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1st and 10: Ten predictions for Ravens-Steelers

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1st and 10: Ten predictions for Ravens-Steelers

1. Ray Rice will not rush for 100 yards. ...

The Steelers bottled up Rice at Heinz Field two weeks ago, holding him to 40 yards on 20 carries. The Steelers rank fifth in the league in rushing defense, allowing 91.5 yards a game. Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley (ankle) is out, but the Steelers will bring their 'A' game defensively and make Rice earn every yard he gets.

2. ... but he will get his 20 touches.

Don't expect Rice to catch any check-downs on fourth-and-29, but expect him to have the ball in his hands plenty. Since 2010, the Ravens are 26-3 when Rice has at least 20 touches. This year, he's topped 20 touches in only six of 11 games. One was at Pittsburgh, where he had 20 rushes and five receptions (for 53 yards). Expect him to be effective as a rusher and receiver again.

3. Joe Flacco will complete at least 60 percent of his passes.

Maybe it's something in the water, but Flacco's throws simply seem to have more zip and more accuracy at home. This season, Flacco has a completion percentage of .665 at home and .553 on the road.  Flacco, though, was 20-for-32 (.625) for 164 yards at Heinz Field two weeks ago.

4. Anquan Boldin will have at least five receptions.

The Steelers bottled up Torrey Smith last meeting (one catch, 7 yards), but could not do the same with Boldin, who made eight catches for 79 yards. In six career games against the Steelers, Boldin has averaging 6.5 catches and about 91 yards

5. The Ravens will have a touchdown drive of fewer than 40 yards.

The Ravens are facing the league's No. 1-ranked defense, which is likely to have Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu back, but the Ravens are overdue to find the end zone. They have one offensive touchdown in their past two games, both on the road. Things just run more smoothly at home. Look for a turnover to set them up with a short field.

6. Jonathan Dwyer will have a rush of 20+ yards.

If the Steelers can keep the game close, expect them to try to keep the ball on the ground, and Dwyer is the starter this week. He had 12 carries for 55 yards against the Ravens two weeks ago and will test the Ravens' 26th-ranked run defense.

7. The Ravens will intercept Charlie Batch.

Making his first start of the season last week for the Steelers, Batch was picked off three times by the Browns. If the Ravens can get a decent lead, Batch will be forced to throw often, and the Ravens secondary will be ready to pounce.

8. The Ravens will win the turnover battle.

One major reason for the Ravens success, even when the offense is struggling, is that they aren't giving the ball away. The Ravens have just one turnover in their past four games and are at plus-12 in turnover differential for the season, fourth-best in the league. Not only did Batch throw three picks last week, but no Steelers running back could hold on to the ball. The Steelers fumbled eight times at Cleveland, losing five.

9. Charlie Batch will be sacked at least twice.

Paul Kruger dominated Steelers rookie tackle Mike Adams the last time these teams met, and Adams is out with an ankle injury. he will be replaced by rookie Kelvin Beachum, who has played in three games this season. Guard Willie Colon (knee) is questionable. The Ravens had six sacks last week, and they will pin their ears back and go after the 37-year-old Batch in passing situations.

10. Ravens 27, Steelers 13

If the Steelers can run the ball effectively -- and hold on to it -- they can stay in this game even without Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers inexplicably went away from that last time these teams met; Byron Leftwich threw 39 times, and the Dwyer-Mendenhall-Redman running trio totaled just 24 carries in a three-point game. The loss of Roethlisberger was too much to overcome at Heinz Field, and it will be in Baltimore as well. Five of the last seven in this series have been decided by three points. This time, though, the Ravens roll to their 16th straight home win.

 

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If Steelers fans are allowed into Heinz Field this season, they'll have to wear a mask

If Steelers fans are allowed into Heinz Field this season, they'll have to wear a mask

If fans are permitted to attend Pittsburgh Steelers home games this fall, there's one item they can't forget: a mask.

