Defense Smothers Steelers to Seal Win

Game Changers Defense Smothers Steelers to Seal Win

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Game Changers Week 4

There are plays in every football game that impact who wins and who loses. They can occur on offense, defense or special teams. Sometimes it’s a play everyone sees, like a long touchdown run or pass, a sack, or turnover. Other times it’s a play that goes unnoticed. It could be a key block on offense or a defender who doesn’t make the tackle himself but executes his assignment, allowing a teammate to make the play.

I’ll be honest; I’ve been looking forward to writing about the Ravens defense. You probably couldn’t tell from the first three installments of this series, but defense is actually my favorite side of the ball. Let’s take a look at the players on defense that I think changed the game, starting with Anthony Levine Sr.

Levine makes a pass break-up on 3rd down

Q4, 10:28, 3rd & 5 at PIT 45

The Steelers come out with 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE & 3 WRs) in an empty set. They’re running a slant/flat combination on the offense’s right side, with Antonio Brown running the slant and RB James Conner running the flat. Levine is showing A gap pressure (gap between C & RG) by alignment.

At the snap, Levine opens to his right to release to Connor. When Connor breaks away from the middle of the field, Levine slides into hook/curl zone (short middle of the field area). Ben Roethlisberger is in the shotgun but still takes a quick 2-step drop. Levine continues to get depth in his drop until Ben hits his last step.

Levine gets his eyes in the backfield and Ben’s indicators take him to the ball. QB indicators are things a DB can read that enable him to get a jump on the ball. They include things like the direction a QB’s head & shoulders are pointing and when his top hand comes off the ball to begin his throwing motion. Levine does a nice job reading these indicators and is able to extend his right hand to deflect the ball and force a punt.

Levine Makes an INT on 3rd Down

Q4, 3:26, 3rd & 10 at PIT 30

The Steelers are trailing 23-14 with time running out and are in full pass mode. The Ravens want to bring pressure but also protect against the big play, so they run a fire zone pressure concept. DC Don Martindale called variations of fire zone pressures throughout the game.  I could spend the rest of this article describing fire zone pressures but I’ll try to be concise.

[Related: FILMSTUDY – Dime Time in Pittsburgh]

A “fire zone” is a zone blitz concept. It’s typically a 3-under, 3-deep zone coverage where a traditional line of scrimmage rush player (think DL or OLB) drops into coverage while a traditional coverage player (think CB or S) rushes. Schematically, it’s way to generate “safe pressure,” i.e. creating pressure using confusion while still having six players to defend the pass.

On this play, the Ravens effectively only rush four. Za’Darius Smith, C.J. Mosley and Tavon Young rush from the offense’s right side; Brent Urban is the lone rusher on the left side. Notice how Suggs rushes upfield, staying with TE Jesse James just off the line of scrimmage. Matt Judon drops to cover the left flat.

At the snap, Levine opens to the passing strength (3-receiver side) and drops to the hook/curl zone. As he drops, Levine is reading Ben for the types of indicators we just went over.

On this play, Ben’s indicators take Levine right to the ball. He cuts in front of Antonio Brown’s dig route to make the interception and returns the ball 16 yards.

Levine makes a pass break-up to end the game

Q4, 1:08, 4th & 10 PIT16

This is the Steelers’ last chance to extend the game but Levine makes another drive-ending play. While the interception we just watched effectively ended the game, this break-up officially put the hay in the barn.

Again, he’s showing A gap pressure pre-snap. This time he’s on the left-side between the C and LG. At the snap, Levine drops to the hook/curl zone, gets his eyes in the backfield and Ben takes him to the ball again. Levine cuts under Smith-Schuster’s curl route and breaks on the ball but isn’t able to hang onto it this time.

Honorable Mentions

Brandon Carr

After the week 14 game in Pittsburgh last season, some were ready to run CB Brandon Carr out of town. Why? He gave up some big plays to Brown, arguably the best receiver in the game. Fast forward to after the game last Sunday night and the narrative has changed. With CB Jimmy Smith set to return from suspension in Week 5 and after the way Carr performed on Sunday night, some are asking if it’s CB Marlon Humphrey, not Carr, who should be headed to the bench.

I’m not going to weigh in on that, but I did want to share two plays that highlight the solid game Carr had.

Carr saves a TD early in the 2nd quarter

Carr saves a TD on this play. JuJu gets inside position on Carr in the end zone, but he shows the patience and understanding of a veteran CB who’s never missed a start in his career. He’s able to keep his eyes on the QB to track the ball and “feel” where JuJu is. When JuJu elevates and raises his hands to catch the ball, Carr turns to face him, not the ball, and is able to punch the ball away.

Carr defends the deep ball vs Smith-Schuster

On this play, Carr is 1-on-1 with JuJu on the offense’s left side. At the snap, watch how quickly Carr snaps his head around, matches JuJu’s speed, closes space to get in phase, tracks the ball then high-points it to knock it away.

Terrell Suggs

I could show a handful of plays in every game that make Terrell Suggs a game changer. No joke, he could literally be in this article every week but I’m only going to show one play (this time).

Suggs reads the play before it happens

Suggs reads this screen pass to Switzer from the jump. Watch how he widens his alignment a few steps and ends up outside the hash. At the snap, he attacks the passing lane, causing Ben to throw off target. Switer has to adjust to make the catch and is tackled for a five-yard loss.

Sometimes it’s hyperbolic to say a player is “great” or the “best ever.” That’s not the case when talking about Suggs.

Every time he laces them up, we’re watching one of the best to ever do it, at any position.

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