Defensive Notes—Ravens vs. Steelers 10/3/10
Football games that are not one-sided frequently develop into poker games rather than chess matches. One side essentially dares (bets) the other to react (raise, call, or fold) a certain way to their action.
On Sunday, the Steelers chose to fold.
To expand, let’s start with some background. The Ravens had 3 snaps with a 4-4-3 alignment where Burgess substituted for Washington. The first of these plays occurred on 1st and 10 (Q4, 9:19) immediately following the Steelers’ 3rd and 10 conversion. Mendenhall ran right for 9 yards. The Steelers would score to take the lead just 3 plays later.
After the ensuing drive, when the Ravens turned over the ball on downs at the 2-yard line, they lined up with the following defensive packages:
· (Q4, 2:40, 1/10) 4-4-3 Burgess in for Washington. Mendenhall run middle for 2 yards.
· (Q4, 2:35, 2/8) 4-4-3. Kemoeatu false start.
· (Q4, 2:35, 2/10) 4-4-3. Mendenhall run middle for 3 yards.
· (Q4, 2:00, 3/7) 4-2-5 (nickel). Spaeth false start.
· (Q4, 2:00, 3/10) 4-3-4. Mendenhall run middle for no gain.
The Ravens essentially dared the Steelers to play for a first down and Tomlin/Arians refused, handing the game to the defense.
The Steelers’ unwillingness to try for a 1st down in this scenario is classic poor win-probability coaching. A first down on any play after the Ravens called their last timeout would have sealed the game. The Ravens defense is certainly tough, but Batch had played well to that point and ascribing any reasonable probability to a first down would have increased their chance of a win even at the most likely offsetting risk of granting the Ravens an extra 40 seconds.
The Steelers did not have any excluded plays (spikes, kneels) among 50 snaps:
Vs. the Run: 27 plays, 84 yards, 3.1 YPC
Vs. the Pass: 23 plays, 126 yards, 5.5 YPP
Overall: 50 plays, 210 yards, 4.2 YPPA
By number of defensive backs
Goal Line (3 DBs): 2 plays, 1 yards, 1.0 YPPA
Other (3 DBs): 3 plays, 14 yards, 4.7 YPPA
Standard (4 DBs): 25/91, 3.6 YPPA
Nickel (5 DBs): 17/104, 6.1 YPPA, 2 sack
Dime (6 DBs): 3/0, 0.0 YPPA, 1 TO
By number of pass rushers
3: 3 plays, -2 yards, -0.7 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO
4: 12/97, 8.1 YPPA
5: 5/4, 0.8 YPPA
6: 2/-7, -3.5 YPPA
7+: 1/34, 34.0 YPPA.
· Ngata played 45 of 50 snaps and turned in his finest game as a professional, essentially combining his pass rush from week 1 with a career-high 11 tackles (previous high was 8 in week 2). In addition to the sack, he had a nice hit on Batch (Q2, 10:21). If he’s not in the DPOY discussion, he should be. McKinney also had a career-high 26 snaps (23 last week, 24 vs. Jacksonville in 2008).
· In seeming conflict with the heavy workload for Ngata and McKinney was the fact that the Ravens activated Kruger, Divens, and Cody, all for the first time this season. Those 3 replaced the deactivated Redding and AWOL Pryce.
· It was a little surprising to me that the Ravens goal line defense did not include Cody. Divens, McKinney, Ngata, Gregg lined up on consecutive snaps (Q1, 2:54, 2:12). I don’t think there is some deep conclusion to be drawn other than Divens probably has taken more practice snaps in that alignment and meets the size requirement. With McKinney and Ngata lined up to either side of him, Kelly Gregg looks small.
· McClain played well in 29 snaps. He moved well from sideline to sideline and made sure tackles. His defensive highlights were the tackle of Mendenhall (Q3, 8:06), the takedown on Mendenhall’s reception on the very next play (Q3, 7:28), and the PD on the long pass to Miller (Q3, 2:01)
· Washington was picked on, but played fairly well. The deep ball to Randle El (Q1, 3:40) was a perfect pass thrown right on the fingertips into single coverage. Washington was moving stride-for-stride with his assignment and would have been able to make a play (and perhaps an interception) had the ball been off target to the inside. By not allowing Randle El a full stride advantage, Washington maximized the chance that Batch would throw the ball off target. He had similar, excellent coverage after Suggs was flagged offside (Q3, 3:41). Batch overthrew Randle El deep left given the free play and Washington’s assignment was difficult since the Ravens line gave up on the pass rush momentarily. Fabian also had decent coverage on Battle (Q3, 3:29), but looked soft on Randle El’s 16-yard catch on 3rd and 10 (Q4, 10:01).
