For tonight’s Wildcard matchup, your Baltimore Ravens’ scouting report as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
– Joe Flacco was a mess against the Houston Texans, completing under 50% of his passes and tossing three picks in his own territory. Problems start above the shoulders with #5.
Poor read to throw the slant, not seeing the underneath dime defender, who nearly picked it off. Tipped it instead and the pass fell incomplete.
Though there was some pressure, poor weight transfer by Flacco leads to a high throw Torrey Smith can’t haul in.
Sorry that second picture is of “Spotted Bigfoot” quality – best I could do.
One of his interceptions was thrown behind, and probably a little late, on an attempted out route. Poor ball placement.
This misread by Flacco killed me. No idea how he misses it. Looking to the right, sees the safety turn his hips to the #1 WR down the right sideline. His #2 is running a post and is open deep. The safety turns, he’s out of the play. Just process what you’re reading and fire the touchdown.
Instead, he winds up looking to the other half of the field and throwing elsewhere. Left points on the board. Not playoff winning football.
He was better statistically against the Cleveland Browns but still missed some throws by a mile.
But to play Devil’s advocate, in his last two trips to the playoffs, he’s thrown 14 touchdowns to one interception. Which Flacco will show up tonight?
– Justin Forsett is the clear leader in the backfield and has been for quite some time. He meshes with their zone scheme well. Explosive running downhill with wiggle. It’s not just the scheme opening up holes either. There’s a noticeable difference when Bernard Pierce or Fitzgerald Toussaint enter the game. Run game doesn’t click nearly as well.
After being held in check during Weeks 15 and 16, Forsett reemerged against the Browns, running for 119 yards.
Though he isn’t a prolific receiver, he has caught 44 passes. Flacco looks to him as a checkdown.
Serviceable pass blocker. Brian Cushing isn’t the player he once was, kudos to Forsett for keeping him at bay.
– Despite not touching the ball in the last two weeks, I’m still a fan of FB Kyle Juszczyk. And the Ravens are too, playing him on over 40% of the snaps in 2014. Quality lead blocker, multi-facet special teamer, and though it seems they haven’t called many lately, the Ravens have some plays designed to specifically give him the ball.
– Steve Smith cooled down after a blazing hot start, catching one touchdown over his last five games, but is still a threat. Unique body control, still shows the wheels, and is a mosquito in the run game. Gets in your face and annoys the heck out you. Cracked Browns’ safety Jim Leonard last week and stuck until the whistle. A guy like Mike Mitchell will have to make sure he keeps a cool head.
Ruled incomplete but Smith makes a tremendous effort to bring this one in.
– If there is such a thing, Torrey Smith quietly caught 11 touchdowns this year. With three scores over the last two weeks, he’s accounted for nearly 55% (18 of 33) of the Ravens’ points. Another vertical threat and the Ravens aren’t afraid to let the Smith duo show off their wheels. Lots of vertical concepts we’ll touch on later.
– Marlon Brown is 6’5 and although they use him a tad more in the red zone, he’s been unproductive. Just two catches for 27 yards over 78 snaps the last two weeks. He only has one game over four receptions or 35 yards, three weeks ago versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.
– Goal line alert. All five of the Ravens’ touchdowns from tight ends have come within five yards. Owen Daniels caught two against the Steelers in the first meeting. He has four in all while rookie Crockett Gilmore snagged the other, a one yard touchdown that also came against the Steelers.
Playacction on the goal line is difficult to stop. By the time you read pass, you’re already beat. Going to have to make a focused effort on reading the tight end or fullback’s release. The line typically blocks like it’s a run to really sell it – you can’t read high/low hat. It’s not a fun situation to be in.
– Onto the offensive line. The big story is undrafted rookie left tackle James Hurst filling in for the injured Eugene Monroe.
Hurst isn’t as bad as I thought/expected but I wouldn’t classify him as good, either. Dave Bryan will tell you the numbers – six holds and three sacks allowed over 224 pass blocks.
