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.
One last time this regular season, looking at an opposing defense with what the Baltimore Ravens have to offer.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
RAVENS’ RUN DEFENSE
The Ravens’ run defense has been stout just as it is virtually every season. They’re allowing just 3.9 yards per carry, tied third best in the league while their 84.8 yards per game is the lowest this year. They’ve allowed 13 rushing scores, tenth fewest in the league, too. The injuries they’ve had have impacted the secondary much more than the front seven.
Second-year linebacker Patrick Queen leads the team with 93 tackles. He struggled and has his role briefly reduced early in the year but has bounced back, playing 85%+ of the time in four of the last five games. DBs Brandon Stephens and Chuck Clark are second and third on the team with 72 and 71 tackles.
They have allowed just 39 runs of 10+ yards, fourth fewest of any defense. Similar stories with their runs of 20+ yards, giving up seven which falls just outside the top five.
Schematically, it’s a 3-4 team but their edge players can stand up or play with their hand in the ground. It’s a hybrid front, which isn’t unusual for this bunch. As you’d expect from a top run defense, they are gap-sound and don’t give many free yards. They do an especially impressive job of spilling runs wide, forcing backs to run laterally and go East/West instead of getting upfield. That’s not good news for the Steelers’ run game that wants to get downhill. They aren’t a naturally wide zone or perimeter run team outside of middling jet runs and crack tosses.
Some other defensive stats They’re allowing 23.5 points per game, 20th in the league. A steep fall from last season when they ranked 2nd in points allowed. Their red zone defense is above average (55.3% – 12th) while they do have an impressive third down defense, third best at 34.8%. Wink Martindale is one of the league’s best DCs scheming up pressure looks on third down. Their defense has just 14 takeaways this year, tied 29th.
RAVENS’ PASS DEFENSE
This is where their defense has really suffered with so many injuries they’ve dealt with. DBs on IR include: CB Marcus Peters, CB Marlon Humphrey and S DeShon Elliott. The 8.2 YPA they’ve allowed are tied for the worst/highest mark of any defense. They are top ten in completion percentage against at just under 64% but that’s due to the deep shots they’ve faced. Their 30 passing touchdowns are next-to-last while they aren’t creating splash plays with their pass rush (33 sacks – tied 19th) or with the ball in the air (eight INTs – tied 27th).
No defense has allowed more completions of 20+ yards than the Ravens’ 72 of them. A whopping 15 of those gave gone for touchdowns. No one else has given up more than 11. They’re also vulnerable to the double-explosive play, a league-high 16 completions of 40+ yards. It’s bad news all around.
From a pressure standpoint, Tyus Bowser leads the group with seven. Only three players have 2.5+ sacks and they lack a dominant rusher like the Steelers have. Rookie Odafe Oweh has been impressive with five sacks and three forced fumbles. They will bring pressure from all places. Five of their 33 sacks come from the secondary. Baltimore has the sixth highest blitz rate at 31% but their pressure rate is tied 20th at just 24.1%. So their pressure isn’t paying off.
Anthony Averett leads the team with three INTs. Only four active players have picked off a pass for the Ravens this season.
Because of the injuries, they’re playing a lot more softer, zone looks than probably what they have done in the past. More Cover 2 and Cover 4 looks though they seem to get more aggressive against 3×1 looks than 2×2 sets. With the new faces, you’re seeing more miscommunication. They’re having trouble defending picks and rub routes from bunch and stacked sets.
TOM’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT
A win at Baltimore and some help in other games and the Steelers will be back in the playoffs but it’s never an easy game travelling within the division. The Ravens would very much like to keep the Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. Their defense comes in relatively healthy except at the cornerback position. Let’s take a look at the Ravens defensive players.
Brandon Williams (98) is the big bodied, gap controlling, high motor player with good snap quickness. He has a good anchor uses his hands well versus the run and pass and gets his hands up in passing lanes. Calais Campbell (93) is their biggest and best defensive tackle. He can play inside or outside, diagnoses plays very well and has very good play strength. He has the length and quickness to win as a pass rusher and identifies and disrupts screens.
