Things That Went Right For the Ravens in the Prior Steelers Game
When the Ravens and Steelers meet, what the game looks like on paper is hardly what plays out on the field. Inexplicably, even the better Ravens teams in years past have been pushed to the brink in these tough matchups when facing the likes of Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Michael Vick at quarterback. Just as inexplicable, Ryan Mallett and a depleted 2015 Ravens squad out gunned a Steelers team at 100% full strength with their sights set on locking up a playoff spot. The Ravens squashed that notion, and it wasn’t even really that close. Although Pittsburgh would eek their way in the next week. What gives?
Truth be told, when these teams meet twice, sometimes three times a year, Xs and Os are rarely the story. The story is always the cast of characters and there will be more than a few A-listers in this game. Which characters let their emotions get the best of them will be a factor. It’s always about which coach makes the right calls at the right times. Which team makes the least amount of mistakes and which team can withstand the extra punishment inflicted in a game of this magnitude.
Xs and Os are an afterthought. Being at full strength or down a handful of starters has no bearing. I’ll simply take a look and break down some things that worked out very well for the Ravens in their last meeting with Pittsburgh, and we’ll see Sunday if they can replicate some of that in hopes of yet another victory, and the only Christmas gift I’m asking for this year. I’ll take a giant lump of coal and a Ravens win and go to bed a happy kid trapped in an adult body.
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Let’s start on the defense with a simple play, that upon further review, leads me to believe the Steelers were not prepared for this game at all. It also felt like the Ravens defense set the tone for the day right here. They were going shut down the run game and make a half injured Ben Roethlisberger beat them through the air. To this point, Le’Veon Bell had rushed the ball five times for a meager eight yards.
How many times have you seen this alignment? Timmy Jernigan as the lone defensive tackle, five linebackers and five defensive backs. Not often, if ever. The play designed is a one cut run where the pulling right guard looks to blow out Za’Darius Smith (#90). The left tackle is tasked with pushing Zach Orr (#54) out of the way, creating a gap for Bell to run through. This clip is right before the snap. When the Steelers broke the huddle, tight end Ladarius Green (#82) motioned over from the slot to alongside the right tackle. Green was part of trips, three WR right against just two DBs. No brainer you should audible to a pass as one of the three have to get open. Green motions to even up the numbers in the trenches. Does Green look ready to run a passing route? Eric Weddle sees this, eyes trained on the center and the motion man in his peripheral. He cheats the run as you’ll see.
This play is almost dead before it starts. Nimble Zach Orr side steps the blocker and no one is there to pick him up. Bell would have to hit that gap very quickly, but with Weddle attacking that gap he has no chance.
The left tackle is #78, the one facing the backfield. In case you didn’t know, you want your blocker to be facing the defense. Orr and Weddle are licking their chops.
Boom. Jingle Bells.
One key here is that Jimmy Smith was covering Antonio Brown. It won’t be him this Sunday as Tavon Young will share those duties and Weddle will likely shadow to Brown’s side and aid in prevent the big play. How much will missing Jimmy Smith take away from Weddle’s ability to be aggressive in the box and help shut down Le’Veon Bell? From the sideline view, that’s Antonio Brown and Jimmy Smith at the top. If Weddle has to sit back five yards and wait to see that this isn’t play action or anything, Bell very well could pick up the 1st down on this 3rd and 4. Weddle cheated the run on the Chris Hogan Touchdown when Hogan flew past Matt Elam. A play that sealed the Ravens fate in their loss at New England.
Holding Bell to something like 14 carries for 32 yards like they did in week 9 would be a good first step to getting a win.
Moving on. The broadcast jinx is for real, for good and bad depending on which team you favor. We’ve all heard it. “This guy hasn’t missed a free throw all night…” Brick. Remember this little graphic.
15 seconds and one Joe Flacco pass later, this happened.
There might not be anything more deflating to a defense than giving up a big play like this.
Looking at the setup, Joe Flacco has Mike Wallace in a one-on-one matchup with rookie cornerback Artie Burns. Fitting name given whats about to happen. Mismatch perhaps? Speedy veteran on a rookie? Pittsburgh stacks the line with seven and blitzes six. It’s man coverage across the receivers with Mike Mitchell as the single high safety in cover-1 and the last line of defense.
Joe Flacco delivers this pass in 1.42 seconds and it couldn’t have been in a more perfect spot. Leads Wallace to the point where he doesn’t have to slow down at all. Burns has no chance once Wallace established inside position.
Wallace has options at this point given just the one man to beat. Mike Mitchell would have to take a perfect angle, and even then barely stands any chance. Speed kills. We know how this ends.
This is what you want to attack Sunday. Get the ball in your fast guys hands. Wallace, Breshad Perriman. Get them the ball in space and let them run, bringing me to my final point on this complete game played in the 21-14 win.
No need for film. In the passing game during this week 9 matchup, Joe Flacco got the ball in the hands of his top receivers most often. The leading receivers on the day were Mike Wallace (4/124) Steve Smith (4/47) and Breshad Perriman (3/33). It was the opposite of the game in New England where every pass seemed to barely make it to the line of scrimmage. Kenneth Dixon got the most looks (8/42) and it was downright one of the most inefficient looking offenses we’ve seen. Not a knock on Dixon’s ability, just when you throw the ball you want it to be forward. You want your receivers to have one or two men to beat. Not five or six.
Not to mention in Foxboro, Joe Flacco dropped back to pass 55 times and they ran the ball just 13. It was 37 dropbacks to 26 rushes the last time the Ravens met the Steelers. A much more balanced attack where the passes hit more receivers than backs and it pushes the ball down the field. The running game wasn’t its best back in week 9, but you kept the defense honest which allows for the passing game to open up.
Even when the Ravens had to punt, they were pinning the Steelers deep in their end of the field and winning the field position battle. Five of Sam Koch’s nine punts pinned the Steelers inside the 20. The Steelers never even crossed mid-field into Ravens territory until the 11-minute mark in the 4th quarter. Pittsburgh punter Jordan Berry only landed two of his nine in the 20. Justin Tucker is something special too. Special teams, advantage Ravens. Big advantage now with Devin Hester out of the picture 12 weeks too late.
Now if you are playing the chess game as the Ravens, do you go back to the well with what worked?If the Steelers study that and key in on it early they expose you. Or do you look to show off something different? Like a less balanced attack on the offense. A lot of passes outside the numbers. A soft bend but don’t break defense. We’ll find out Sunday.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]