Battle Plans: Ravens @ Steelers

Birk_v_Steelers

Offense

1.      Rice the decoy

In Week One, Ray Rice was king of the jungle. He was a force in the passing game and running game, and the Pittsburgh defenders had a hard time keeping him contained.

One has to believe that legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will have a scheme to bottle up Rice. In a game like this, it’s quite possible that Rice could open things up for his offensive teammates.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should fake the ball to Rice on pitches and play-fakes, getting the Pittsburgh defense to move when he does. In addition, Rice should be in motion when the Ravens are in their open passing formations.

Depending on which defender shifts with Rice, quarterback Joe Flacco should be prepared to take advantage of the mismatch that is presented – either with Rice or another receiver.

2.      Chip blocks and delay routes   

Despite the fact that Lamar Woodley and James Harrison may not be on the field on Sunday night, the Baltimore coaches will need to prepare as if they will play. Finding a way to block these edge rushers is the key to beating the Pittsburgh defense.

The Ravens were able to accomplish this task in Week One. Harrison was mostly contained by single blocks from left tackle Bryant McKinnie. Meanwhile, Woodley encountered more double teams on the other side and got through just once against Michael Oher.

The game plan will need to be similar, although both rushers are a priority. With a two-tight, one back offense, the Ravens will have more flexibility to chip both linebackers, especially in obvious passing situation.  

The Ravens use tight end Dennis Pitta – a better blocker than fellow tight end Ed Dickson – as a chipper and extra blocker when they line up in their shotgun set. Along with Rice, Flacco has two viable blockers and dump-off options in the passing game. Moreover, both of these players should be involved on delay routes and out routes, slipping out on patterns only after getting an initial hit on Harrison and Woodley.

3.      Sugar “Ray” huddle                                                               

Call this offensive formation an ode to Ray Lewis’ nickname (“Sugar Ray”) but the key Ray will be Rice, not his defensive counterpart.

The hurry-up attack that the Ravens executed so well against Arizona should be incorporated in the offensive game plan against Pittsburgh. Although Flacco will have a greater challenge running this offense on the road, in a hostile environment, the fact that he has proven some level of prowess in this set is why it needs to be on display on Sunday night.

There are several advantages to running this type of attack. One, Flacco is comfortable operating from the gun. He gets rid of the ball quickly and that is a major key against the Steelers.

Also, using a quicker, “sugar” huddle might unsettle the Pittsburgh defense. Although this offense should not be used on every down – the Ravens should still line up in their power sets to run the ball– it should be executed in certain situations, especially when the offense needs to change up the tempo and establish a rhythm.  It might also disrupt the Steelers sub package substitutions which could be more frequent given their injury situation.

Defense

1.      Pollard at linebacker     

With the return of safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, Bernard Pollard will have more opportunities to be an exclusive “box” player. Against a Pittsburgh offense that will spread out the Baltimore defense, having Pollard take the place of a linebacker and act in that role would be a good move to make.

After all, at 225-pounds, Pollard possesses a linebacker’s build and he is an outstanding form tackler. In nickel and dime packages, Pollard would be able to fill if the Steelers run the ball.

But his true asset could come as being a spy to monitor quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and to cover any receivers that run short, intermediate routes over the middle – such as Hines Ward.  

Look for Pollard to be an active cog in defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s scheme.

2.      Man coverage   

Unlike New England — that opted to play some soft zone and give up underneath passes — the Ravens will play more man-to-man coverage.
Clearly, against receiver Mike Wallace, that is a recipe for disaster. The coverage of choice against him should be softer and a safety should help the corners wherever he lines up. But against Antonio Brown, Hines Ward, and Jerricho Cotchery, the corners should play more bump-and-run.
 
The Ravens finally have a healthy stable of corners and safeties, and they are deep enough in the secondary to be able to match-up against the Pittsburgh receivers. The key will be to throw off Roethlisberger’s timing and to cut down the space that the receivers have to work with. Although the Pittsburgh receivers are quick and dangerous in the open field, they are not big, and the Baltimore corners have the length to close space between them.
 
  1. Tackling in space
Along with having tight coverage against the Pittsburgh receivers, the defensive backs and linebackers will need to be on top of their tackling game on Sunday night. If they have a hard time wrapping up the Pittsburgh pass catchers, it will be a long night.
The Pittsburgh receivers are incredible in space, and Roethlisberger gets the ball to them quickly so they can run in stride. The corners will need to play smart and aggressive when they come up to tackle these receivers. In addition, the entire defense has to keep the YAC to a minimum.
 
One-on-One Matchup to Watch 
 
Matt Birk versus Casey Hampton: These two players have been in the league for years. Birk remains an underappreciated technician who still moves well and can get to the second level. Hampton understands how to occupy two gaps, and he’s the best nose guard of his generation. Hampton was either rooted off the ball or cut to the ground in the last game. How he responds will greatly affect how successful the Baltimore rushing attack is on Sunday night.  

 

This entry was posted in Battle Plans, Game Preview by Dev Panchwagh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dev Panchwagh

Dev Panchwagh
Dev Panchwagh is a versatile analyst who breaks down the Xs and Os of the game and has been a columnist/analyst for Ravens24x7.com since the summer of 2004. In his regular season column Battle Plans, Dev highlights the Ravens' keys to success against each upcoming opponent. Dev started modestly as a sports...more

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