I see a player who does a decent enough job moving laterally but suffers from a poor punch in strength and technique. He can get rebuffed on his punch. Plus, he’s shown signs of flatback when he shoots. Examples of both are shown below, respectively.
– Left guard Kelechi Osemele plays well in a phone booth. Big body at 6’5 330 and is a force on his chip in combo blocks. Cam Heyward could have difficulty anchoring when he gets blasted on the side by Osemele.
But he’s is weak in space and becomes exposed.
I’d run stunts and overloads to his side. Not just because of Hurst but Osemele has trouble picking them up, too. On back-to-back plays against the Texans, he fails to pinch inside on a “Fire X” blitz (ILB’s cross), opting to help the tackle.
Later, a three man stunt that makes him look lost. Doesn’t pick anyone up and again, allows pressure.
On zone runs to the right, away from Osemele, he has trouble reaching the backside linebacker. Guys like Sean Spence and Ryan Shazier better be able to cross his face and fill. Another critical element of stopping the Ravens run game.
Weaknesses that should continue to be exploited.
– I don’t know if the line changes had anything to do with it, it shouldn’t have, but center Jeremy Zuttah and Flacco had issues on the quarterback/center exchange against the Browns. Two muffed snaps under center and at least a third poor snap out of the gun. Those mistakes can cost you a game. Maybe it’ll rear its ugly head again, to the delight of Steelers’ fans.
Zuttah is a quality athlete who can move in space. Watch him reach and stick to Karlos Dansby on this inside zone.
Forsett breaks it off for a big gainer.
But he’s undersized and weak, susceptible to getting walked back into the pocket. A good first step by Steve McLendon could do it and I’d like to see what Daniel McCullers could do. Play him 5-7 snaps and see if you can’t get an opportunity to collapse the pocket. Interior pressure wins in the NFL.
Because of Monroe’s injury and the injured-reserve RT Ricky Wagner (who was playing well), right guard Marshall Yanda has moved to right tackle with rookie right guard John Urschel stepping into the right guard spot.
Yanda has down an admirable job at right tackle. Better than I thought he would for a guy playing out of position. Still a great run blocker who gets a push. Stephon Tuitt against him in the run game will be a pivotal matchup. Tuitt has grown in the run game but this is going to be one heck of a test.
However, he doesn’t gather much ground on his kickslide. Not surprising given his lack of experience. The Ravens may even be asking him to do that so he doesn’t overstep.
As you’ll see in this example below against the Browns, the Steelers need to have a wide tech – a seven tech (outside the TE) for example – to force Yanda to slide wide and protect the edge. Paul Kruger beats him here, sacking and stripping Flacco. It wound up being a 23 yard loss for Baltimore.
Jason Worilds just needs to swipe Yanda’s hands away and dip the edge. And he’ll win.
– Didn’t get a great read on Urschel though you can tell he has trouble engaging defenders. Poor leverage and his hands are knocked away too easily.
Perhaps he can bore them with a math problem? Urschel was the recipient of the Campbell Award at Penn State, the academic Heisman.
– Schematically, the Ravens are still the same inside/outside zone running team. The scheme largely remains unchanged.
On the goal line, however, they will convert to a power game. Pulled Osemele on consecutive plays, though it should be noted they failed on both attempts.
– I don’t know if I’d classify it as a “Four Verticals” offense, I’m just not well-versed enough in the offense, but I certainly see some looks. There are times where the Ravens go heavy on the protection and send a couple of vertical routes. If the receivers are even with or the corner, they’ll stay vertical. If they don’t, they break the route off to a curl or comeback. Decisions typically get made at 12-15 yards.
Again, they have speed and like to use it. Stress the secondary and see if they can’t score a big play. Also stretches the defense to allow the receiver to win if the route is broken off. One-on-one matchups.
– I couldn’t be sure of it, but there were times where they ran double-moves around their own 30-35. Something to keep in the back of your mind. Again, all with the intent of winning vertically.
