The Steelers-Ravens rivalry is one of, if not the, highest profile rivalries in the NFL. Being as these two teams meet up twice a year in the AFC North, it can get quite heated on the pitch. The Steelers went to the playoffs this year, against the winner of the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite their better record, and playoff win, the Ravens still managed to beat the Steelers in both of their 2015 matchups. On top of this, the quarterbacks on both sidelines were injured, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, respectively for one of the two matchups.
How have changes to the Pittsburgh passing attack and the Baltimore secondary affected this divisional matchup?
Pittsburgh has lost two assets in their passing game this offseason - Heath Miller and Martavis Bryant. Heath Miller's retirement meant that Pittsburgh lost their second most targeted player (after Brown) with 60 receptions for 535 yards, making an average of 8.9. Bryant was lost due to a drug-related suspension. Bryant had 50 receptions for 765 yards and an average of 15.3. That makes him the second best receiver on average yards per reception (after Markus Wheaton) on the roster. Clearly, these two players were core parts of the Pittsburgh offense. Losing them can only be bad.
However, coming to Heinz field is tight end Ladarius Green, from the San Diego Chargers. Green had 37 receptions for 429 yards, and an average of 11.6. That's pretty good, bearing in mind he was a back up behind Antonio Gates. This could potentially be a real steal for Pittsburgh. Further to that, this added depth at tight end can only be a good thing, as that means development for Jesse James. James did well last season, and having someone a little more experienced, and someone who has great utility as a receiver, will push him to improve.
Baltimore has only lost Brynden Trawick (a safety) to the Oakland Raiders on their secondary. This is not a big loss to the Baltimore secondary. Sure, his presence on the depth chart will be missed, but when looking at his stats they are not very spectacular. On the season he had 15 combined tackles, 0 sacks, 1 pass defense, 0 interceptions and 0 forced fumbles. This, by itself, is not a big deal.
Coming into Baltimore is someone a little more noteworthy - Eric Weddle. Weddle, a safety from the San Diego Chargers, had some much better stats than Trawick. He had 78 combined tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6 pass defenses, and a fumble recovery. Those tackling stats alone make him the highest tackler of last season than the 2015 Baltimore secondary. Baltimore needed this big break - a veteran who the rest of their lackluster secondary can learn from - and they got just that in free agency.
Altogether, these moves may not seem like much. But losing two of the biggest weapons for the Steelers passing game is a big dent. Despite this, and despite the acquisition of Eric Weddle for Baltimore, I'm weighting this heavily in the Steelers' favor. Although losing Miller and Bryant, is big Pittsburgh, with Green, will still has five targets for Ben Roethlisberger that had an average of more than 10 yards per reception: Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Antonio Brown, Ladarius Green and Sammie Coates. I'd say that's a pretty complete passing game when all is said and done.
Pittsburgh will have to do little to nothing to help out this portion of their offense. On the other side, we have Baltimore's defense. Eric Weddle is an amazing gain for Baltimore, but he is only one man. Only one player currently on the roster for Baltimore's secondary had any interceptions - Jimmy Smith. Only one player had 10 pass defenses - Jimmy Smith. This secondary has two players who can really impact the game - Weddle and Smith. Two players is not enough for a full secondary. No other players on the secondary have enough talent to stop any of the Steelers listed above.
Pittsburgh's passing game is the complete package, Baltimore's secondary is as dismal as the Steelers', if not worse. Advantage: Pittsburgh.