Like sacks, losing the edge against the run is complex and often not attributable to a single player. This was never more evident than in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers.
The Ravens had solid pressure on Ben Roethlisberger (more about that later), but lost the game by allowing a whopping 12 runs of 6+ yards, the bulk of which came to the outside.
How did the Steelers manage all this success on the edge? In part, the Ravens miss their starters on the defensive interior, Brandon Williams and Brent Urban. They create significant penetration on run plays, which make it difficult for other teams to succeed with the slow-developing flow plays (which depend on pulls) on which the Steelers feasted.
Bronson Kaufusi made his first NFL start and played 21 competitive snaps. On those plays, the Steelers rushed 18 times for 101 yards (5.6 YPC, by far the highest of any Raven with 5+ snaps) and passed the ball just 3 times for 13 yards. Bronson did not make the stat sheet, and made my notes just once (Q3, 14:55) for significant backfield penetration on a run play.
Carl Davis had one note for backfield penetration and Michael Pierce had 2 (one of those a missed tackle). While each of them accumulated some tackles (Davis 3, Pierce 7), they were also part of the problem with edge loss.
The other significant contributing factor to losing the edge was effective blocking from the TEs. The Steelers used B.J. Finney as a 6th lineman on 15 snaps, but Vance McDonald also made my notes with 4 key blocks on run plays.
The Ravens OLBs did a poor job themselves, but they were significantly out-manned on the edge.
The Ravens’ 3rd-quarter comeback attempt was slowed significantly by the quick whistle which negated the pick-6 by Weddle. As I understand it, that’s exactly the sort of play the officials are encouraged to allow to resolve by itself before using the whistle (which kills the action).
I’m also bothered that the call on the field “the runner’s forward progress was stopped” (as opposed to down by contact) was manufactured to whitewash the premature whistle (forward progress calls are not reviewable).
In any case, Jimmy Smith made a fine play to deny the catch to Brown, which seemed to go unnoticed. The Ravens lost 4 points on the play and perhaps another on their later 2-point conversion attempt. A game that might have been 19-14 remained 19-9.
More pressure Scheme
Dean Pees schemed for more pressure in this game, the story of which is partially told by success with numbers.
Pees ratcheted blitzes up to 9 individual occurrences (5 Webb, 2 Mosley, 1 Jefferson, 1 Correa). I counted just 4 stunts, which seems low, given Ben’s limited mobility, but all of them came on plays with ample time and space (ATS).
In total, 4 of the 31 pas plays had a deceptive pass rush as I define it. On the most successful of those (Q3, 13:33), the Ravens brought a 5-man overload, including blitzes from Webb, Jefferson, and Mosley, from the offensive right side while dropping Levine, Suggs, and Judon from the LoS to coverage. Roethlisberger threw right to Brown, Jimmy Smith prevented him from gaining control, and the ball came loose for Weddle’s interception detailed above.
Unfortunately, when the Ravens failed to get to Roethlisberger, he picked apart both man and zone coverages.
Individual Notes by Positional Group
I should note here that I won’t be reviewing the play of every player each week, just some of the key performances (good and bad) which contributed to the outcome.
Please note my snap totals will typically be lower than other published sources such as PFF or the NFL Gamebook, because I exclude kneels, spikes, accepted penalties which result in no play, and special teams plays that result in run or pass.
The Ravens again activated 5 defensive linemen with Kaufusi replacing Urban. They played a combined 153 snaps spread over 72 competitive plays (2.13 per snap).
Willie Henry (28 snaps) Was used primarily in passing situations. On 15 pass snaps, he had a significant personal contribution, including 2 PDs and 2 QHs. He also drew a holding flag on DeCastro on the first drive. Both QHs and 1 PD came opposite the Steelers Pro Bowl RG. However, his most impressive play of the day was elevating for his 2nd PD (Q4, 12:53) versus a double team from LG Foster and C Pouncey. This was a big step forward for Henry in terms of pressure generation and he’s earned more play in passing situations.
Michael Pierce (58 snaps) was again utilized heavily. I scored him for just 1 pressure in 19 pass snaps. He had 6 run stuffs among 7 tackles, but as I mentioned above, the Ravens needed backfield penetration from him, Kaufusi, and Davis to derail the Steelers pulls.
The Ravens activated all 9 of their linebackers (5 OLBs, 4 ILBs). All but the newly acquired Jonathan Freeny saw action on defense.
Onwuasor up, Correa down
Kamalei Correa (27 snaps) started and was credited with 2 tackles:
— (Q1, 3:11): He took down Bell after a gain of 16 where Vance McDonald drove him backward to lead the play.
— (Q3, 14:55): He was last to the scrum on a play where Kaufusi backed up TE James to shut down Bell for a gain of 1.
Patrick Onwuasor (31 snaps) did not start, but made the greater personal contribution as the positional battle at ILB dragged from the preseason to week 4 of the regular season. To summarize:
— (Q1, 2:28): Peanut blew up Connor’s run right for a loss of 2, although Carr got tackle credit.
