As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Tom Mead and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Tom on the players.
Today, breaking down the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
RAVENS’ RUN DEFENSE
A stingy group overall and a unit that simply has not been run on or at very often. They are a hybrid front with EDGE players who stand up, have their hand down, and can move around quite a bit. On the season, they’re allowing 4.1 yards per carry, tied ninth best in the league. Aggregate numbers can be tricky and misleading but it’s notable they are one of just two defenses, Tampa Bay being the other, not to allow 1000 yards rushing this season. They’ve been run at 228 times this year, second fewest in the league.
Patrick Queen is their leading tackler with 63 of them. He struggled early in the year and isn’t great in coverage but he’s playing more WILL linebacker and importantly, playing a lot faster and more downhill. Devin Bush could learn a thing or two from him. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is an active corner with 55 tackles. Also known to punch the football out, eight of them a year ago. As a team, they have forced seven fumbles this year. That applies run and pass game but ball security will be key in this one.
It’s hard to find a weakness or best approach to how Pittsburgh should plan their running attack. Inside zone has had some success if you can hit it and get downhill in a hurry. But overall, they flow to the ball well and are a gap-sound group.
For the Steelers, it’s less about what the Ravens are doing and more about what Pittsburgh’s doing and needs to do correctly. Focus on their own issues, improving technique, assignment, etc. If they can’t do that, what the opponent is presenting really won’t matter.
Baltimore has allowed 30 runs of 10+ yards, tied 10th best in the league. Seven of those have gone for 20+, tied 19th in football.
Some other defensive stats. They’re the 9th ranked defense from a points standpoint, allowing 21.8 on the season. But it’s been a flighty group. Six games holding their opponent to under 23 points. Four games they’ve allowed their opponent to score 30+. The Ravens are an elite situational team, #1 in the league on third down and in the red zone. 30.5% on third down, 42.9% in the red zone. This defense locks it down in key moments.
RAVENS’ PASS DEFENSE
A group that hasn’t played great this season. They’ve vulnerable to the deep ball and the big play and that’s reflected in some of the basic passing numbers. Third lowest completion percentage against, opposing QBs completing just 59.2% of their passes, but they’re allowing 8.0 yards per attempt, third most in football.
When they lose, they lose over the top. That’s reflected in their 20/40 gain numbers. The Ravens have allowed 51 passes of 20+ yards, most in football, and 12 passes of 40+ yards, also the most in football.
Their defense has just ten takeaways this season, tied 28th in football. Only one player, CB Anthony Averett, has more than one interception with two of them. They have 25 sacks, middle of the pack in the league, with underrated EDGE rusher Tyus Bowser leading the way with 5.5. Rookie Odafe Oweh has five of them after failing to record a single sack his final year at Penn State. He also has three forced fumbles, including one in last week’s win against the Browns.
True to form under DC Wink Martindale, they are a blitz-heavy team, third-highest at 34.8%. Their pressure rate is 4th best at 27.5%.
Before we get into their pressure packages, they vary coverages well. Mix between single-high and two-deep. When they play single high or zone coverage, they do a good job being able to zone-match and carry the seams. Couple examples.
What’s most interesting with this team are their pressure packages. Among the most chaotic and exotic in football. Get into third and long as an offense and whew, look out. Ends widen, they go amoeba with just one defensive lineman, and they stunt, twist, overload, and bluff. Here’s a compilation of examples.
It helps the game is at home but this young o-line, guys who haven’t played in the NFL or for long or even guys who haven’t played the Ravens much (like veteran Trai Turner) this could be a big issue.
TOM’S INDVIDUAL REPORT
The first place Ravens come to Pittsburgh and they once again have a strong defense. They have a mix of grizzled veterans and young players that don’t give up a lot of points. On the season they are allowing 21.8 points but on the road they are giving up just 18.4. And in the last three games that has dropped to 15 points per game. Let’s take a look at the defensive roster.
