The hiring of Chuck Pagano certainly caught me by surprise.
It’s safe to say the Ravens clearly had a succession plan in place. Based on the play of the Ravens secondary in 2010, Pagano is certainly deserving.
Much of the scrutiny on this game has been on the failure of the offense to help put the game away in the 2nd half. While the Ravens’ defense played well enough to win, their scheme bears examination.
The Ravens rushed 3 with mixed success. Here is a description of the 6 plays:
· (Q2, 1:13) They forced Suisham’s missed Field Goal attempt when Carr tackled Wallace for a gain of just 3 on 3rd and 10.
· (Q3 4:16) Roethlisberger threw incomplete deep left for Randle-El on 3rd and 21.
· (Q3, 1:27) Roethlisberger completed a 6-yard TD to Ward over the middle to tie the score at 21.
· (Q4, 12:52) Somehow, Suggs was singled by Essex on a 3-man rush and Sizzle bulled him backwards then moved off laterally for a 9-yard sack.
· (Q4, 3:34) Roethlisberger had ample time to throw between Nakamura and Ellerbe to Ward for a 12-yard gain on 3rd and 10.
· (Q4, 2:07) The Steelers lined up with 4 wide and a single back. Suggs was again singled by Essex, but this time Roethlisberger had time and unloaded the 58-yard pass to Brown that set up the game winning score.
I firmly believe the best way to play defense is to be unpredictable. A 3-man pass rush, like rushing 6 or 7 bears risks. Against the Steelers, I’d say the Ravens became predictable by rushing 3 in particular down and distance situations. For the game, Mattison rushed 3 on down/distance situations 3/10, 3/21, 3/6, 3/6, 3/10, 3/19. Anyone see a pattern there?
As the game wore on, the Steelers offensive line suffered more attrition with the loss of Adams (does anyone think “illness” was used as a synonym for “ineffectiveness”) and at least 1 temporary injury to Scott. With those game conditions particularly, I would have liked to see a minimum of 4 rushing. That would have put more pressure on the Steelers’ offensive line to convert 2 additional 1-on-1 blocking assignments (or keep in an eligible receiver), successfully handoff a stunt, reassign blocks with additional pre-snap movement, or deal an overload.
The corroborating piece of evidence is that Roethlisberger made fewer plays roaming the pocket or setting a secondary pocket than we have previously seen. In the 2008 games Ben seemed able to regularly extend plays that included the game-winning TD in Baltimore, the long TD to Holmes in the AFCC, and several missed sacks. That wasn’t the case Sunday. The Steelers had 11 passing plays that resulted in gains of 10+ yards (including the DPI). Specifically, those included:
· (Q1, 11:19) Straight drop, 5 man rush with Lewis and Johnson dropping to zone as Ed Reed blitzes. It was the only blitz of the day I scored as deceptive, but 6 blockers picked up 5 effectively. The play went for a 20-yard completion to Wallace on 3rd and 12 over Carr and in front of Landry.
· (Q1, 10:49) The Ravens brought 6-man pressure with Landry dropping to zone. Roethlisberger dropped straight back and Johnson arrived for a QH after the ball was out. Wilson was flagged for 37-yards worth of pass interference. This play is not included in the 6-man rush stats, since it resulted in a penalty.
· (Q2, 5:01) BR dropped straight back again with a 4-man rush. He hit Miller on the right side who was not well covered by Ellerbe. Landry was the next closest.
· (Q2, 3:56) BR dropped straight back against a 4-man rush. The Ravens ran a stunt, but did not get pressure as the pass was completed to Sanders for a 14-yard gain on 3rd and 11. Lewis and Landry were in coverage.
· (Q2, 1:57) The Ravens brought a 6-man pass rush and the pocket was closing around Roethlisberger as he completed a 13-yard pass to Sanders on 2nd and 2.
· (Q3, 7:25) On a straight drop, BR threw a WR screen left to Sanders for 0 + 17 YAC on 1st and 10.
· (Q3, 6:03) Play action, 10-yard pass left to Sanders on 2nd and 7. The Ravens brought a 5-man rush.
· (Q3, 3:38) Play action, 13-yard screen left to Mendenhall on 1st and 10 vs. a 4-man rush.
· (Q4, 15:00) BR dropped straight back again and threw a WR screen right to Brown for -1 + 11 YAC on 3rd and 11. The Ravens rushed 6. That would set up his 4th and 1 QB sneak as the play clock ran out. The Ravens rushed 6.
· (Q4, 3:34) On 3rd and 10, BR dropped straight back vs. 3-man pressure and completed a 12-yard pass to Ward between Nakamura and Ellerbe.
· (Q4, 2:07) On 3rd and 19, BR dropped back vs. an undisguised 3-man rush. He threw from a clean pocket to hit Brown over Webb deep down the right sideline. Landry was the closest over-the-top help.
All 11 of the Steelers 10+ yard passing plays were made from the pocket and before contact. It seems strange to say this about a game where the Ravens registered 6 sacks, but this was a case where a more intense and deceptive pass rush could have paid even more dividends.
On to the statistics (excluding 2 kneels):
Vs. the Run: 29 plays, 83 yards, 2.9 YPC
Vs. the Pass: 38/185, 4.9 YPP
Overall: 67/268, 4.0 YPPA
By number of defensive backs
Short Yardage (3 DBs): 7/4, 0.6 YPPA
Standard (4 DBs): 17/80, 4.7 YPPA
Nickel (5 DBs): 41/117, 2.9 YPPA, 5 sacks, 2 TO
Dime (6 DBs): 4/67, 16.8 YPPA, 1 sack
By number of pass rushers
3: 6/72, 12.0 YPP, 1 sack
4: 18/48, 2.7 YPP, 4 sacks, 1 TO.
5: 6/49, 8.2 YPP
6: 7/16 2.3 YPP, 1 sack
7: 1/0, 0.0 YPP
· Let’s try to put the statistics with the 4-man pass rush in context. During the regular season, the Ravens registered 16 sacks on 303 plays with a 4-man pass rush (5.3%). That compares to 5.0% in 2009, 6.5% in 2008, 5.0% in 2007, and an amazing 9.9% for the 60-sack 2006 Ravens defense (28 sacks in 283 4-man rushes). Against the Steelers, the Ravens had 22.2% sacks with the 4-man rush.
· Roethlisberger continually picked on Landry’s side of the field or was working hard to avoid Ed Reed. Reed played well and was held to several solid run tackles and a contribution to Wilson’s PD on Sanders (Q4, 2:13). In the small victories department, it was nice to see Reed outplay Polamalu so effectively as a tackler.
· Wilson played well. The PI wasn’t a good call
· Webb was burned by Brown for the biggest play of the game, but the nickel was effective.
· The Steelers final TD drive was 11 plays long and had 4 first downs, but only 2 plays which could accurately be termed s successful. Roethlisberger completed a 12-yard pass to Ward on 3rd and 10 (Q4, 3:34) and the 58-yard bomb to Brown on 3rd and 19. Otherwise, the Ravens held the Steelers to 4 incomplete passes, 1 sack for a 9-yard loss, and runs of 1 (with DH flag on the Cody), -1, 0, and 2.
· Suggs played almost as well as he did in the December 5th game at Baltimore, which was, in my opinion, the greatest single-game defensive effort ever by a Raven.