Pittsburgh got positively gashed on the ground against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. The Ravens racked up 265 yards on the ground, the most allowed by the Steelers since 1993 and one of the ugliest outputs since the merger. Baltimore has a great rushing attack but the Steelers boasted a stout run defense too, shutting down the Browns and containing Derrick Henry.
So what changed?
There’s a variety of issues at play. If you’re that bad at anything, it’s rarely one, isolated problem. But one reason was just bad math. Playing two high shells against the Ravens on early downs, leaving their box count “even.”
“Eight man box” is how we often hear the box count termed. But that doesn’t tell us much. What matters is box count. How many do you have in the box versus how many they have blocking. If you’re +1, you have one more defender than they have to block. If you’re -1, you have one fewer. If you’re even, you have the same number of defenders and blockers.
Against the Ravens, too often, the Steelers were even. That may look ok on paper but with the Ravens’ great run game and the fact their QB is also a threat to run and must be accounted for (and the Steelers did with their mesh charge) being even is not enough. You gotta be +1. And that hurt the Steelers too many times.
Couple examples of it. First one came early in the game. Ravens use motion that walks out Vince Williams, getting width and depth on the snap. That leaves just six defenders against only six blockers. With the ROLB Alex Highsmith executed the mesh charge, attacking QB Lamar Jackson, and the backside guard pulling, the Steelers are outnumbered here.
RB Gus Edwards has an easy cutback lane with the rest of the Steelers’ front seven washed down. Pittsburgh simply doesn’t have the numbers here and don’t have a shot at making the play. You see Vince Williams fly in late to try and make the tackle. Normally with him in the box, he would have one of the backside (cutback) lanes. This run goes for 25 yards.
Worth noting Minkah Fitzpatrick’s eyes aren’t great here. Gets locked on Willie Snead on the crackback and missed Edwards’ cutback.
Same thing here. You’ll see it better in the clip below but TJ Watt walks out to cover the slot receiver. That leaves them 6v6 to the frontside, again the “mesh charge” with Bud Dupree attacking Jackson, leaving them with five other defenders against six blockers. That actually makes them -1, outleveraged and outnumbered.
Another solid gain on the option play, pitched by Jackson to Dobbins.
Same story on this clip. TJ Watt again walked out. Two high look, and it’s 6v6.
Yes, players have trouble getting off blocks, but the RB has giant runways here. It’s hard to stop when you’re outgapped like this.
There aren’t easy answers against the best rushing attack in football like the Ravens have. And there are consequences to playing single high, especially with the speed Baltimore has at WR with guys like Hollywood Brown. And these obviously weren’t all the issues with the Steelers’ run defense. But this was an obvious one and a good way to beat yourself before the snap of the ball. Gotta roll that safety into the box.