1) Exploit the B gap blitz: The Steelers continue to execute the crossfire blitz to perfection. The crossfire blitz involves the two inside backers crashing the A or B gaps at the same time, through a twisting motion.
However, against the Ravens, the Steelers changed up the look.
Instead of sending both inside linebackers, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau sent Lawrence Timmons through the B gap. Timmons did a tremendous job of disguising his pre-snap movement to indicate that he would drop into coverage, only to crash through the gap at the last second. Moreover, James Farrior shaded over to cover the middle.
The offensive line and backs were unable to contain Timmons, and he was able to sack Flacco two times.
This blitz has to be accounted for in the rematch. The linemen and the backs have to block better, and Flacco should get to the line quicker to have more time to make his checks.
2) The sixth lineman: Although guard Chris Chester lost his starting job to Marshal Yanda a few weeks ago, he has remained a big part of the blocking scheme. Specifically, Chester has been active as a blocking tight end. The former Sooner used to play the position in college, and he has fared well as an edge blocker in passing situations.
Against the Steelers, Chester should be a fixture as an exclusive blocking tight end. He would be responsible for sliding over to either side of the line to help the tackles against James Harrison and Lamar Woodley.
With Chester in as the extra blocker, tight end Todd Heap and running back Ray Rice would be free to run routes on third down as opposed to being blockers.
3) Flex Heap: To add, Heap’s ability to run routes will play a critical factor in defeating the Pittsburgh pass rush.
When a linebacker or a safety comes close to the line, Heap should motion out and attack that defender in space. For Flacco, Heap would be the primary option as a slot receiver.
Although he is not the same player he used to be, Heap proved against Chicago that he can still beat linebackers and safeties. He should have the chance to do the same against a Pittsburgh defense that has struggled to contain tight ends.
1) Minimize big plays: With the loss of cornerback Lardarius Webb to a season-ending knee injury, the secondary is in a more vulnerable state. The Pittsburgh passing game is not exactly a welcomed sight.
The Steelers have transformed into a primary pass offense, and they will air it out early and often against the Ravens.
The key will be to eliminate the vertical strikes that are now the lifeblood of the Pittsburgh offense.
The secondary has done a good job of limiting the home run plays since the bye week. They will have to continue to play disciplined on the back end, even with Webb out of the lineup.
2) Speed rush: If the Ravens want to pressure Roethlisberger without resorting to all-out blitzing, they will need to rely on their rush ends to get the job done.
Defensive linemen should be replaced by linebackers, giving the defense the speed to get after Roethlisberger in and out of the pocket.
This strategy will be particularly important in obvious passing situations, as the Ravens will have to drop six and seven players into coverage to flood the passing lanes. They need to get home with just four and five rushers in these situations.
3) Return of the slot blitz: Although the Ravens can’t afford to blitz on every play, there should be a mix of timely blitzes.
Specifically, when the defense is in its dime package, the slot blitz should be a staple play. This is a blitz in which the dime or nickel back shoots the C gap to pressure the quarterback. It is especially effective coming from the quarterback’s blind side.
The Ravens have not had as much success with this play as they have in the past, under former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
Current defensive coordinator Greg Mattison should dust off the blitz and perfect it against the Steelers. For the blitz to be effective the defensive backs will have to do a better job of disguising and timing their movement. The key would be to slip through before Roethlisberger is able to make all of his pre-snap checks.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch: Ray Rice versus James Farrior: Rice made the play of the game in the first matchup between these two players, on a fourth down conversion. Farrior was unable to keep the tailback from gaining separation on a quick-hitting square-in pattern. There will be more instances in which Rice and Farrior battle each other in the open field on passing plays.