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Coach T’s In-depth Breakdown: Browns vs Colts

Week 8 of the NFL season is full of key divisional matchups. None is more exciting than the (6-0) Steelers heading to Baltimore to take on the (5-1) Ravens. The game is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at M&T Bank Stadium. The Steelers enter the game as the only unbeaten team in the NFL. The Ravens have a chance to gain a share of first place in the AFC North with a win.

Philip Rivers of the Indianapolis Colts takes the snaps against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images/AFP

— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) October 28, 2020

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NFL’s Best Rivalry

The Baltimore Ravens became an NFL team when Cleveland Browns’ owner Art Model decided to move the Browns to Baltimore in 1995. The Ravens joined the league in 1996 as an expansion team, which allowed Cleveland to keep its history and records. Since ’96, the Ravens and Steelers have met 52 times (including 4 postseason games), with the Steelers winning 28 and the Ravens winning 24. A great rivalry is a competitive one, and there has not been a more competitive matchup than between these AFC North rivals.

It has always been fun to watch these teams battle. They both play a similar hard-nosed style of football, which usually means there are some hard-hitting plays. These organizations are known for tough defenses that have been filled with Hall-of-Famers throughout the ’90s and ’00s. This rivalry brought us Ray Lewis vs Jerome Bettis, Antonio Brown’s immaculate-reach play on Christmas Day and Troy Polamalu’s game-sealing interception of Joe Flacco in the 2008 AFC Championship game.

— GMFB (@gmfb) October 30, 2020

Tomlin vs Harbaugh

The Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh holds a 13-11 edge over Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin in the times they have met since 2008. It has been a closely contested series that has resulted in 16 games decided by four points or fewer, including four overtime games. Sunday’s clash for first place in the AFC North will mark the 25th time these future Hall-of-Fame coaches will meet in the regular season (the most any two coaches have met in the Super Bowl era).

Since Tomlin became the head coach of the Steelers in 2007, Pittsburgh and Baltimore have dominated the AFC North. Tomlin has a record of 139-74-1 (.652) with six division titles and one Super Bowl victory. A year later, the Ravens hired Harbaugh and he has a record of 123-75 (.621) and has four division titles and one Super Bowl victory of his own.

Tomlin and Harbaugh two of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL. They along with Bill Belichick and Sean Payton are the only NFL coaches who have been with the same team for 12 years or longer. Before a Steeler-Ravens game not too long ago, Coach Tomlin told Harbaugh that, “We’ll be tied together forever by this.” These great coaches will be remembered for how they handled their teams with class and passion, but they will always be remembered through their rivalry with one another.
It is still early in the NFL season and these teams are set to play in Week 12. Even so, with the Steelers still perfect and how high the expectations were for the Ravens this year, this game seems to hold a lot of weight.

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Ravens’ Keys to Victory

  • Running the football

The Ravens currently lead the NFL in rushing yards per game and yards per carry with 164 and 5.4. Their great rushing stats are tied with Lamar Jackson’s unprecedented rushing ability at the QB position. Jackson is leading the league in yards per carry with an average of 6.9 yards on 50 carries. Last season the Ravens broke a 41-year-old single-season team rushing record set by the Patriots in 1978 when the Ravens finished the 2019 season with 3,296 rushing yards.

Jackson is running less and the Ravens are not on pace to break their record from last year. A record-setting year or not, the 2020 Ravens are still dangerous on the ground and will look to continue their pursuit to run over their opponents when the Steelers’ No. 1 ranked rush defense comes to town.

The Ravens are going to most likely be without the full services of their starting RB Mark Ingram III due to an ankle injury suffered two weeks ago. Not a huge deal for a team that has taken the stable approach at the running back position. The Ravens drafted Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins with the 55th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and he will be joining Gus Edwards who was 35th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

  • Protecting Jackson

The Steelers’ 26 sacks are the most by any team in the NFL. The Steelers are going to stack the box and dare the Ravens to beat them through the air. Jackson will need to make some big-time throws down the field early-and-often to try and keep this Steelers’ defense on its heels. The only way Jackson will have any success throwing the ball is if the Ravens offensive line can give him enough time to make good decisions with the football.

The Ravens have given up 15 sacks. Some of those are due to Jackson holding on to the ball and scrambling around trying to make plays. Baltimore signed RT Ronnie Stanley to a 5-year $98.75 million contract extension this week. They understand the importance of protecting their franchise QB and the deal allowed them to free up $4 million in cap space. This allows them to go after another player which tells me they do not think they have enough to win right now.

