1. Flip the Script
Last Sunday, the Steelers were able to beat the Colts at their own game by winning the time of possession battle. They controlled the clock for close to 40 minutes, nearly doubling the amount of time they held the ball compared to the Colts.
A big reason the Steelers were so successful was because they converted 61% of their third downs. Meanwhile, on the same number of third-down attempts, the Ravens completed 38% of their attempts and were nearly even with the Bengals in the time of possession battle.
That level of efficiency won’t cut it against Pittsburgh. The Steelers are white hot on offense and need to be contained somehow. Keeping them off the field is a good start.
To turn the clock into an advantage, the Ravens need to mix a ground and pound running game with short passes.
In the running game, the emphasis for the blockers remains on getting to the second level and taking advantage of the Steelers’ propensity to pursue too hard down the line. If the backs – Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro – set up their blocks properly, the cutback lanes should be available to the back side.
2. Create Openings
Steve Smith and Torrey Smith had a frustrating time breaking free against the Bengals’ press coverage last week. The Cincinnati corners played more aggressively to contain the duo on outside routes, even using their hands beyond the five-yard strike zone. All in all, Smith & Smith combined for a miserable three catches for 35 yards, with Steve generating 100% of that output.
The situation may be different against a Pittsburgh cornerback group that usually plays off the receivers. However, with the Bengals showing success stymieing the Smiths with their physical play, the Steelers could change their approach.
Regardless of the type of coverage technique the Pittsburgh corners use, Gary Kubiak needs to change up his route combinations and formations to make it easier for the Smiths to operate.
Specifically, he should employ more stacks, rubs, and bunch formations to make it difficult for the Steelers to isolate their coverage and play aggressively at the line. The bunch set in particular is effective against tight man-to-man coverage.
3. Everything but the Kitchen Sink
He’s baaaaack. Not that Dick LeBeau really ever left in the first place. But the mad scientist showed a lot of the hybrid fronts and stunting action that have made his defensive units so famous. For the better part of the season, those looks haven’t been flashed as often because the Steelers aren’t typically protecting a big lead like they did against the Colts.
The Ravens are very familiar with the different stand-up rushes and line games LeBeau will dial up during the course of the game. However, regardless of how often a team has seen these rush combinations, there are always a few wrinkles that LeBeau slips in, and those subtle adjustments can lead to confusion for the offensive line and big plays for his defense.
To counter the shifting action at the line, the offense needs to stay in third-and-manageable situations. Also, Joe Flacco should have the ability to audible to the run and exploit the wide splits that can open up when the rushers exchange positions on the stunts they run.
1. Front Four Squeeze
In the epic performance Ben Roethlisberger put together against Indianapolis, he put on a clinic for dissecting the blitz. The Colts were relentless in their commitment to bringing extra rushers from different angles, and the future Hall of Famer calmly completed hot route after hot route. Roethlisberger not only did a great job of recognizing where the blitz was coming from, but his receivers attacked the voids behind the blitz with great precision and timing.
The Ravens have to come after the Steelers from a different angle. They’ll need to rely on a four-man rush the entire night to break down the pocket so they can keep seven defenders back in coverage.
How the four rushers get to Roethlisberger is another story. They can mix up their looks and bluff the blitz so Big Ben is forced to check the ball down. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees should also weave in some stunts and line games of his own to create some unsettled pass blocking scenarios for Pittsburgh.
But ultimately, the effectiveness of the pass rush will boil down to how often the front rush – led by Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumevil, and Pernell McPhee – can win their one-on-one matchups.
2. Technique Strong
The play of the Baltimore safeties continues to come under fire, and last week’s gaffe against Mohamed Sanu late in the fourth quarter was the latest example. Rookie Terrence Brooks misplayed a deep pass from Andy Dalton, setting up the game-winning TD on the same drive. Brooks was also guilty of not getting enough depth to his side of the field.
Those types of mistakes will be magnified against a Pittsburgh WR corps that’s hotter than The Human Torch.
Led by all-everything receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers also boast two young deep-ball mavens in Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. All of these receivers possess great speed and ball skills to track and snag Roethlisberger’s moonshot throws.
The technique, depth, and communication on the back end needs to be at the highest level to defend the deep ball. And Cover 2 and Cover 3 should be the coverages of choice. To keep Roethlisberger guessing and not let him get too comfortable, the safeties should show single-high disguise before the snap, only to switch back into Cover 2 or Cover 3 post-snap.
3. Don’t Fall Asleep Against Bell
There is not enough space in this column to talk about all of the things Le’Veon Bell brings to the table as a weapon for the Steelers. He is the total package as a runner and receiver. Bell has turned into such a dangerous pass-catcher that Roethlisberger doesn’t hesitate to dump the ball off to him and let him go to work in the open field. And he is equally devastating running the ball from open or closed formations.
In trying to contain him, the Ravens need to maintain their tackling poise. They can’t get too caught up in his stop-and-start action.
The best way to deal with a player that is so slippery and has so many moves is to attack him without hesitation. If the Baltimore defenders hesitate when they are squaring up to tackle him, they’ll be in for a long night.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
C.J. Mosley versus Le’Veon Bell
Mosley will be counted on to bring Bell down to earth. The rookie backer needs to take the right angles to corral Bell in open space. And when Bell is sliding and shifting in the backfield, Mosley can’t flow too hard to one side and over-pursue. This is the type of matchup in which Mosley’s natural athleticism and lateral quickness should make a difference in matching up with a dynamic talent like Bell.