The biggest of the bunch is veteran Calais Campbell (93) checking in at 6’8” as the strong side defensive end. He has very good length and hand placement with strength to shed blockers. He uses bull rushes and a hump move rushing the passer and good luck running a screen against his very good mental processing. Brandon Williams (98) is the big bodied 1/3 technique and he has good snap quickness and hand placement to control blockers. He is stout against double team blocks and controls his gaps well. Justin Madubuike (92) will also line up at the 1/3 techniques and uses good hand placement at the line of scrimmage and displays good acceleration and pursuit to the ball. Rushing the passer he has a good punch and quickness to get into gaps. Justin Houston (50) is the weak side defensive end or rush backer in the Ravens scheme. He can win with power or speed rushing the passer, shows good agility on twists and takes on pulling blockers aggressively.
Madubuike (92) lined up outside the right guard will fight through a double team block to make the stop
The reserves include Broderick Washington (96) who can play inside or at defensive end. He’s a high motor, high effort player who gives good chase all over the field but has just and adequate anchor versus the run. Justin Ellis (71) is another big body with adequate snap quickness and hand quickness and struggles to stay square versus the run. Rookie Odafe Oweh (99) plays behind Houston and shows a lot of promise. He has good burst and long strides to cover a lot of ground when rushing the passer. He has good athletic ability and agility; kicks inside on passing downs and will also spy the opposing quarterback.
Oweh (99) gets straight up the field versus the right tackle and flattens to the quarterback to get the sack
The Ravens use a lot of players at the linebacker positions. Josh Bynes (56) is listed at the starter at the MIKE linebacker. He is a solid play processor, good tackler and is willing to come downhill to fill and take on blocks. He can knife through gaps to make plays but can get hung up in traffic. Patrick Queen (6) is the WILL linebacker and uses his athleticism, mental processing and speed to make plays everywhere on the field. He scrapes well and shows good acceleration versus the run and against the pass will match up with tight ends playing Man coverage and is smooth mover in Zone. Tyus Bowser (54) is the SAM linebacker and solid pass rusher. He has become a strong player on the edge and is a good tackler. He has solid Man coverage skills and has a solid bull rusher.
Queen (6) will communicate prior to the snap and then shows off his acceleration to slice into the backfield for the tackle for a loss
Chris Board (49) is a player they use in sub packages as a coverage linebacker. He has good speed, mobility and aggressiveness versus the run and very good awareness in Zone coverage. Malik Harrison (40) will back up the WILL and SAM positions after missing a few weeks after being struck by a bullet during the bye week. He’s a downhill gap filler and tough through traffic. He’s a good tackler and flows with the quarterbacks eyes in Zone coverage. Jaylon Ferguson (45) is a SAM linebacker and likes to use power rushes including a push/pull move using his very good hand strength.
Marcus Peters is out for the season with and ACL injury so Anthony Averett (23) is playing the right cornerback position. He has a solid jam in Press coverage, has solid movement in space and solid route awareness in Zone. Marlon Humphrey (44) plays on the left side and will move into the slot in sub packages. He’s has good foot work and a smooth transition in coverage and is able to stay with the receiver with his eyes on the quarterback. He will try to punch the ball out to force fumbles any chance he can get.
Nice play by Humphrey (44) at the top of the screen to cut on the in breaking route and break up the pass
Jimmy Smith (22) has good size and plays on the outside or at safety in sub packages. He has solid speed, is a good tackler and does a nice job of playing through the ball in coverage. Tavon Young (25) is an aggressive slot corner who displays good acceleration on the blitz. He has solid awareness in Zone coverage and is a willing participant in the run gap filling gaps. Chris Westry (30) is a raw 6’4” corner who is strong at the line of scrimmage, has great length and very good speed.
Chuck Clark (36) is the strong safety and is a good tackler. He’ll play in the box and is very active against the run and will play deep as well. He takes good angles to the outside and has good awareness in coverage. Brandon Stephens (21) is the free safety and will play deep in a split safety alignment or in the box. He has good speed and is a solid tackler. They’ll use him in Man coverage on the tight ends.
Stephens (21) lined up deep to the top of the play. He’ll get depth reading the tight end before breaking off to the WR coming into his zone to break up the play
Veteran Anthony Levine Sr (41) is listed as a safety/linebacker hybrid players. His best fit is as a box safety to play the run and as a blitzer but plays primarily on special teams. Geno Stone (26) is a physical safety who looks to make the big hit. He has good mental processing and is best playing downhill from a deep position. DeShon Elliot (32) has good size and can play the single high safety or near the line of scrimmage. He has good acceleration and is a strong tackler.