Twenty-two of the last 28 meetings between the Ravens and Steelers have been decided by one score, and 16 of them by three or fewer points, including 10 of the past 14.
All of those games had the same head coaches on the sideline: The Ravens’ John Harbaugh and the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, who will meet Sunday for the 32nd time, the second-most for a coaching duo in NFL history (behind Curly Lambeau and George Halas’ 49 meetings in the first half of the 20th century.)
“It takes two to tango,” Tomlin said this week, “and they’re a great dance partner.”
Sunday’s matchup may not be generating all the hype that the AFC North’s greatest rivalry once did, but it is an intriguing game featuring two teams trying to find their way.
The Ravens (8-4) have looked pedestrian lately, grinding out points and dealing with mounting injuries, the most recent to star quarterback Lamar Jackson’s left knee. The team confirmed Friday he will not play, meaning backup quarterback Tyler Huntley will start. He’s effective and trusted, but is not the Ravens’ first choice. The Ravens offense is built around the run game, and it hasn’t shown a capable downfield passing attack much this year.
Meanwhile, the Steelers (5-7) have rookie Kenny Pickett at quarterback. He’s progressing, by all accounts, but certainly doesn’t have the experience or skill set that Ben Roethlisberger built and showed over the previous 18 years. The Steelers’ offensive strength is its run game, too, and in particular stiff-arm junkie Najee Harris.
Both teams rely on a strong run defense. The Ravens rank second in the NFL, allowing only 82.5 rushing yards per game. The Steelers are seventh, letting up an average of 107.5 rushing yards.”
“If you can run the ball and your defense can stop the run, you have a high chance of winning the game,” Ravens linebacker Tyus Bowser said. “I feel like that’s just how it’s going to be this Sunday. It’s just a straight slugfest on who can control the run game and who can go out there and stop them.”
The stakes are high. Despite their youth at quarterback, the Steelers have won two straight and three of their last four, and the Ravens are seeking to end a four-game losing streak against their divisional rival. Those defeats came by a combined 13 points, including the 16-13 regular-season finale, decided in overtime, that officially ended the Ravens playoff hopes.
If it comes down to the wire with a kick this time, the Ravens will have an edge, but not by as much as it looked like earlier this week. The Steelers’ 8th-year kicker Chris Boswell has been out with a groin injury and the inexperienced Matthew Wright, who is 6-for-8 on field goals at Acrisure Stadium (formerly Heinz Field) in his career, has been handling duties for the team the past four weeks.
But Boswell returned to practice on Friday. He could be activated off injured reserve for the game. If he is, it would be a timely move. In Pittsburgh alone during his 11-year career, Tucker is 24-for-25 on field goal attempts and has drilled a pair of game-winners, from 46 yards in 2019 and 52 yards in 2015.
Huntley overcame illness in epic win
Turns out, Tyler “Snoop” Huntley’s efforts in relief of Jackson on Sunday against the Denver Broncos are more impressive than they even appeared, after Huntley ran in the winning touchdown of the 10-9 win to cap a 4-plus-minute, 91-yard go-ahead drive.
He was sick, too.
When Huntley spoke to the media for the first time this week on Friday, he revealed that he had barely eaten prior to the game last Sunday and was experiencing flu-like symptoms and sweating during his drive to M&T Bank Stadium.
“Out of all days,” Huntley said of his reaction when Jackson went down with the knee injury at the end of the first quarter. The Ravens sports nutritionist Sarah Snyder offered Huntley a hot dog at halftime to get something in his stomach, but he couldn’t eat more than a small bite.
During the game’s finish, “The whole time I was thinking about something to eat,” Huntley said. After getting a good night’s sleep and plenty of fluids earlier this week, he said he’s feeling fine now.
Dobbins’ status unclear, Stanley should play
Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins (knee) had his second straight full week of practice and was not listed on the injury report any day this week. Harbaugh was coy on Friday when asked if Dobbins could play Sunday.
“I’m not going to get into all of that,” Harbaugh said.
Dobbins, the Ravens’ second-round draft pick in 2020, tore his ACL in the final preseason game of 2021, briefly returned to action this year, then had another knee procedure to clear out scar tissue several weeks ago.
If Dobbins, the former Ohio State star, does return — and is effective at all — his signature shiftiness, speed, and his pass-catching ability could be a big boost for the Ravens offense in what figures to be a run-heavy game led by the typically short-throwing Huntley.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who hasn’t played since hurting his ankle against the Carolina Panthers last month, practiced this week and is on track to play Sunday.
Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler is questionable with a knee injury, but did practice Friday.
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt has injured ribs and is also questionable for the game.
Austin knows this rivalry well
Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was the Ravens’ secondary coach for three seasons, including during the 2012-13 campaign when the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
As one who has been on both sides of the rivalry (Steelers wideout Myles Boykin and Ravens player personnel assistant Darrius Heyward-Bey are two others), Austin remarked to reporters in Pittsburgh this week: “It’s a great rivalry. ... We knew it was going to be a tough, physical game, and that we had to be tough and physical to win it. It’s no different on this side. We know those guys are going to line up and they’re going to try to pound you down and be more physical than you. It’s really the same on both sides.”
Tucker nearing more records
Tucker can make more kicking history Sunday. He is just two points shy of breaking Matt Stover’s team record of 1,464 career points, and Tucker is also only four field goal makes away from setting a franchise record for a career, currently held by Stover with 354.
Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.