– Situationally, I saw them on one 4th and 1. Inside zone to the right with a fake end around. Did not convert.
– The Ravens run some split zone action, the FB blocking away from the down blocking OL, but I didn’t see Forsett cut it back in the last two weeks. Could be more window dressing than anything else. False keys for the linebackers. If they’re a step slow, they’ll lose against zone schemes. Need to be quick to flow down the line.
– They’ll also boot of that split action. Couldn’t pick up any tells to indicate when, unfortunately. Appears to be a low-high read. First is the FB sprinting into the flat, second is the weakside deep crosser, an Achilles’ heel for the Steelers’ defense. Flacco hits his second read for a sizeable gain in the example below.
– I only saw it obviously once but it still confused me. Third and five against a blitz look from the Browns. No hot route for Flacco, no one gets their head around. It’s picked up well but there’s eight defenders blitzing. One more than what they can block. Flacco is hit as he throws and the pass falls incomplete.
Gotta get a receiver to turn his head on the snap. Bizarre mistake for something seemingly so obvious.
– The defensive line is getting a much needed boost with the return of Haloti Ngata, returning from his four game suspension. It comes at a perfect time following the loss of Timmy Jernigan to an ankle injury. The rookie out of Florida State was playing good ball in both phases and was their only real source of interior pressure against the pass.
Though his snaps could be limited because he missed a month, I can’t see them holding back too much in a playoff game. Ngata is a rare breed who logs around 75-80% of snaps per game.
– Still a big fan of Brandon Williams. He is not athletic as Ngata but can be just as dominant. Like his first step and he’s disruptive against zone teams. Bullied the Texans’ lineman into the backfield on stretch runs.
– Not the fleetest of foot but able to stay square and shows short-area quickness to flow down the line when he isn’t getting in the backfield. Good hustle and runs to the ball well. John Mitchell would be proud.
Because of a lack of depth coupled with his stellar play, he’s seen 70% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps over the past two weeks.
– The lack of depth was forcing players like Lawrence Guy and DeAngelo Tyson to play much more than what the team was probably comfortable with. Ngata will relieve that though this team doesn’t have the ideal pieces to rotate. No strong candidate for a third tackle.
– Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil still do their thing – terrorize the QB. They have 29 sacks between them. Dumervil has been used more of a situational pass rusher, recording 17 sacks over just 55% of the snaps. Suggs plays a lot more – over three-quarters – and is a better run defender.
– Courtney Upshaw failed to record a sack but is a strong against the run at 272 pounds. He keeps his outside arm free to make this tackle on Arian Foster.
– Pernell McPhee is an underrated player, hidden behind the gaudy numbers of Dumervil and the loudmouth persona of Suggs. McPhee is a hybrid guy at 280 who picked up 7.5 sacks in relatively few pass rushing opportunities. Less than half the overall snaps so you figure his pass rushing opportunities fell in the 250-300 range at best.
For his size, he shows a good burst and hustle. Can sniff out WR screens. I wouldn’t throw one his way tonight.
And here’s him beating LT Joe Thomas inside for a sack.
– The outside linebackers aren’t assigned sides. They move all around although if memory serves, Upshaw is mainly a LOLB. But Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert will see their fair share of Suggs and Dumervil. Nowhere to hide.
– Inside linebackers are strong. I haven’t down the math but odds are good CJ Mosley and Daryl Smith have the most tackles for an inside linebacker – a combined 261. And they’re not just tackle machines, either. They’re playmakers. Mosley has three sacks and two picks while Smith owns a sack, a pick, and two forced fumbles.
They have good recognition skills and find the ball carrier. Big hitters that can wrap up in space and play in a box.
For a rookie, I admire Mosley’s technique. This play also highlights Brandon Williams and McPhee’s ability to shed but focus on Mosley. Keeps his outside arm free and helps make the tackle.
Taking on a block in the middle of the field, that’s high IQ football from a rookie. Makes Arthur Brown an afterthought, who landed on IR after blowing out a tire running down a kick last week.
