FILMSTUDY: Two key Steelers

Filmstudy FILMSTUDY: Two key Steelers

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This is the biggest game the Ravens will play since their playoff loss to the Colts closed out their 2006 season.  Each of these teams has some significant weaknesses that the other will try to exploit.  I rewatched the Steelers/Eagles game with an eye on 2 players who I believe will be central on Monday. 
Let me start by saying that I have never seen pressure put on a QB like Ben received last Sunday, and that includes the 9-sack smacking the Ravens applied to him in 2006.  Sunday he was sacked 8 times (Byron Leftwich was also sacked in relief), another was called back by penalty, plus he was hit several more times and stopped for several short “running” gains that were essentially sacks for short positive yardage.  On defense,
Harrison did not have nearly the game he had in week one opposite Duane Brown of the Texans.  I’m only going to review 1 game for each of these pieces, but if you want more, see the article “Two Key Texans” in my archive:




Programming Note: The NFL Short Cuts version of this game was missing the first 5+ minutes, so this review excludes the Eagles first drive.


James Harrison:


Harrison had one of the greatest defensive games I’ve ever seen in last year’s MNF debacle in Pittsburgh with 9 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6 total QH’s, 1 INT, 1 PD, 2 Forced Fumbles, and 1 Fumble Recovery.  He added a tackle and 1 more FF on special teams.  It was an ugly night for

, McNair, and the Ravens.  To that point in his career, he was a 29-year old OLB with 7 career sacks, but he was named player of the week, and went on to make the Pro Bowl after that game.  Here are my observations from the Eagles game:

Harrison is a small man for an elite pass rusher (6’ 242 lbs.), but he has a terrific motor, an ability to get small, and uses leverage well.  He’s not fast, which limits his usefulness in pass coverage, but his tools and effort makes him difficult to handle by big, lumbering LT’s.  He lines perhaps 90% of the time on the LoS opposite the LT.  He rushes the QB on perhaps 70-75% of plays, and I did not notice him sit out many (if any) plays vs. the Eagles.

·          His primary opponent on Sunday was LT William Thomas, who is in his 11th year (all as a starter) for the Eagles.  Thomas is 6’7”, 335 lbs., a size particularly suited to

·          He has similar characteristics to McCrary in that his motor causes him to put himself out of position easily.  Runs and or screens to his side are often effective.  If you’ve still got the game recorded, there are several good examples where he rushed himself out of a play (Q1 2:45, Q2 11:40, and Q3 10:00) that was either run or screened left.

·          He lost a sack to his own offsides penalty (Q2, 12:15).  On that play, he got the sack on a slow developing play where McNabb was flushed left out of the pocket, so it’s difficult (and moot) to blame the LT.

·          The Eagles scored their only TD on a pass short left to Buckhalter (Q2 9:31). 
Harrison was responsible for that area and badly misjudged the best path to the speedy Buckhalter as he bolted past #92 and up the sideline vaulting into the end zone for the day’s most acrobatic TD.

·          Unlike McCrary, Mario Williams, and some other good current DE’s, he has a little dog in him on running plays.  He does not consistently trail a running play, and he almost never adds a body to stack up the ball carrier.

·          The Eagles effectively blocked
Harrison with 2 different Tight Ends (#82 LJ Smith and #87 Brent Celek).  Those 2 are 6’3” and 6’4” respectively and both outweigh
Harrison by 15 lbs.  Some examples of good TE blocking on
Harrison are (Q2 13:34, Q2 11:40, Q1 0:06).  The last of these plays was a flea flicker that took a long time to develop and
Harrison was held up all that time by Celek.  Nonetheless, Foote and Kirschke shared a 7-yard sack on that play.

Harrison comically overpursued a reverse (Q4 2:44), going as far as to tackle the fake as the play was run left past him for a short gain.

