It's put up or shut up time for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Tomlin said exactly that during his weekly press conference following last Sunday's 41-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. At 5-5-1, the Steelers need a win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in order to stay alive in the AFC playoff race. The Ravens, who are 8-3 despite a litany of injuries, can move further ahead in their quest to capture their third AFC North division crown in four years with a win in Pittsburgh.
Regardless of who wins, NFL history will be made Sunday at Heinz Field. Sunday's game will mark the 30th matchup between Tomlin and Ravens coach John Harbaugh, marking only the third time in NFL history that two coaches have faced each other that many times. Tomlin has a 15-14 edge in the series entering Sunday's game. Pittsburgh is riding a two-game winning streak in the series after having swept Baltimore in 2020. The Ravens swept the season series in 2019.
We'll preview the game along with giving our prediction for Sunday's outcome. Here's how you can follow the action in real time.
How to watch
When the Ravens have the ball
Pittsburgh's defense had success in its previous two matchups against Lamar Jackson. In their win over Jackson in 2020, the Steelers used three outside linebackers in order to contain the former league MVP. In an overtime loss to Jackson and the Ravens in 2019, the Steelers beefed up their defensive line in order to take away Baltimore's inside running lanes. Given Pittsburgh's current lack of depth on the defensive line and at outside linebacker, the Steelers may elect to contain Jackson on Sunday by employing more defensive backs while giving free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick the ability to focus more on Jackson.
Jackson continues to be a lethal threat on the ground, as his 707 rushing yards is more than twice as much as Baltimore's second-leading rusher. The Ravens have gotten solid performances of late from Devonta Freeman, who has averaged 54 yards rushing on 14 carries in Baltimore's last four games. Jackson's primary targets continue to be Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. While he has gone three games without a touchdown catch, Brown has caught 23 passes over that span and has caught at least six passes in seven of his 10 games this season. Andrews has enjoyed a steady increase in production; the veteran tight end has averaged six receptions for 67 yards while scoring two touchdowns over Baltimore's last three games.
The Steelers have struggled against teams that have depth at receiver. With Joe Haden expected to cover Brown, Jackson would be wise to get fellow wideouts Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay involved during the early stages of Sunday's game. The Steelers can have success if the Ravens rely too much on Jackson, Brown and Andrews to make most of the plays. Conversely, a balanced attack would likely expose the Steelers' holes at cornerback, inside linebacker and on the defensive line.
When the Steelers have the ball
Baltimore's defense, led by linebackers Patrick Queen, Tyus Bowser, rookie Odafe Oweh, veteran Justin Houston, and defensive lineman Calais Campbell, is currently tops in the league in both third-down and red-zone efficiency. Baltimore also boasts the NFL's second-ranked run defense, which is bad news for a Pittsburgh offense that is currently 28th in the NFL in rushing.
If there is a weakness in the Ravens' defense, it's in its pass defense. The unit is currently dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Ben Roethlisberger will have to be on his game while exploiting Baltimore's struggling secondary. That will require Chase Claypool and James Washington -- who have struggled with their consistency -- to step up their numbers are called. Expect Pittsburgh's passing game to continue to be led by Diontae Johnson and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. Johnson is on pace to be Pittsburgh's first 1,000-yard receiver since 2019. Freiermuth, the second tight end selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, leads the Steelers with six touchdown receptions.
While Pittsburgh will certainly look to attack Baltimore's pass defense, the Steelers' offense has been more successful this season when the unit has been able to maintain some semblance of balance. That means a steady workload for rookie running back Najee Harris, who should be fresh after getting just eight carries in last week's loss in Cincinnati.
The Steelers have the receivers to take advantage of Baltimore's pass defense. But they do not have an offensive line that can be counted on to contain the Ravens' formidable front seven. On defense, the Steelers have the scheme to contain Jackson, but do they have the players? While that question will surely play a role in the outcome, Sunday's game will likely come down to which team can control the ball while avoiding making the big mistake.
Rest assured, the Steelers will play with more passion after last week's debacle in Cincinnati. But the Ravens' superior talent, led by Jackson, might be too much to overcome.
Score: Ravens 21, Steelers 20