Defensive Notes v. Steelers ~ 11/28/13
Just when you think this rivalry can’t get any weirder, it does.
Tomlin’s slowing/redirection of Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return brought memories of Tommy Lewis’ off-the-bench tackle in the 1954 Cotton Bowl (see YouTube). It was both a breach of sportsmanship and an officiating blunder.
I expect Tomlin will draw a substantial fine from the NFL and the officiating crew will be downgraded for the play. The officials are entitled to award a score or place the ball as they see fit in such a circumstance. In this case, a 15-yard penalty would have been the minimum (and probably a reasonable) measure.
It’s a play that will be remembered long after Tomlin is gone and has earned him a spot among the most detested rivals.
The Steelers ran 61 offensive plays excluding the botched field goal/run for -12 yards (Q2, 7:27):
- Versus the Run: 17 plays, 84 yards, 4.9 YPC
- Versus the Pass: 44 plays, 257 yards, 5.8 YPP
- Overall: 61 plays, 341 yards, 5.6 YPPA
BY NUMBER OF DEFENSIVE BACKS
- 3 DBs: 1 play, 0 yards, goal-line incomplete to Johnson
- 4 DBs: 9/19, 2.1 YPPA
- 5 DBs: 51/322, 6.3 YPPA
- 6 DBs+: None
BY NUMBER OF PASS RUSHERS
- 3: 1/8 (TD pass to Sanders)
- 4: 30/196, 6.5 YPP
- 5: 9/44, 4.9 YPP
- 6: 3/8, 2.7 YPP
- 7+: 1/1 (8-man rush on TD that made the score 22-20)
The Steelers and Ravens know each other well. This was a game where Roethlisberger picked (both by route type and defender) on specific weaknesses in the Ravens’ defense. Among the highlights:
• Smith was not frequently tested. Jimmy knocked away a pass for Cotchery in the end zone (Q3, 6:41) and stripped Antonio Brown of a ball on the left sideline for a near interception (Q4, 13:59). Roethlisberger completed with a high pass for which Sanders elevated with Smith trailing in coverage (Q2, 9:22). Elam’s hit did not dislodge the ball. Smith was beaten down the left sideline by Sanders who dove, but could not collect Roethlisberger’s overthrow (Q1, 6:16). The play was negated by Dumervil’s offsides penalty.
• Webb did not allow any long passes and had a mixed night in coverage. He was beaten by Cotchery and flagged for defensive holding (Q4, 11:19) which negated a nice play by Smith. He and Graham failed to navigate the rub route on the Steelers final touchdown when both went after Brown breaking to the corner and left Cotchery uncovered. It was a play that would have been difficult to defend even with good communication. Graham appeared upset after the play and turned to Webb. He’s exhibited that behavior before, and I suspect he knew which receiver he was supposed to cover. Webb was again outstanding in run support as well.
• Graham was tested more regularly, but held up reasonably well:
o (Q1, 6:53) He was the first up to contain the WR screen right to Sanders for a gain of just 3.
o (Q1, 3:19) He had Brown well covered on a 35-yard throw down the right sideline.
o (Q4, 13:13) He took down Sanders quickly on a 5-yard pass between the numbers and left hash.
o (Q4, 10:50) He committed a defensive hold when off press coverage by Antonio Brown down the left sideline.
o (Q4, 10:45) He again had tight coverage of Sanders in the right side of the end zone as the ball sailed high.
o (Q4, 10:33) He was a little soft on Brown who caught a 19-yard pass on the right sideline as Ben rolled right out of trouble. Elam was there to help behind, so this is a play where Graham would have been well-served to play the man and ball aggressively.
o (Q4, 5:31) Corey covered Cotchery across the field on a slow-developing play to register a PD by the left sideline. Graham fell on his rear end and had to leave for a play on which Chykie Brown was victimized.
o (Q4, 2:41) He let Sanders beat him by a step in the right corner of the end zone, but Emmanuel could not secure the ball as he laid out for it.
o (Q4, 1:06) He and Webb botched the coverage of Cotchery’s rub route as both went for Antonio Brown. The play would have been unlikely to be defensed even had they been in synch on their assignments.
• So who did get picked on in coverage? Chykie Brown was on the field for 3 plays and thrown at twice. The first time, he replaced Graham and whiffed on press coverage of Antonio Brown for a 19-yard completion (Q4, 5:22). Roethisberger also isolated him on the Steelers’ 2-point conversion attempt. He failed to find the football, but Sanders failed to haul the ball in cleanly. The Ravens do not have a corner they use to shadow the opponent’s top receiver. Instead, each corner is positioned on a particular side on every play. So effectively, the Steelers had the freedom to choose the matchup they wanted versus Chykie.