Harrison had several terrific bull rushes vs. Williams, pancaking him once (Q2 4:05) and pushing him back almost into McNabb on consecutive Q4 plays (start at 7:44)


To be sure,
Harrison is a handful for any LT and I’ll be surprised if Gaither is able to contend with him on an island.  However, Lorenzo Neal is a veteran of ideal size to protect Flacco’s blind side from a player like
Harrison.  I expect we’ll see Neal and McLain used both as set and chip blockers a fair amount on Monday and I would be surprised if Cameron does not try to both run and screen at


Marvel Smith:


I am sure that Marvel Smith will not recall Sunday’s game fondly, but in the context of the remainder of the Steeler line, he was no worse.  He got beat for 1 sack (plus 1 that was called back for penalty).  As you know, the Steelers gave up 9.  In 9 seasons with the Steelers, Marvel Smith has missed 18 games and started since early in his rookie year.  He lists at 6’5”, 321 lbs., which is a little shorter than most LT’s and he was 321 lbs. roughly 321 doughnuts ago.  In part because I did not have the Eagles first drive, but also because it sure would have been difficult to assign all those penetrations and sacks, I did not run my simplified O-Line model for this game.  There was, however, an excellent post on the Steelers board that breaks down the 9 sacks:


9 Steelers’ Sacks


My observations:

·          Smith’s run push is good and he stayed with his blocks pretty well Sunday.  He’s looks for a 2nd level block when the opportunity arises and he did a decent job against the Eagles of picking up on some of his linemates’ mistakes although there were a couple of times he got caught standing up while the pocket was breaking down.

·          As a pass blocker he has good technique, but he does not have the mobility to handle good speed rushers.  When faced with faster, outside rushers, he depends heavily on bumping them outside the most direct path to the QB once they have a step on him.

·          Smith fell down several times while blocking in the Eagles game.  It would be nice to see blocking statistics developed and maintained that would allow us to put a single game total in perspective.  From watching the Ravens linemen, I’d guess 2 times per game per player might be normal.

·          Smith’s most common opposite number was Trent Cole, a 4th year player who has developed into one of the league’s best pass rushers with 25.5 sacks in his first 3 seasons.  Cole is 6’3”, 270 lbs.
·          Smith was beaten for the first time at Q1 8:15 when Cole stepped offsides, but blew by Smith on a speed rush and sacked Roethlisberger.  Had Cole not jumped offsides, Dawkins (at least) would have registered the sack.

·          At Q1 6:35, Cole beat Smith on an inside move and the DE got his hand up, forcing Ben to pull in the ball.  Roethlisberger stepped left, however and delivered the ball to Ward, avoiding the sack.

·          Probably the best run blocking example I can give came at Q1 4:30 when Smith was out front and hit 2 different players as Parker ran left for 5 yards.  Considering the Steelers ran just 19 times for 33 yards (long of 8), there really shouldn’t be many other good examples.

·          In what is a fairly strange occurrence, Smith and RT Colon ended up blocking Bunkley 2 yards past the LoS over center.  The play blew up across the rest of the Steeler front for a 1-yard run loss (Parker).  I’m sure it happens occasionally, but I can’t recall ever seeing the LT and RT blocking the same player, at the same time, on a play.

·          In Q2 at 2:05 he was bull rushed by Cole and driven back into Ben as Cole reached around to register the sack.  In the process however, Cole committed a facemask penalty.  The sack counted, but the facemask was marked off from the spot and gave the Steelers a first down.


·          In Q4 at 8:06 he was part of the problem on the Roethlisberger intentional grounding safety.  He allowed the left side of the pocket to collapse as Cole burst by and forced Ben to move, take the hit and release the ball incomplete.  By the way, no sack was credited on that play, so as bad as the 9 sacks look, it could have been worse.


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Ken McKusick

About Ken McKusick

Known as “Filmstudy” from his handle on area message boards, Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports. He grew up within walking distance of Memorial Stadium and attended all but a handful of Orioles games from 1979 through 2001. He got his start in sports modeling with baseball in the mid 1980’s. He began writing about the Ravens in 2006 and maintains a library of video for every game the team has played. He’s a graduate of Syracuse with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Math who recently retired from his actuarial career to pursue his passion as a football analyst full time. If you have math or modeling questions related to sports or gambling, Ken is always interested in hearing new problems or ideas. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens. More from Ken McKusick


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