Steelers defense faces huge challenge in Ravens running game

The Pittsburgh Steelers face a fierce challenge in an even fiercer rivalry.

Although they have been far from perfect on occasion, the bottom line is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the lone unbeaten team in the NFL. Their 6-0 start is the franchise’s best since 1978, when the eventual Super Bowl XIII champions opened 7-0, finished 14-2 and eventually knocked off the Dallas Cowboys at Miami’s Orange Bowl for the organization’s third Lombardi Trophy.

But things have not been so great in recent years. It’s been more than a decade since the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl (XLIII). And the last time the franchise played on Super Sunday, it resulted in a 31-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers (XLV) back in the 2010 season.

Yes, under head coach Mike Tomlin (hired in 2007), Pittsburgh has not suffered through a losing campaign. But the Black and Gold also missed the playoffs in 2018 and ’19.

Six games into 2020, this looks like a much more balanced team. However, this week’s opponent has won the last two AFC North titles and a year ago, finished with the best record in the league. And a season after setting a new NFL record for rushing yards by a team, guess which club is No. 1 when it comes to rushing yards per contest in 2020?

But what team in the NFL is allowing the fewest total yards per game and is second in the NFL in rushing defense? The Pittsburgh front seven, featuring ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt and outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, has been solid. There’s been 26 sacks in six games and Tomlin’s club has held five opponents below the century mark on the ground.

Led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, Baltimore is averaging a league-best 164.3 yards per game rushing. Pittsburgh is allowing just 68.8 yards per game on the ground. Yes, the focus may very well be on Jackson and Ben Roethlisberger, who are meeting for the first time as starting quarterbacks in this always-interesting rivalry (via ESPN’s Jamison Hensley and Brooke Pryor).

But if the Black and Gold are to remain unbeaten, Keith Butler’s unit needs to keep the Ravens’ running game under wraps. And that may be easier said than done.