— (Q2, 14:03): He delivered a jarring hit on Brown to take him down for a gain of just 2 on a meandering WR screen that started on the left side. Tackle credit was wiped out when the Ravens accepted an illegal block by Pouncey on Davis.
— (Q2, 12:26): Despite ATS, Ben overthrew Bell by the right sideline with Onwuasor in tight coverage to deny 3rd and 4.
— (Q3, 7:58): He chased down Connor for a loss of 2 from the backside on what appeared to be a well-blocked play headed for a big gain to the left. It was reminiscent of Lewis chasing down Barber in Super Bowl XXXV.
— (Q4, 14:17): He contained Bell for a gain of 2 on a run right where Mosley was given tackle credit.
— (Q4, 4:01): He and Mosley shot opposite A gaps to take down the stutter-stepping Bell who was looking for a hole. Again, Mosley got the tackle credit.
This was Onwuasor’s best game as a pro, but Pees may continue to alternate at the Will until one of them outplays the other for several straight weeks or one makes an egregious error.
CJ Mosley (all 72 snaps) had some effective penetration on run plays, including 2 tackles for loss, but he needed more supporting help. Roethlisberger picked on him for several times when he could get him in solo coverage including:
— (Q2, 5:42): Mosley was beaten by TE James on an 18-yard cross.
— (Q2, 1:55): Neither Mosley or Levine was close to Bell who made an 18-yard play (0 + 18 YAC) between the hashes.
— (Q2, 0:45): He was beaten by Smith-Schuster on an 11-yard cross (6 + 5 YAC) between the hashes.
— (Q3, 9:23): Smith-Schuster caught a 17-yard pass on the right side between him and Webb.
It’s quite possible Mosley would not be as much of a target playing for a team with a less talented secondary.
Tyus Bowser (6 snaps) Generated a pressure (Q3, 4:09) that helped deny 3rd and 18. He was last among the OLBs in snaps.
Tim Williams (20 snaps) got an extended trial, much of which came on 1st and 2nd down (he played only 2 snaps on 3rd down). I assume the extended play from Williams was an attempt to generate more pressure with his quickness, and that was a success. Among 11 pass snaps, he played a significant role in 3 events:
— (Q1, 6:31): Williams beat LT Villanueva to the outside, forcing Bell to pick him up. That allowed Webb, blitzing off the slot left, to slide by unblocked to sack Roethlisberger for a loss of 8.
— (Q4, 13:39): Tim bulled Villanueva for pressure
— (Q4, 9:49): He violently disengaged to the inside from RT Hubbard for a pressure as Ben overthrew Bryant in the end zone. I will review this play to see if it was actually a QH when the coaches film is released.
Like all the OLBs, Williams was also steamrolled by pulls.
Matthew Judon (39 snaps) had 2 pressures on 16 pass rush snaps, which wasn’t enough given he was up against the emergency starting RT Hubbard for a number of those snaps.
Za’Darius Smith (48 snaps) knocked down Roethlisberger 3 times and generated a pressure, but negated much of the value with a big roughing the passer foul (Q3, 5:18). Smith was twice sealed by TE McDonald and once by RB Watson on run plays to his side. He also failed to close the B gap on a play where he disengaged from DeCastro’s block (Q1, 3:11).
Terrell Suggs (45 snaps) was perhaps the most disappointing of the OLBs. He didn’t generate a single pressure on 20 pass snaps and made just 1 tackle. I loved his entrance. Since this is his 2nd equipment violation of this type, my over/under on the fine is $25,000. He knows he’ll be fined, but he did it to get the crowd involved. That’s not self-serving, Ochocinco-style prop comedy; it was a team-first gesture.
I don’t have a lot of individual play to highlight in the secondary, but the Ravens’ shutdown of Antonio Brown is worth mention. Brown has played 72 games (playoffs included) since the beginning of 2013 and he’s only been held to less than 39 yards twice (24 yards on 10/18/15 vs. Arizona, and 34 yards on 10/1/17 vs. Baltimore).
Marlon Humphrey (26 snaps) had a further extension of playing time, primarily as a replacement for Jimmy Smith. For the first time this season, he gave up consecutive long passes:
— (Q2, 1:23): Bryant beat him on a skinny post for a gain of 24 (15+9) between the hashes.
— (Q2, 0:57): Bryant again beat him for a 19-yard play (18 + 1 YAC) between the numbers and right hash.
He had outstanding coverage of Brown 25 yards down the left sideline (Q2, 10:24) with a bracket from Weddle that fell incomplete. Marlon had a missed tackle versus the run (Q2, 10:19). He also beat the puling DeCastro to shut down the left edge (Q2, 7:59) in support of Mosley’s tackle for a loss of 4. The Ravens continued their freakish success with him on the field (4.5 YPP vs 5.8 YPP with him on the sideline vs. the Steelers). For the season, the Ravens have allowed 3.4 YPP with him on and 5.8 YPP with him out. This is particularly interesting, since he plays rotationally by series and not in particular down-and-distance situations (like Levine and Webb).
Defensive stars of the game:
1. Willie Henry
2. Jimmy Smith
3. Patrick Onwuasor