The Week of the Backup. There are a number of second-stringers that will play – or should be prepared to play – this Sunday. Byron Leftwich is one of those QBs, and holds at least one advantage over the Ravens heading into the weekend: unfamiliarity. Meaning, the Ravens have no substantial film of Leftwich to review, as he has not taken a significant amount of snaps since 2006 – with the Jaguars. So, the job of the Ravens is to simply prepare for both the offensive personality of the Steelers and whatever they do know of Leftwich as an athlete and a QB.
Potential Ravens Strategy vs. Leftwich
What to Take Away – At this point of his career, Leftwich’s strength, by far, is his arm strength. He has a big frame and can launch the ball, but unlike, say Brandon Weeden (who has shown some skill at throwing precision intermediate routes), Leftwich’s clear comfort zone is in throwing deep vertical routes. Leftwich is the kid on your street that throws a bomb whenever he can in pickup games. Taking fades and deep hash routes away will limit a rusty Leftwich significantly.
What to Allow – When Leftwich was in the earlier days of his career, he was never quick or a good athlete, by NFL standards. The Ravens will be well served to allow – and force – Leftwich into lateral movement and running the football. This will be a major advantage for the Ravens if they can get the Steelers’ QB out of the pocket.
What to Try – Interior run and pass rush pressure, with an extra man or two committed as downhill players in the box, may help the Ravens get Leftwich feeling uncomfortable. Extra A and B-gap defenders can also assist in forcing Pittsburgh’s RBs to take wider paths (allowing run support help to arrive). Any sort of upfield pass rush pressure Baltimore can apply is a positive, in that it forces Leftwich to either move side-to-side or to throw the ball early. From a secondary perspective, aggressive CB play that contests every release from Pittsburgh #1 WRs, coupled with a safety on each of the hashes, will take away the vertical routes Leftwich loves, and potentially force him into doing things he is not good at (like buying time with movement).
What to Avoid – Because of Leftwich’s arm strength, I think too much use of loose or soft CBs will allow Leftwich to complete easy routes (hitches, speed outs) to the outside. A QB with that much inactivity over the last 5 years would welcome the chance to get the ball out early via simple pre-snap decisions and easy throws.