Defensive Notes vs. Steelers
Looking at this game, I see a 21-14 final score which should have been far more lopsided.
This is both a gift and a curse. The Ravens outplayed their rivals significantly, but they again failed to close and endured yet another one-score outcome.
Yes, the Steelers dropped a bunch of passes, including a TD, but the Ravens left at least three expected turnovers on the field. Let’s review:
(Q1, 9:22): Tavon Young covered Darrius Heyward-Bey stride-for-stride down the right sideline. Webb arrived on time, undercut the route, and simply dropped the football at the Pittsburgh 45. Aside from the drop, this is exactly how a corner and safety are supposed to play a receiver on that route. The play denied 3rd down, but instead of starting their next drive deep in Steelers territory, the Ravens received the punt at their own 36.
(Q2, 11:28): Roethlisberger had ATS and threw deep for Rogers between the numbers and left hash. Again, the Ravens had good bracket coverage with Weddle behind, and C.J. Mosley undercut the route. However, he was unable to secure a football that hit him in the stomach at the 50. It appeared there would have been a substantial return.
(Q4, 5:32): With the ball at their own 9-yard line, Roethlisberger forced a pass to Rogers between the hashes at the 20. Jerraud Powers undercut the route with a diving PD. He tipped it past Rogers, but Mosley was unable to collect or tip the football. Had he done either, that would have been another interception deep in Steelers territory, because Orr was converging.
(Q4, 4:04): Again from a clean pocket, Roethlisberger threw for Rogers near the Ravens 10, between the numbers and left hash. Rogers tipped the ball directly into the hands of Eric Weddle, who dropped it. The zone was fairly tight and 5 Ravens defenders were collapsing on the spot.
Missing this set of opportunities isn’t good, but the Ravens read their keys and cooperated in coverage, something we have not seen much since 2012. While they have had a few other good games, I think this was the best coverage game of the post-Reed era, in particular because…
The Pass Rush
Part of what makes me positive about this game is the play of the secondary despite the impotence of the pass rush.
Summarizing ATS by number of pass rushers:
I don’t think any Steelers fan would think it reasonable to project Roethlisberger’s expected yards based on Flacco’s standards (meaning Ben missed his own standards by a significantly wider margin). However, Roethlisberger had a 71-yard under-performance by Joe’s standards. Did Ben stink? Absolutely. However, the Ravens came out of the bye playing their best coverage of the season with Weddle, Webb, Smith, and Young all playing well.
Before we talk about them, here’s how I scored it by individual pass rusher:
—Matt Judon played just 6 snaps in the first 3 quarters, but he was fresh and rested for the 4th, when he played 19 more. He finished with 1 sack and 2 pressures on 24 pass snaps.
–Za’Darius Smith played 33 pass snaps and did not drop to cover on any (it’s good Pees has abandoned that charade). However, he managed just 3 pressures on those snaps.
—Terrell Suggs had a hard QH early and batted down a screen pass in 29 pass snaps. Not only is that not enough pressure per snap, but Suggs was consistently held up or pushed past the pocket which was a significant factor in some of the extended pocket times.
—Albert McClellan returned to the dual role of OLB and standing rush threat in the Ravens most common passing-down alignment. He did not generate a single pressure in 40 pass snaps, although he dropped to cover on 13 of those and lined up off the LoS on several others.
—Timmy Jernigan rushed the passer on 34 of 35 pass snaps and generated just 1 pressure. His alert interception came on one of those snaps (Q3, 6:27).
—Lawrence Guy split time with Jernigan as the only down lineman for some pass snaps among 19 total pass snaps. He rushed on all of those and generated just 1 pressure, on the play that resulted in Jernigan’s interception (Q3, 6:27).
—Brandon Williams was the other bright spot. He generated 3 pressures in just 12 pass rush snaps, including the batted ball intercepted by Jernigan. He also had a QH negated by the illegal formation penalty on Antonio Brown. I don’t believe negated pressures have much (if any) lingering effect, but any time the defense can knock the QB down, it’s significant.
–Pees sent a DB on the rush just twice (Powers, Webb), but those included 1 of the team’s 2 sacks.
Now let’s talk about the secondary
The Ravens used only 5 DBs in the game (Powers, Smith, Young, Webb, Weddle). They entered the game with just 4 cornerbacks, which is dangerous in the NFL. Chris Lewis-Harris was the 4th corner despite the fact he was claimed off waivers on Friday. Pees must have felt he could get by with Webb, Levine, or Elam at nickel had 2 injuries occurred.
Since the performance was so outstanding I’ll provide racing-form notes on each player:
–(Q4, 6:16) Sacks Roethlisberger with blitz through left B gap
–(Q4, 5:32) Delivers PD and interception opportunity (see above)
–(Q2, 5:06) Holds Bell to a 6-yard reception with solid stop by the right sideline to deny 3rd and 8
–(Q4, 4:16) Beaten by Rogers for a 22-yard completion by the right sideline
–(Q4, 2:04) Closest to receiver on 29-yard pass to Rogers in the middle of a fairly tight zone
–(Q4, 1:58) Fails to make in-bounds tackle of Bell by the right sideline
This was a solid game, but the weakest in the Ravens secondary.