  • Creating Turnovers

The Ravens are tied for first in the NFL with four fumble recovers, two returned for touchdowns. Baltimore is tied at 29th with three interceptions. The Ravens need to take advantage of Ben Roethlisberger’s mistakes and force him into throwing some picks.

Big Ben Roethlisberger is having a good year but last week against the Titans he threw three interceptions in the second half. He is prone to making mistakes and the Ravens must be ready to make him pay. The Ravens’ will need to test the Steelers’ O-line and blitz the 38-year-old QB to try and force him into some bad throws.

Steelers Keys to Victory

  • Eliminate turnovers

The Steelers are as good as any team in the NFL. They have a well-balanced offense and possibly the best defense in the league. They will be hard to beat all year if they win the turnover battle. So far, the Steelers have a +2 turnover stat.

The Steelers almost blew a large first-half lead over the Titans because of three interceptions that Big Ben threw in the second half. The Steelers ended the game with a -3 turnover ratio. The Steelers got lucky last week because the Titans missed two field goals. They cannot count on that kind of luck to continue against top-tier competition.

  • Successfully running the ball

Steelers’ RB James Conner is quietly putting together a solid season. He has rushed for 451 yards on 95 carries (4.5 yrd/att) with four TDs. The Steelers have received all sorts of attention for all of their dangerous WRs but Conner and the running game are the keys to their success. Once they get Conner going the passing game really opens up for Big Ben and all his dangerous weapons.

The Steelers have had a 100-yard rusher in four of their six games. It is always important for a team with a top-ranked defense to be able to run the ball and control the clock. It helps keep their defense fresh and ready to make plays. The Ravens are giving up 109 yards per game, which puts them 10th in the NFL. I believe the Steelers have a great chance of winning if Conner can break the 100-yard mark.

  • Containing the defending MVP, Lamar Jackson

The defending MVP of the league is one of the most dangerous individual weapons. He seems most dangerous when he runs away from defenders, gaining chunk yardage on the ground. Jackson’s five runs of 20+ yards is behind only Nick Chubb.

Jackson can also hurt a defense with his arm. The Steelers need to make sure that Baltimore’s only chance of winning is because he is throwing the ball instead of running. Jackson has proven he is good inside the pocket, but he has yet to prove he can win the big games against other top-tier QBs. When Baltimore has fallen behind and teams, like the Chiefs this year, take away the run, the defending MVP is yet to prove on the big stage that he can throw for big yards in a comeback.

T.J. Watt and the rest of the Steelers’ front seven are in for a big day if they can keep Jackson in the pocket. Jackson is most dangerous once he extends a play and allows his, below-average pass-catchers to get open. Blitzburgh sends an extra guy after the QB 47% of the time, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL behind the Ravens. The blitz can backfire if Jackson escapes the pressure and can use his legs to extend the play or pick up yards on the ground.

Betting Advice – (5-1) Ravens vs (6-0) Steelers

Team Point Spread Moneyline Over/Under Team Totals
Steelers +3½ -105 +170 46½ -110o 21½
Ravens -3½ -115 -200 46½ -110u 24½
  • HOT: Ravens are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 vs. AFC North.
  • HOT: Under is 5-0 in Ravens last 5 vs. AFC.
  • The Steelers opened the week as +4 point underdogs and there has been a lot of money come in on the Steeler which moved the line.

Coach T’s Pick – Steelers 27, Ravens 24

I have always loved watching the Ravens and Steelers battle to be the top-dog in the AFC North. I think the Steelers are the better team now. It is not easy to win the first six games of the season and the Steelers have continued to get better during that span.

The Ravens have been good this year but not as good as expected. The run game is not as dynamic as last season and Jackson has yet to find a groove with any of his receivers. The Ravens traded for Vikings DE Yannick Ngakoue before their Week 7 bye week to try and get more pressure against teams like Pittsburgh. They will most likely make another move at WR or in their secondary before the trade deadline.

With all the money coming in on the Steelers, it feels a bit like a trap game as the sportsbooks will be rooting for the Ravens. This game reminds me of the Packers-Bucs game earlier this year in which I thought the Packers were playing better but the money was on them as well. The Bucs put it to the Packers 38-10.

As it stands now, I would bet on the Steelers +3½ and cover myself with a moneyline bet on the Ravens.

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