Whether you’re a fan or a television analyst, there’s one big question floating out there for this weekend’s Ravens-Steelers game: what are the keys to victory?
Everybody has a theory, but I wanted to go beyond speculation. So I compiled the stats from every Ravens-Steelers matchup from 2006 to present (11 games total). And let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: small-sample bias is an issue. And as such, the estimates aren’t nearly as precise (and might be biased as well) as we would like them. We know that going in, but it’s still interesting enough to investigate, even if the data are lacking. With the disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at some theories for the keys to victory.
Theory # 1: The team that runs the ball successfully will win.
It makes a whole lot of sense. Both the Steelers and Ravens are physical teams that like to establish the run and force the other team to give up on the run. But when you look at recent history, it doesn’t seem to be true at all.
In the past 11 games, six times the losing team has ran for more yards than the winning team. In the Steelers’ win in the second Ravens game last year, Baltimore rushed for 127 more yards than the Steelers, but Pittsburgh won the game.
Is it true? No.
Theory #2: The team that protects the ball while forcing turnovers will win.
This again makes a whole lot of sense on the face. After all, one of the key stats to look for with any team is turnover margin. Obviously turnovers are a key determinant in any game, but it hasn’t been that important in the Steelers-Ravens series.
In the last seven games, twice the team who wins the turnover battle has won the game. Twice the team who won the turnover battle has lost the game. And three times the turnover margin has been even. When you go back over the past 11 games, the data favor winning the turnover battle, but overall there have been five games where the team with the turnover margin advantage has won, two where they have lost and four more where that has been no edge.
Is it true? Somewhat, but it’s not a dominant factor.
Theory #3. If the Steelers can protect Ben Roethlisberger and sack Joe Flacco, they’ll win.
Again, it seems logical. After all, the Steelers have had some success getting after Joe Flacco, but there have been times when the Ravens pass rush has just destroyed the Steelers offense.
But when you look at the stats, it doesn’t seem to add up. Six times the team that has recorded more sacks has won, four times that team has lost, and once the number of sacks was even. At the extreme, the Ravens were sacked five times more than the Steelers in the first matchup in 2009, but the Ravens still won the game.
Is it true? It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference
Theory #4: The team that has a better passing attack will win.
Now we’re getting somewhere. In the past 11 games, the team with more passing yards has won 10 times. The only exception is the second Steelers-Ravens game in 2007. It seems that the team that gets its yards through the air has a distinct advantage.
Is it true? It sure seems like it.
Theory #5: The Steelers Need Big Plays To Win
This is the theory I floated earlier this week — something that Bill Walsh talks about in his book “Finding The Winning Edge.” If a team gets two more big plays than the opponent, it wins 80-85 percent of the time. Because of the nature of the Steelers’ defense, there has not been one game in the past 11 where the Ravens have had more big plays than the Steelers. But in the five games where the Steelers have had a +2 advantage, they have won every time. In six games where they have not, they are 1-5.
Is it true? It seems to be a pretty strong indicator.
I took a look at some other stats, too; feel free to make your own theories and decisions. And again, with the small-sample-issues caveat.
|RAVENS-STEELERS BY THE NUMBERS|
|Here is a look at the differentials in multiple categories for the past 11 games. In all cases here positive values are when the Steelers had the edge and negative values are when the Ravens had the edge.|
|Game||Winner||Big Play Margin||TOP||TO Differential||Total Yards|
|2010 Game 2||Steelers||2||8.25||0||19|
|2010 Game 1||Ravens||0||-1||1||-110|
|2009 Game 2||Steelers||2||-5||1||-37|
|2009 Game 1||Ravens||0||3.5||1||-95|
|2008 Game 3||Steelers||2||5||3||77|
|2008 Game 2||Steelers||2||3||0||109|
|2008 Game 1||Steelers||0||-2.5||0||-6|
|2007 Game 2||Ravens||1||-13||-2||-70|
|2007 Game 1||Steelers||2||12||3||187|
|2006 Game 2||Ravens||0||-10.75||0||-108|
|2006 Game 1||Ravens||0||-9.5||-3||-103|
|Game||First Downs||Third Down Eff.||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Sacks|
|2010 Game 2||3||0||11||8||1|
|2010 Game 1||-8||14||-124||-1|
|2009 Game 2||-3||-127||90||0|
|2009 Game 1||-5||1||21||-116||5|
|2008 Game 3||-2||1||-21||98||-1|
|2008 Game 2||6||1||-21||130||-1|
|2008 Game 1||-5||0||-34||28||2|
|2007 Game 2||-7||0||-134||64||2|
|2007 Game 1||9||1||26||161||3|
|2006 Game 2||-7||0||-40||-68||-5|
|2006 Game 1||-2||0||-93||-10||-9|