Tavon Young was again outstanding and looked at home on the outside versus the Steelers’ speed receivers:
–(Q1, 9:22) Maintains outstanding coverage of Heyward-Bey down the right sideline as Webb undercuts for near INT
–(Q1, 5:38) Makes impressive undercut tackle on the big TE Johnson
–(Q1, 1:03) Takes down Bell for a gain of 1 on a pass by the right sideline
–(Q3, 9:09) Stumbles over a cut block from Rogers to make a vicious undercut of Brown for a gain of 4 by the right sideline
–(Q3, 3:32) Has tight bracket coverage of Brown with Webb by the right sideline on underthrown ball
–(Q4, 8:47) Caught in no-man’s land between 2 routes in zone on the slow-developing, 23-yard TD to Brown. Webb looked at him immediately after the play, and Young shrugged, apparently acknowledging responsibility.
While there were opportunities behind Jimmy Smith, I did not note a case where Young was beaten, but a pass was misfired to his assignment.
Jimmy Smith had a fine game and went untested for a long time. In racing form:
–(Q3, 8:47) Beaten by 3 yards by Coates down the left sideline, but overthrown
–(Q4, 13:49) Has tight bracket coverage of Brown with Weddle, thrown behind to deny 3rd and 8
–(Q4, 5:00) Maintains tight coverage of Coates 45 yards down left sideline as Weddle converges
–(Q4, 4:09) Beaten by a step in the back of the end zone by Coates who drops a TD
–(Q4, 3:09) Has tight coverage of Coates in the end zone with Powers, overthrown
–(Q4, 1:48) Delivers uncredited PD in coverage of Hamilton in corner of end zone
Roethlisberger did not test Smith with shorter hitches and back-shoulder throws by the sideline. While Smith was twice beaten deep, that’s not unusual for a corner and both throws had a high degree of difficulty. Much of what a corner relies on to defend such throws is the boundary and the pass rush.
Eric Weddle continued to make a variety of contributions:
–(Q1, 10:40) Mosley gambles with run blitz, but Weddle fills to tackle Bell for 2 yards
–(Q3, 8:47) Is late converging on Coates, who has Smith beat by 3 yards up the left sideline
–(Q4, 13:49) Closes on Brown, which may have caused Roethlisberger to throw behind his receiver
–(Q4, 5:30) Closest to Rogers in zone in a pass over the middle 30 yards downfield over Mosley
–(Q4, 5:00) Converges well on Coates 45 yards down the left sideline to aid Smith’s step-for-step effort coverage
–(Q4, 4:04) Drops easy INT tip from Rogers
He had a game of solid complementary coverage otherwise, which has been the norm since he arrived.
Lardarius Webb shook off recent criticism with his best game since moving to safety:
–(Q1, 9:22) Undercuts Heyward-Bey route 25 yards down right sideline, but drops INT
–(Q2, 11:23) Catches Heyward-Bey from behind 45 yards by the left numbers and is in position to deflect ball or strip as pass falls incomplete
–(Q2, 2:53) Steps up quickly to with undercut tackle of Bell for 3 yards
–(Q3, 3:32) Maintains bracket with Young on Brown as Ben underthrows
–(Q4, 14:27) Undercut tackle of Rogers on slant for seven yards
–(Q4, 9:36) Makes TD-saving PD vs Brown after fumbled shotgun snap is picked up, extended pocket time
–(Q4, 8:47) Tries to make play from behind on Brown at goal line on 23-yard TD with extended pocket time (no help from Young, see above)
Webb’s play helped hold the defense together despite some absurd pocket time. Roethlisberger has frequently picked the Ravens apart in such circumstances.
The Ravens used the bye week effectively on defense. They were ready for this game and the notable improvement in coverage may have been attributable to practice emphasis, coaching, individual film study, or some ability/familiarity with Roethlisberger that makes him easier to read. Whatever the combination of factors, it’s a reason for hope in the second half of the season.
The Run Defense
I’ll try to summarize with just a few bullets:
–The Steelers rushed 17 times for 37 yards (2.2 YPC), excluding the kneel.
–Each of the Ravens’ edge setters played well and turned plays inside.
–Za’Darius Smith, in particular, was improved (examples: Q1, 10:04 and Q1, 0:24)
—Zach Orr’s 7 run tackles were 3, 0, 4, 2, 4, 3, and 13 yards from the LoS.
—Michael Pierce was used for just 8 snaps defensively (7 runs) on which the Steelers gained just 10 yards (1.3 YPPA). His previous low snap count was 14 versus the Giants.
–Brandon Williams was also stout at the point of attack. The Steelers gained just 18 yards on his 13 run snaps and 61 yards on 25 overall snaps (2.4 YPPA).
–The Steelers’ only run for more than 4 yards was a 13-yard gain by Bell (Q4, 1:43) which converted 3rd and 3, but burned 37 seconds off the clock.
–Zach Orr was the one player who was picked on consistently in coverage. He was flagged twice, both of which were ticky-tack, but he was the closest underneath defender on the 27-yard completion to Brown (Q4, 11:05) and Orr/Mosley were unable to track down Brown, who converted 3rd and 10 with 5 YAC added to a 5-yard throw (Q4, 3:59). Orr has been a terrific asset this defense, but when I watch him, I see Jamie Sharper’s 2-down skills and nose for the football, not Ray Lewis.
–The Ravens did not play any dime, which seemed quite strange as the Steelers ran 34 snaps (30 runs) in the 4th quarter.
–Jernigan was true to his word after the fumble versus the Jets and flopped to the fetal position after his interception (Q3, 6:27). He had good focus to find and collect the football while getting off a block.
–Mosley’s overall game was good, particularly being in position for 2 more interceptions. When the Ravens used their standing rush alignment, he was used more frequently as a pass rusher than dropping to coverage. I didn’t see any indication the injury was still bothering him.
Defensive stars of the game
3rd: Tavon Young
2nd: Brandon Williams
1st: Lardarius Webb