Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens rivalry rebooted and other top storylines in Week 4

Jay Asser 19:25 29/09/2018
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The rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens remains as fiercely contested as ever, but the AFC North battle is no longer the drag-it-out slugfest of years past.

Once a bloodbath built on defensive play and the running game, the match-up now features plenty of offence and points.

The teams have averaged a combined 51.2 points over their past four meetings, including an eye-popping 77 in the Ravens’ 39-38 win in their most recent clash – the most-ever points scored in the 22-year-old history between the teams.

With the way Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s offences have played through the first three weeks of this season, more trips to the end zone can be expected on Sunday.

The Ravens are averaging the fifth-most points in the league with 32.3, while the Steelers are just two spots back at 29.3. With both attacks ranking in the bottom-10 in rushing, the arms of Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger have been heavily relied on to move the ball.

However, the similarities end when it comes to the other side of the ball.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s defences have been on the opposite end of the spectrum, with the former leading the league in fewest yards allowed (273.0) and ranking fifth in fewest points (17.0), while the latter sits 29th (410.3) and 28th (30.0), respectively.

The Ravens’ unit will be tested this week, particularly the secondary which will have its hands full against Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Brown has yet to truly get going this season and has only 210 yards despite coming into the week with the second-most targets among all receivers (42).

Smith-Schuster has been the more efficient player and has 356 yards on four fewer targets, but it should be only a matter of time before Brown explodes.

Here’s a look at other talking points in Sunday’s match-ups.

MAYFIELD READY TO BAKE

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It’s officially a new era for the Cleveland Browns with Baker Mayfield set to make his first start under centre.

This year’s number one overall pick impressed in the preseason and looked commanding in his relief appearance last week to lead the Browns to their first win since 2016, but Sunday’s meeting with the Oakland Raiders officially begins a new, more hopeful chapter in the franchise’s bleak history.

And as far as welcoming opponents for a rookie quarterback, the Raiders are ripe for the picking. Oakland’s defence has mightily struggled against the pass, ranking 29th in the league in yards allowed per attempt (8.7) and 25th in passer rating against (105.2).

Their issues are stemming from a lack of pass rush – which is to the surprise of no one besides maybe Jon Gruden – as it has looked tranquilised without Khalil Mack. Oakland have the fewest sacks in the league (three) and are on pace to set a record for the lowest pressure rate since 2006, according to Pro Football Focus.

If there ever was a time for the Raiders to generate pressure though, it would on Sunday as they play a Browns side that has allowed the most sacks in the league (14).

Mayfield’s play-making abilities are such that he can make things happen even without the cleanest pockets, but affording him as much time as possible should be near the top of Cleveland’s priorities.

MUST-WIN?

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It sounds crazy to say in Week 4, but the New England Patriots might be facing a game that is as close to a ‘must-win’ as they’ve had in the regular season in recent memory.

It’s the Patriots, so even if they fall to 1-3, it doesn’t mean we won’t see them in the playoffs, but considering they’re playing a Miami Dolphins team that already has two games on them in the AFC East, New England would be better served not falling into a deeper hole.

Especially with this being a home game for the Patriots, losing on Sunday could be fatal as they’ll have to travel to Miami in December, which has been their Kryptonite in the Tom Brady era for whatever reason.

Even more concerning would be if New England don’t show any improvement for the third week in a row – something that many assume won’t happen simply because of the Patriots’ track record.

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