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Crunching the Numbers: Breaking down the recent Ravens vs. Steelers results

Do offensive and defensive ranks help to determine Ravens-Steelers outcomes?

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

On Sunday night, the 2-1 Ravens come to Heinz Field to square off against the 1-1-1 Steelers. In their 48 previous meetings, the Steelers are 27–21 in this heated rivalry which began in 1996. There are a variety of statistics from the teams’ recent meetings which may help to draw some interesting conclusions.

For the Record

This will be the first game in almost five years where the Ravens face the Steelers holding a better overall record. On October 20, 2013, the 3-3 Ravens traveled to Pittsburgh to face the 1-4 Steelers in Week 7. The Steelers started the season with a four-game losing streak before defeating the New York Jets in the Meadowlands coming off the bye week. The Steelers went on to defeat Baltimore 19–16 when Shawn Suisham kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired.

The Ravens haven’t finished with a better overall record than the Steelers since 2012 when they went on to win the Super Bowl. In 2013, both teams finished with an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs. The following season brought a rebound by both teams as they met in the postseason (a 30-17 Steelers’ loss).

The Past 3 Years

Since 2015, the rivalry has been even with three wins and three losses per team. The Steelers fell to Baltimore both times in 2015 and split the series with the home team winning each game in 2016. Last season, the Steelers defeated the Ravens in both meetings for the first time since their Super Bowl-winning season of 2008. Of the six meetings in the last three years, five of them have been decided by one score or less. Ironically, the 26-9 blowout by the Steelers in October 2017 was the only game of the past six matchups where the teams entered with identical records.

Over the past three seasons, the Steelers have made the playoffs each of those years, while the Ravens have failed to make the postseason. But the Ravens failing to reach the postseason hasn’t diminished the competition of these matchups in the slightest. In fact, when the Steelers traveled to Baltimore just after Christmas in 2015, a win against the 4–10 Ravens would have all but secured a playoff spot. With everything on the line, the Steelers fell 20-17 to backup quarterback Ryan Mallet. The Steelers were fortunate enough in Week 17 where a win over Cleveland coupled with a New York Jets defeat to the Buffalo Bills put them into the postseason.

The statistics of scoring, rushing yards, and passing yards have also been fairly even when these two teams faced off the last three seasons. Average points scored per game was a slight advantage to the Steelers of 24.5 to Baltimore’s 23. The advantage in rushing yards goes slightly to the Ravens at 119.6 yards per game to the Steelers’ 112, while the Steelers hold a slight edge in passing yards of 268.2 yards per game to 246 by Baltimore.

Rank And File

Using the standard of the past three seasons and the same statistics of scoring, passing, and rushing both on offense and defense, an interesting trend emerges in comparing the Steelers and Ravens. The Steelers have held the advantage in scoring offense while the Ravens have ranked higher league-wide in scoring defense since 2015. Pittsburgh has been ranked in the top-5 of passing offenses the last three seasons while the Ravens have continually been in the top-10 in pass defense. The advantage in the run department on both sides of the ball has been a flip-flop between the teams, with the Steelers having the higher rank two out of the three years both offensively and defensively.

So far in 2018, the Ravens are fifth in the league in scoring, with Pittsburgh close behind in seventh. Both teams are in the top-10 in passing offense but in the 20s when it comes to rushing. Not surprisingly to Steelers fans, the Ravens hold much higher league ranks across the board on defense. The most interesting matchup is the Steelers’ second-ranked pass offense against the Ravens second-ranked pass defense.

It’s important to note the small sample size of rankings for 2018. The Steelers have gone against two of the top-3 scoring offenses in the league the last two weeks, while the Ravens were facing teams much farther down the list in both of their victories.

Knowing We Know Nothing

All of these statistics are great if you’re a numbers nerd like me. They can help “paint with a broad brush” as Mike Tomlin would say. But do you know what they really tell us about the coming matchup between the Steelers and Ravens?

Nothing.

The more analysis one performs, the more it becomes apparent that all bets are off when these two teams meet. It doesn’t matter who’s coming in with a better record. It doesn’t matter who’s ranked higher in the league. Both teams come ready to fight, and determining the victor isn’t going to be done with a calculator.

Numbers don’t lie. But they also don’t tell you who’s going to win when it comes to a Steelers-Ravens slug-fest.