A Closer Look At the Baltimore Ravens vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers - Part 1

The Baltimore Ravens have won 7 of their past 8 ballgames. With a rookie head coach and a rookie QB, that's quite an accomplishment. Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons are getting lots of publicity for also engineering a stunning turnaround from last year with a rookie QB and head coach, but it wasn't until the past several weeks really that Baltimore started to garner as much attention.

In case you had forgotten, Terrell Suggs and the rest of the cheap artist thug Ravens declared their intentions to hurt rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward. The word 'bounty' was even tossed around. The story was swept under the rug in the following weeks, but you better believe that Mike Tomlin and his players will be as fired up for this game as they've been all year. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. We'll need to execute, not just be emotionally charged up to emerge victorious Sunday.

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Some statistics, thoughts, and trends about the Ravens, with a close eye on their past eight games following a 31-3 beatdown at the hands of the Colts.

* The Rvaens +116 scoring differential is the 3rd best in the league (Titans +146, Giants +140). In case you were wondering, the Steelers are right on their heels at +110.

* I find it interesting that the Ravens have not been involved in a single close game since the last time these two teams met in late September. The closest margin the Ravens have been in has been a 10 point game against the Browns. In that contest, the Ravens trailed heading into the 4th quarter, but a TD pass from Joe Flacco, a Matt Stover FG, then a Terrell Suggs INT return for a TD sealed it. Joe Flacco deserves tons of credit for his stable play at QB as a rookie, but it's worth noting that he's not yet had a chance to orchestrate any late game scoring drives to put Baltimore over the top and into the win column. When and if that will ever come back to haunt Flacco and the Ravens, that remains to be seen, but there's a reason that experience is deemed so valuable in this league - because it is. And while Flacco's getting invaluable experience navigating an entire 16 game schedule competitively, he's yet to prove his mettle in the clutch.

There's more. Lots more in fact.

Leron_medium The Ravens have been averaging 151 yards per game on the ground over their past 8. They have yet to have a game with fewer than 100 yards in that time span, and they had 193 and 192 yard games on the ground in consecutive weeks, though the opponents were Oakland and Cleveland.  In some respects, Baltimore has utilized a triumverant of running backs in the manner in which we probabaly would have liked to emulate. Prize free agent acquisition Willis McGahee, rookie Ray Rice, and 2nd year back Le'Ron McClain all have 100+ carries.

 The Ravens have surprisingly been led by Le'Ron McClain, as you'll see in the tables below. At 6'0" 260 pounds, he's the type bruising runner that Pittsburgh likely wishes it had to contrast the more diminuitive Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore.  But as you'll also see, it's not that the Ravens rushing game is wildly effective. It's more that they seem far more committed to sticking with the ground game, as well as spreading the wealth more evenly amongst their RBs, even when all three are healthy and available to carry the ball.


Let's take a look at the rushing distribution and numbers of Baltimore's top 3 RBs compared to our top 3.

Baltimore Ravens Top 3 Ball Carriers
Name Rushes Yards R/G Yards/Att TDs # G As Rushing Leader
Le'Ron McClain 162 606 12.5 3.7 7 6
Willis McGahee 152 521 15.2 3.4 5 2
Ray Rice 107 404 8.9 4.2 0 3

 


Pittsburgh SteelersTop 3 Ball Carriers
Name Rushes Yards R/G Yards/Att TDs # G As Rushing Leader
Willie Parker 154 597 19.25 3.9 4 7
Mewelde Moore 126 521 9 4.1 5 5
Gary Russell ^ 23 55 2.3 2.4 2 0

^ Ben Roethlisberger is actually the team's 3rd leading rusher with 27 attempts for 66 yards. This is 4 more attempts and 11 more yards than Russell's production. Sad.

Conclusions:

1) We haven't seen enough from Gary Russell to say with any sort of certainty that he would or would not be as successful as the other 5 RBs listed above if he got more carries. But it is worth noting that the injury situation of both team's RBs has been strikingly similar.

Both teams' #1 guys - Parker and McGahee - have missed the most time due to injury. Parker's missed 5 games; McGahee 3. Moore and McClain have played all thirteen games, while Ray Rice has missed just one game. Gary Russell has not missed any games due to injury, but he was released earlier in the season, only to be re-signed in early October. He's played every game since then.

Anyway, my point is, both teams have had a full stable of running backs to distribute the ball to. Like I said, it's up for debate whether Russell would do as much as Rice or the others with more carries, but I suppose we might never know unless current trends change.

2) The difference instead between the two teams lies in the number of rushing attempts.

Team Rushing Comparison - Pittsburgh & Baltimore
Team Rushes Rushes/Game Yards/Attempt TDs Games when Rush Attemps > Passes
Pittsburgh 373 28.7 3.8 16 6
Baltimore 491 37.7 3.6 13 11

That's 25% more rushing attempts per game. Those Baltimore numbers look like the 2004 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers. You know, the team that was breaking in a rookie QB named Big Ben? And as I researched and wrote about several weeks ago, that 2004 team didn't blow people off the line of scrimmage. We averaged 4 yards per carry, only marginally better than the Ravens and Steelers.

3) I suspect the true difference lies on 3rd down. Again I'll refer back to something I wrote not too long ago - the Steelers simply don't run the ball when it's 3rd and 2-4 yards to go. As of two weeks ago when I wrote that, we had run the ball just 3 times in 41 such situations. Since then, we've ran it just 1 time in 6 such situations.  I only loooked at Baltimore's tendencies on 3rd and 2-4 to go over the course of the past 8 games (7-1), and here's what I found. It's certainly part of the story as to why the Ravens have far more carries than the Steelers for the year, despite both teams rushing at close to the same clip per attempt.

Baltimore on 3rd and 2-4 Yards (Past 8 games only)
Team Opportunities Rushes Passes % Rushes % Difference with Pittsburgh
Baltimore 22 9 13 40 % + 28.75 %

Don't confuse this with me saying we need to run the ball over and over to win against Baltimore. I'm merely providing data about the Ravens. I'll have more on both teams in Part 2.

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