this point of the season.
Chasing only two teams over the past three weeks in tight end target rate (31-percent target rate to tight ends by the Baltimore Ravens), Mark Andrews is a play in fantasy football solely on his volume alone. However, it’s worth noting that the Steelers defense is No. 7 in both pass success rate on passes thrown to tight ends and yards per pass attempts to tight ends since their Week 8 encounter. Without any effective play from wide receivers though, Andrews remains a plug-and-play option in fantasy football. He’s No. 2 in air yards share among tight ends (25.2-percent of the Ravens’ air yards) and he has the sixth-highest hog rate (14.3-percent).
Over the last four games, Eric Ebron has three top-10 weeks and played 75+ percent of the snaps for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ebron is overlooked this season because of the hype his wide receiver teammates receive, but Ebron has the skill set to exploit the Ravens’ defense. The Ravens are a great defense, but they allow 69.2-percent of their opposing offenses’ red zone trips to end in a touchdown. This is the seventh-worst rate among all NFL defenses. Ebron is your typical touchdown-or-bust tight end option in Week 12. Start him if you have to, but try to find a better alternative going against an easier defense that isn’t the fourth option in a passing game.
Validating themselves as the top defense in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers allow the fewest first downs to opposing offenses. The 27.0-percent of drives ending in a score and 17.4-percent of drives ending in an offensive turnover lead the NFL too. It’s not surprising that this defensive dominance is due to the Steelers’ ability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Not only does their 34.3-percent QB pressures per dropback lead the NFL, but the next-best team at pressuring the QB per dropback is 26.5-percent, almost 8 percent higher than the next team. The Steelers’ return units are opposites of each other; they allow the ninth-highest yards per punt return and the ninth-fewest yards per kick return. The Steelers are in the top-quarter of the NFL in yards per kick and punt return. On third downs, The Steelers ‘ defense has faced the third-most third-down attempts (139), but they are top-10 in third-down conversion percentage allowed (38.8-percent). Opposing offenses have attempted to convert 15 fourth downs against the Steelers, but the 26.7-percent fourth-down conversion percentage is the best among NFL defenses.
Impressively the Baltimore Ravens do top the Pittsburgh Steelers in one defensive category, blitzing opposing offenses at a 44.8-percent rate per quarterback dropback. Unfortunately for the Ravens, their blitzing has led to only a 9.3-percent quarterback hurry rate per quarterback dropback (18th among NFL teams). The blitzing hasn’t led to many interceptions (5, fourth-fewest), but the Ravens lead the NFL with 10 fumbles recovered. The Ravens are top-five in the NFL in percent of drives that end in an offensive score (30.0). The Ravens boast a top-seven defense in both yards per kick return and yards per punt return. Ravens lead the NFL in yards per kick return (30.4), but it’s skewed by being one of only four teams to return a kickoff for a touchdown and they have only returned 14 kicks (second-fewest). An Achilles heel of the Ravens defense is their red zone defense; they don’t allow many red-zone trips (26, second-fewest), but when they do it results in a touchdown at a high rate (69.2-percent, seventh-highest in the NFL). The Ravens’ defense on third downs does their job well; their 34.5-percent allowed on third downs to opposing offenses is the third-best among defenses.
The defense is key in the matchups between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. Even though the Ravens have a top defense in the NFL, the Steelers’ defense is on a different level. From an offensive standpoint, the Steelers are a superior offensive team to the Ravens and will have the advantage of having a full arsenal of weapons, while the Ravens are down their top two running backs. The Steelers also have the advantage on special teams. Add all of it together and I believe this Thanksgiving prime time showdown will be a blowout. I’m going bold here and saying that the Steelers DOMINATE the Ravens and the O/U will go OVER thanks to the Steelers taking care of business.