Steelers' director of communication, Burt Lauten, explained the decision to require fans to wear a mask in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere," Lauten said, via ESPN. "We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games."

Pittsburgh was one of the first franchises to alter its ticketing plans this season, as they decided in May to trim half of their individual game ticket sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news comes just hours after their AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, announced that M&T Bank Stadium will be capped at less than 14,000 fans this fall, should fans be allowed to attend games.

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In June, The Athletic reported that the NFL will not place a limit on capacity at games, allowing each individual team to make the decision themselves.

"Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing," an anonymous NFL source told The Athletic. "It will not be a one size fits all."

Additionally, the NFL has said that the first 6-8 rows of lower bowl sections, including field-level suites, will be blocked off this fall to help slow the spread of the virus. Those sections will be covered with tarps, which teams can use to sell advertising, similarly to what the Premier League in England has done.

With training camp still a few weeks away, there are a lot of virus-related questions the NFL must answer beforehand.

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Stephen A. Smith and ESPN poll leave Lamar Jackson out of top four quarterbacks

Stephen A. Smith and ESPN poll leave Lamar Jackson out of top four quarterbacks

Despite his 2019 MVP season, many NFL experts still aren’t convinced that Lamar Jackson is the league’s best.

In a debate with Domonique Foxworth on ESPN’s First Take on Monday, Stephen A. Smith shared his top-five quarterbacks in the NFL, slotting the reigning MVP fifth overall. 

Two days later, ESPN released a poll conducted with 50 NFL personnel to rank the top 10 quarterbacks in the league this season. Jackson was ranked sixth behind Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Drew Brees.

But after the record-breaking season the Ravens quarterback had –– a performance that earned him the league’s top individual honor –– how can so many still doubt his ability to succeed?

Smith cited two faults of Jackson’s game to justify his claim –– passing inability and playoff performance.

“There was a guy that ran the football very, very effectively, matter of fact as a quarterback led the team to have one if not the top-rated run attacks in football,” Smith said. “That would happen to be Tim Tebow when he was with the Denver Broncos. But what did I repeatedly say about my friend? He couldn’t throw the football at the NFL level. I never believed it, and that was a problem.”

Smith referenced Tebow’s rise and fall in the NFL and credited his inability to find longevity as a starting quarterback to his inconsistent and inaccurate arm –– something Jackson similarly struggles with.

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The Ravens led the league in rushing offense and ranked second in total offense but earned just the 27th spot in passing offense. Jackson ranked eighth in completion percentage among all quarterbacks but first in rushing yards and sixth in rushing yards among all players. For Smith, this discrepancy does not warrant Jackson a top-two quarterback spot.

“No one can run the football like Lamar Jackson. Nobody,” Smith said. “Not at the quarterback position in the NFL. We know that. That’s just on another level. But in terms of throwing the football, even though he’s had his moments, and he definitely improved in accuracy in terms of completing 66 percent of his passes last season, I don’t think he can throw the football like Deshaun Watson.”

Smith referenced Watson and a number of other quarterbacks higher on his list like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees and praised their accuracy, leadership and veteran play, which earned them the spots ahead of Jackson.

In addition to the issues with Jackson’s arm, Smith also believed his playoff performance holds him back. Jackson posted an 0-2 record in his first two playoff performances, falling to the Chargers in 2018 and the Titans in 2019. 

Overall in his career, he completes 63.7% of his passes and posts a 4.66 TD/INT ratio. On the other hand, during the playoffs, he completed 51.1% of his passes and posted a 1.0 TD/INT ratio.

As Smith noted while he did improve from a 48% completion rate to 52% in the playoffs this year, he will not reach an elite level of play until he can perform in the postseason.

While Smith was certainly skeptical of Jackson’s ability to succeed in the league long-term, he still understood the hype.

“I’ll tell you this though, he is top-two box office. He might even be number one.”

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