· Despite playing just 17 snaps, Webb drew frequent single coverage on Wallace and was outstanding. He had tight, inside coverage on Wallace in the end zone (Q3, 0:45), pried a 40-yard TD free from Wallace following the Nakamura offside flag (Q4, 11:00), and batted away another missile launched deep right for Wallace just 2 plays later (Q4, 10:13). His only tackle came on a crossing pattern by Wallace who began on the other side of the field. I do not believe he allowed a catch to any assignment in the game. As well as all of the Ravens corners have played, I’d say Webb is clearly the most talented and effective.
· Suggs’ sack (Q3, 10:33) was their first when rushing more than 4 this season. Their only 7-man rush was picked up effectively and resulted in the 34-yard completion to Randle-El (Q1, 3:40). The Ravens’ other sack came rushing 3 men when Ngata eventually beat his double team to record a 7-second coverage sack.
· The Ravens again lined up in 2 different nickel formations (base 4 plus Webb and base 4 plus Nakamura). Nakamura covered the slot receiver when he entered. Webb covered an outside receiver each time he entered with Carr moving to the slot. The Ravens also played 3 dime snaps with both Nakamura and Webb inserted.
· Terrence Cody played his first 6 NFL snaps. The way I see it, that’s always worth an individual review:
o (Q2, 13:33): Lined up at NT in 3-4. Cody initially drove Pouncey backwards 2 yards as the run went right. Terrence tried to slip off and was pushed to the ground. He got up with his uniform rolled up and Pouncey gave him a fist bump before he left the field.
o (Q2, 11:38): LDE in 3-4. He moved quickly between Flozell Adams (who barely moved) and Pouncey as Legursky moved to level 2 and blocked McClain. With the rest of the Steelers’ line blocking left, that created a huge hole between Lewis and Cody through which Mendenhall ran for 10 yards. The Gamebook correctly calls the run “left guard” based on the original position of the line.
o (Q2, 10:21): RDE in 3-4. Cody was stood up by Starks as he tried to contribute to a 3-man pass rush. Kemoeatu gave him a late bump, but Ngata, rushing from LDE, flattened Batch as he threw incomplete.
o (Q3, 5:58): LDE in 3-4. Cody pushed back Legursky to Batch with 1 arm. Batch completed the pass to Ward for 10 yards.
o (Q3, 5:21): RDT in 4-3. Kemoeatu guided Cody to his left as the run went right.
o (Q3, 4:12): RDE in 3-4. Starks stood up Cody as Batch threw a WR screen left to Brown. Cody shuffled after the play, but Brown was pushed out long before he got there.
· Cody demonstrated the ability to get penetration and the Steelers did not run at him at all. He was twice allowed to penetrate to the wrong side by veteran offensive linemen which is probably the biggest (and one of the most correctable) problem for a rookie of size and talent.
· Kruger was in for 15 passing plays (excludes his sack/strip because of the penalty) during which the Ravens registered 2 sacks and he collected a PD (his only defensive statistic). Despite that, I would not say he had a good game rushing the passer. On Ngata’s coverage sack, he was effectively singled by Starks for 5 full seconds before spinning free.
· I don’t honestly know if Ed Reed is going to be able to play this season, but if not, he is the equal of Ray Lewis 2002 as a cheerleader. He clearly wants to return and a team with Williams/Wilson as the 4th and 5th corners plus Zibby/Nakamura as the 3rd and 4th safeties will be formidable indeed. The 4 “W’s” among the Ravens corners reminded me of the 4 “St’s” among the 1979 Orioles’ bullpen. Without using a reference, can you remember them?
The Ravens 3 most important defensive plays Sunday:
· (Q3, 10:33) Suggs sacks Batch to take the Steelers back to the 31 immediately preceeding Reed’s 49-yard miss.
· (Q2, 10:15) Lewis’ PD on 3rd and 8 stops the Steelers drive at the 47. Sunday was a study in how Ray can still impact the passing game despite limited ability to cover. His late interception was a move into the throwing lane and this important early PD was another fine read of the QB.
· (Q3, 0:45) Of Webb’s fine defensive day, this coverage kept the Steelers from scoring as Reed missed wide left on the next play. Both of his other PDs against Wallace were better individual plays, but the Steelers scored anyway.