1. Motion Mr. Smith
Last Sunday, the Ravens continued to beat their heads against a brick wall by chucking the ball to Torrey Smith on deep routes. Just as the Steelers did the week prior, the Chargers used the sidelines to their advantage, and made it extremely difficult for Joe Flacco to fit the ball in tight windows.
Once Smith started moving around and ran more underneath routes, he became a factor in the passing game. Smith has proven that he is more than a “9” route runner. He is equally dangerous on crossers and post routes.
Against Pittsburgh, the Ravens need to find ways to get Smith the ball in space, in the middle of the field. In particular, with cornerback Ike Taylor draped all over Smith at either X or Z position, Smith should be in motion away from Taylor, especially in third down situations.
2. Attack Polamalu
The return of Polamalu is normally an ominous sign. The future Hall-of-Famer has haunted the Ravens with backbreaking plays as a roamer in center field or as a blitzer at the line.
However, Polamalu is no longer the same dominant player he once was. He still possesses incredible instincts. But he is coming off a mysterious calf injury and may just be ripe for the picking in passing situations.
The Ravens should turn back the clock and isolate Polamalu in man-to-man coverage situations like they have successfully done in the past. If Polamalu is hovering in the box or the slot, a tight end or motioning receiver should flex out and run right at Polamalu.
3. Pierce the Deep Middle
Given the Steelers’ inverted bracket coverage of Smith in the last matchup, the middle of the field was open. One problem: The Ravens kept attacking the edges. Assuming the Steelers look to take away the sideline routes once again, the middle will be available once again.
The Ravens got their deep seam patterns cooking against San Diego, and they’ll need to dial those patterns up once again. Flacco has proven that he can complete that pass, especially when he’s in rhythm.
1. Bracket Antonio Brown
Brown’s absence is an intermediate target has been an obvious missing element. Out of all the weapons in the Pittsburgh arsenal, he is the most sure handed and consistent route runner. The all-purpose receiver is especially tricky to cover as a slot receiver, where he has the space to break inside or outside and confound defensive backs.
The Baltimore linebackers will need to help cover Brown by staying true to their zone drops. Without inside help, the defensive backs will struggle to keep up. Moreover, the safeties should be ready to pounce on Brown and keep him from wiggling free for extra yardage after the catch.
2. Force Batch to Throw Deep
Part of the reason that the Ravens could potentially afford to collapse their coverage on Brown is due to Charlie Batch’s struggles as a deep ball thrower. In fact, Batch may very well zero in on Brown and Emmanuel Sanders on underneath routes as opposed to throwing it downfield to Mike Wallace.
Again, the safeties and the backers should be prepared to jump the inside routes, even if that means leaving the corners in more man coverage situations. Batch simply doesn’t have the arm strength to make the Ravens pay.
3. Turn Dwyer Inside Out
As an inside power runner, Dwyer can leave a defense black and blue. The Ravens found that out firsthand in their matchup against Dwyer in Pittsburgh. The big, physical tailback bruised the Baltimore front seven on straight-ahead power rushes. Dwyer presents a bigger challenge against the Ravens because he can push a pile and make tacklers miss.
The key to corralling the third-year back is to blitz the A gaps and string out the run to the edges. Once Dwyer is out in space, the edge defenders will need to pursue and wrap up.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week
Mike Wallace vs. Corey Graham
While Wallace is in Mike Tomlin’s doghouse, and may not even start on Sunday, his presence as a vertical threat cannot be ignored. Wallace can get to top speed in a hurry and he’ll get behind any cornerback. Meanwhile, Graham has displayed tremendous footwork and timing as a cover corner. He’ll have his hands full with Wallace, especially if he doesn’t have safety help over the top.