Defense Run Over by Steelers’ Ground Attack

Filmstudy Defense Run Over by Steelers’ Ground Attack

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This year, it’s the Ravens losing a mess of close games, but this one had its own reasons for being hard to take.

The Ravens surrendered 13 rushing plays of 6+ yards, something that should not happen to a team with a good run defense.

Here is a brief breakdown (no pun intended) of those 13 plays:


  • (Q1, 14:04, 1/15)  The Steelers lined up with 4 wide receivers in the shotgun and zone blocked right.  Gilbert blocked Upshaw, DeCastro and Velasco moved Jones, and Arthur Brown was caught in the wash as Bell Ran for 6 yards.
  • (Q1, 13:27, 2/9)  Pitt lined up in the I with 2 receivers.  Velasco blocked Ngata solo, Miller blocked Upshaw (uggh), and DeCastro moved to L2 to block Arthur Brown.  McClain was caught in the wash.  Bell initially ran into the center then broke right for 8 yards.
  • (Q1, 11:29, 1/10)  The Steelers lined up with Adams as tackle eligible (6L).  DeCastro sealed Jones, Suggs ran himself out of the play, and Gilbert blocked McClain in L2 as Bell ran middle for 11 yards.
  • (Q1, 9:26, 3/2)  The Steelers lined up in the Wildcat.  DeCastro pulled left to take Suggs out of the play and open the left edge.  Johnson trucked McClain and Daryl Smith was lost in the wash as Bell ran for 6 yards.
  • (Q2, 15:00, 1/10)  The Steelers went back to a jumbo formation (6L) with 2 backs.  Ngata was doubled by Velasco and DeCastro.  DeCastro then broke off to block McClain in L2.  Smith was blocked by Johnson, Spears was blocked straight up by Whimper.  Bell ran off right guard for 9 yards.
  • (Q2, 14:26, 2/1)  Steelers were again 6L with Adams eligible.  Ngata was doubled by Velasco and Foster, before Velasco broke off to block Smith in L2.  DeCastro pushed back Spears, Whimper mover to L2 and blocked McClain as Bell ran middle for 9 yards.
  • (Q2, 1:24, 1/19)  The Steelers had 4 standing receivers in the shotgun.  Velasco blocked Upshaw, who lined up at DT, Foster moved to L2 and picked up Daryl Smith, DeCastro blocked Brown, Canty over pursued to the inside and was sealed on the left edge by Beachum as Bell ran for 6.
  • (Q3, 9:00, 1/10)  Bell again took the snap in the wildcat.  Velasco and DeCastro initially doubled Ngata.  DeCastro then moved to L2 and blocked McClain.  RT Adams blocked Jones.  Bell waited for the blocking to develop then took off for 7 yards up the middle.
  • (Q3, 7:36, 3/1)  The Steelers lined up in 6R with 3 TEs and 1 RB.  Roethlisberger dropped to pass and Suggs beat Miller outside, but missed the sack as Roethlisberger ran left for 19 yards.  The pass blocking held up except for Suggs’ rush and Jones was sealed on the left edge by Beachum.
  • (Q3, 6:59, 1/10)  On the next play, the Steelers stayed with the 6-man line (6R).  Brandon Williams lost the 1-on-1 battle with Velasco.  DeCastro drove back Jones, Foster moved to L2 to block McClain, and Smith was lost in the wash then blocked by Whimper.
  • (Q3, 5:04, 1/10)  The Steelers lined up in another 3-TE, 1 RB set.  DeCastro soloed Ngata, Velasco moved to L2 to block McClain and Whimper blocked Smith in L2.  Miller blocked Spears as Bell ran off right guard for 7 yards.
  • (Q4, 13:04,1/10)  The Steelers lined up with 3 TEs, including Adams (6L).  As Roethlisberger dropped to throw, Beachum and Adams blocked Suggs.  Whimper pancaked Jones and then appeared to hold him.  Canty stunted out of the play to open a big hole for Roethlisberger to run left for 7 yards.
  • (Q4, 12:21, 2/13)  The Steelers again lined up with Adams eligible (6R).  Adams sealed Jones, Miller blocked Upshaw, and Whimper blocked Smith in L2.  McClain, blocked in L2 by DeCastro, managed to trip up Felix Jones for a gain of 6.

A few notes:

  • At the heart of this discussion is the relative cost of being doubled as opposed to blocked by 1 opponent.  When blocked by 2 men simultaneously, the player who is able to hold his ground has done something valuable.  Even if moved, the player has created an opportunity for the other 10 men on defense if he can keep both blockers engaged.  Ngata got pushed around on these plays, but it generally took 2 opponents to get him moving.
  • Both ILBs looked awful.  Smith had 9 tackles, but the distances from the LoS were 11, 8, 3, 7, 14 (Forced Fumble), 7, 7, 3, and 3 yards.  None of McClain’s 5 tackles (3, 6, 7, 6, 3) were within 3 yards of the LoS either.  The Steelers managed to get a hat on them regularly.
  • The biggest single change to improve run defense would be the reinsertion of Josh Bynes.  I feel like the Ravens needed to run blitz against the wildcat.  Whether a linebacker or safety off the edge, someone needed to be in the backfield to hurry up Bell’s hole selection.
  • DeCastro fully lived up to his 1st-round draft status in this one.
  • The Steelers gave the Ravens a mess of different looks.  The wildcat and 6-man line were both effective.

The Steelers ran just 54 offensive plays excluding Ben’s first-half kneel.  I am also showing a 5-yard difference from the Gamebook in total yards for the Steelers, but that won’t affect these much:


Versus the Run:  28 plays, 142 yards, 5.1 YPC

Versus the Pass:  26 plays, 140 yards, 5.4 YPP

Overall:  54 plays, 282 yards, 5.2 YPPA

By number of defensive backs:

3 DBs:  3 plays, 23 yards, 7.7 YPPA

4 DBs:  24/129, 5.4 YPPA

5 DBs:  27/130, 4.8 YPPA, 3 sacks, 1 TO

By number of pass rushers:

3:  None

4:  17/85, 5.0 YPP, 2 sack, 1 TO

5:  8/55, 6.9 YPP, 1 sack

6:  1/0

7:  None

Other Notes

  • Matt Elam had a better game.  He had 3 tackles, recovered the fumble forced by Smith, and drew a holding penalty.  It still looks like the Ravens are trying to play defense with 2 strong safeties.
  • It’s a typical Steelers/Ravens matchup when Roethlisberger faces lots of pressure, but the Ravens fail to close the deal.  Suggs’ near sack went for a gain of 19.  Dumervil’s official sack was appended with a facemask flag.  Each of those converted a 3rd down on a scoring drive.
  • McPhee was inserted for just 7 snaps, 6 of which came as an inside rusher.  He generated a little pressure on 2 of his 5 pass rushes, but this was a significant underutilization.
  • The Ravens have not used a single dime package in passing situations in the 3 weeks since Arthur Brown’s return.  Huff is proving to be an expensive special-teams player.

You will often hear it said that a decision on offense is an affront to the defense.  An example would be Belichick’s decision to go for the 1st down on 4th and 2 from his own 29 against Indianapolis a few years ago.  Manning made Belichick pay for the decision, but that didn’t make it the wrong call.

On Sunday, I believe the onside kick was a combination of opportunity and circumstance.  Harbaugh probably believed his team would have a much better than average chance to recover the kick based on the surprise, but what may have sealed the decision to try was the Ravens’ inability to stop the Steelers defensively (5 scores in 7 drives excluding the end-of half kneel).  This was a case where the defense should have felt more responsible than offended.

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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.

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