• Josh Bynes was picked on consistently. I score him as targeted 7 times with all complete for 69 yards. Foster was out in front for the key block on Bynes on Bell’s 29-yard screen reception (Q4, 2:34). Josh did hustle to run down the play from behind.
• Daryl Smith, who has been outstanding in coverage this season, had an up-and-down day that included good coverage of Bell up the right sideline (Q3, 2:16). On the other hand, he was one of the closest defenders in zone on several short and medium completions with Bynes and Ihedigbo.
• Arthur Brown did not appear on the injury reports I have seen today. However, he did not return in the 2nd half after playing 7 non-penalty snaps in the first half. Given the exploitation of the short middle zones and Bynes in particular, Brown’s absence was costly.
• Ngata had a solid game, but some of his success was washed out by penalties or the inability of teammates to capitalize. Let’s review:
o (Q1, 15:00) He shed both Velasco and DeCastro on the Steelers first play from scrimmage and took down Bell for no gain.
o (Q3, 7:26) He held his ground against a double team from Velasco and Foster, but Daryl Smith was lost in the wash and Elam could not close quickly enough to prevent Bell’s 43-yard dash. When any defender takes a double without giving ground, that’s a case where the remainder of the defense needs to exploit that advantage.
o (Q3, 6:33) He dropped to zone coverage as the Ravens rushed 3. Sanders ran a pick inside and Ngata declined an opportunity to knock him off his pins inside the 5-yard mark. It’s an opportunity Ray Lewis would never pass up. As the play was extended, Roethlisberger broke the pocket, and Ngata rushed up and delivered a QH just after Ben released the TD pass to Sanders.
o (Q4, 10:50) Haloti delivered a QH that was negated by Graham’s holding.
• McClain contributed 2 good plays in 19 snaps. He hit the pulling Foster squarely (Q3, 2:59) to blow up Bell’s run right for no gain. From watching offensive line play regularly, I can tell you it’s unusual that any defender wins a one-on-one collision with a pulling guard, but McClain entered the right C gap with a full head of steam and neutralized Foster. Jameel also raced to cover Bell by the left sideline and took him down for a gain of just 1 (Q4, 2:53).
• Tyson created a turnover opportunity in his 11 snaps when he tipped a pass at the LoS (Q2, 12:55) which was caught by Sanders for a gain of 5. He and Upshaw collapsed the right side effectively on Bell’s Wildcat snap (Q2, 12:22) when De’Angelo drove back Gilbert. Bell nonetheless bounced off the pile for a 6-yard run left.
• The Steelers OL took a huge hit with 3 injuries that may impact the improved unit beyond this season. Until last night, I would have projected the Steelers to have a very solid interior line in 2014 with Foster at LG, Velasco at C, and DeCastro at RG. If they were to pick up a solid tackle, Pittsburgh might have a quality line. The injury to Velasco throws that into question and may mean they will overpay to retain the services of Pouncey.
• The Ravens had their streak of 19 consecutive games with at least 2 sacks ended. They got some pressure on BR, but he had a number of extended plays where he was able to find a target including the TD pass to Sanders (Q3, 6:33). He is fairly accurate even when moving as evidenced by his sideline completion to Brown as he was flushed right by Bynes (Q4,10:33).
In recent history, the Ravens have a fine record defending 2-point conversions. They last allowed a conversion by Washington last December that sent the game to overtime, but have otherwise enjoyed success:
• They stopped Dallas in week 6 of the 2012 season to maintain a 31-29 lead in the final minute.
• They stopped Pittsburgh Thursday night.
• They kept the 49ers from tying SB XLVII at 31 (Q4, 10:04).
I haven’t researched whether the Steelers are in a good tiebreaker position versus the other AFC Wild Card hopefuls, but I do know they are still a threat to win a tiebreaker versus the Ravens based on Pittsburgh’s already-clinched, common-opponent advantage. Since in-the-division tiebreakers are decided first, the Steelers can eliminate the Ravens by tying them at either 8-8 or 9-7 if the tie does not include the Bengals. In playoff terms for the Ravens, Thursday’s outcome was necessary, but not sufficient.
GIFS courtesy of Gordon Dixon