– Smith did get sucked up on one popular concept the Steelers love to run. Run fake to hit the tight end down the seam. Pass is to complete for a 33 yard gain.
– The secondary has been ravaged by injury – an absurd six DBs are on injured reserve. Though I’ll be the first to admit watching them against the likes of Case Keenum and Connor Shaw skews the tape, it’s not the end-all. They’ve found a way to pick up a pieces and the cornerback grouping isn’t terrible. LaDarius Webb is an above average corner capable of high-pointing the ball. Breaks up this goal line throw.
Does a fine job pinning DeAndre Hopkins to the sideline for an incompletion.
– The Texans challenged first year corner Rashaan Melvin early and often but he held his own. Did a better job than I anticipated. Can turn and run.
– The corners appear to play sides. Melvin on the right and Webb on the left. Meaning, Webb doesn’t shadow receivers. Though for a playoff game and against Antonio Brown, perhaps they change it up.
– Matt Elam got benched as a starting safety and has filled in as a nickel corner to make up for the depth issues they’ve inevitably encountered.
– Speaking of the position, there’s been a rotation at safety. It appears Will Hill and Darian Stewart are the starting safeties but with a good mix of Jeromy Miles for Stewart. Stewart is a fifth year guy but can get suckered into double-moves. Beat here against Cleveland.
Hill is a knucklehead kid the New York Giants gave up on after multiple suspensions. He’s talented but a young guy still making young guy mistakes. Can get faked on some false keys and his angles to the ball leave something to be desired. Flat angle on Terrence West, who makes him pay with a cutback and a ton of extra yards.
Man, I wish the Steelers had Le’Veon Bell.
– Not to cherry pick plays but the Texans gained 23 yards using Arian Foster on an angle route. It’s a concept we’ve seen used with Bell and Dri Archer. I’d try it once tonight.
– They still like to run their overload blitzes, sugar the “A” gaps (both ILB lined up over them) all that fancy stuff on third down that offensive lineman hate.
– I’m going to start with punter Sam Koch. Picked up on his habits. By design, he will coffin corner the punt to whatever hash he’s on. If he’s on the left, he’ll aim it towards the left sideline. Very good and consistent at this. Squeezes the returner to a corner.
You can tell it’s by design by the way the farside gunner pinches in. If the punt was supposed to land in the middle of the field, no gunner would voluntarily run the risk of losing the edge.
Steelers need to use this to their advantage. Push the nearside gunner away from that landmark and not let the farside gunner win inside. Keep him pinned to the sideline.
– Perhaps they are strong tacklers but the injuries in the secondary may have forced the Ravens to play two wide receivers as their gunners. Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken. Not a fan of putting offensive players in tackling roles like that unless they’re known for it (Kassim Osgood, for example). They also run on the same side – the kicking team’s right – on kick coverage. Aiken is R1 while Brown is R4. If I’m Markus Wheaton, I’m heading their way. The other side is occupied by linebackers and defensive backs. No thanks.
– The kickoff coverage unit is a little unusual. Very tight splits, barely anything outside the numbers. Doesn’t mean a whole lot to me though just thinking out loud, it would be better for a surprise onside kick, no? More players in one space. No clue if the Ravens have actually tired one this year. Just another thought to keep you nervous, I guess…
– Jacoby Jones sports healthy averages in both facets of the return game. 30.6 returning kicks and 9.2 on punts. He’s special team’s coach Danny Smith’s public enemy #1.
– There’s a good group of core special teamers. Juszczyk is a multi-facet kid, blocking on kick returns and running down punts. Linebacker Albert McClellan has played over 82% of the special teams snaps. He’s forced one fumble on punt coverage.
Cornerback Anthony Levine serves as the upback on punts and is always one of the first interior blockers to get to the returner. Guy has wheels. Shaun Suisham and Brad Wing picked a fight with him last time. Rocky II returns tonight.
Enjoy the game, everyone.