Justin Ellis (71) is the other wide bodied player with good quickness and plays with good pad level. He is tough to move and can control his gaps well. His pass rush stalls quickly but he too will get his hands up. Broderick Washington (96) can play defensive tackle or defensive end and is a high motor, high effort player who pursues the ball well. He can shed blockers at the point of attack and is best using power rushing moves.
Williams (98) comes through the A gap, is unaffected by the push of the right guard and makes a tackle for the loss.
Defensive End/Rush Linebackers
Justin Madubuike (92) is listed as a defensive end on the depth chart but he too will also play inside. His hands are really active versus the run and the pass and he uses them to gain space versus blocker. He is better as a penetrator than holding his ground, chases the ball well and has good acceleration to the quarterback. Justin Houston (50) is the rush linebacker and that is where he excels. He can win with speed or power, uses swipes and chops and has a good pass rush plan to counter the moves of the blocker.
Odafe Oweh (99) is an impressive rookie who is second on the team in sacks and leads the team with three forced fumbles. He can rush up the edge, he is used on twists to the inside or line up inside in sub packages. He has good length, gets up field quickly and has good agility. Pernell McPhee (90) has missed about half the season with a knee injury but could be back. He plays with good leverage, has good hand placement against blockers and likes to use a bull rush.
Madubuike (92) lined up as the 1 technique and he’ll engage the center with eyes up and when the running back cuts he sheds the blocker and makes the tackle
Josh Bynes (56) is a MIKE linebacker with an attacking mentality. He fills gaps well, has improved at working through traffic and is a good hitter. He is used often as a penetrator on stunts for fellow linebackers or defensive lineman. Patrick Queen (6) is the WILL linebacker with very good athleticism and speed to chase to the sidelines. He is a good processor and accelerates to the ball quickly. He can play in Man or Zone and is also used to mug the A gaps on passing downs. Tyus Bowser (54) is the SAM linebacker and diagnoses plays quickly, can set the edge and is a good tackler. He is solid sticking with tight ends in coverage and is solid pass rusher.
Chris Board (49) is MIKE linebacker who they will use on passing downs. He has speed and agility to play Man coverage; he moves well in space and has good awareness in Zone. Against the run he flows to the ball well and is a strong tackler. Malik Harrison (40) can play multiple linebacker spots and has good physicality. He is good at finding the ball, is a good tackler and is solid in coverage. Jaylon Ferguson (45) is a SAM linebacker and has good technique and strength to set the edge, has heavy hands and will mix up his power rushes with a bull, stab and push/pull move.
Bynes (56) will read the play, accelerate to the left, will hurdle the attempted cut block and make the physical tackle
The cornerback is the position most hurt by injuries to Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. Anthony Averett (23) was suffered a chest/rib injury two weeks ago and missed the game last week. If he is back he will start on one side. He plays with physicality in Man coverage and has a solid understanding of route combinations in Zone. He is tied for second on the team with eleven pass break ups. Veteran Jimmy Smith (22) played on the outside last week and has good size and length. They played a lot of Zone but he has good patience and footwork in Press coverage. If Averett is out Tavon Young (25) will play on the outside otherwise he’ll be in the slot. He has good awareness and acceleration in Zone, is willing participant versus the run and is a good tackler in space.
Chris Westry (30) has great size, speed and length to be very disruptive in Man coverage. He has played sparingly and is a raw player but in two starts this year he had nine tackles and three pass breakups. Kevon Seymour (38) saw a lot of action as the slot last week after playing primarily on special teams. He has solid awareness in Zone and plays with some physicality in Man coverage. He is very active versus the run, will take on blocks and is a good tackler inside and in space.
This is a nice play by Seymour (38) and Bowser (54) to read the play, engages the blocks and string out the play before making the tackle
Chuck Clark (36) is the strong safety and had two interceptions last week. He’s a strong tackler; physical verses the run and plays under control when coming from deep. He’ll be used as a split safety and in the box. Brandon Stephens (21) is the free safety and will play a lot as a split safety but also in Man coverage on tight ends. He has good speed and breaks down to not overrun plays when coming from the deep safety.
Geno Stone (26) is the third safety and will play on dime as a deep safety or in the slot. He plays with good physicality and aggressiveness as a tackler and is best in coverage keeping the ball in front of him. Anthony Levine Sr. (41) plays primarily on special teams but on defense he is used a linebacker/safety hybrid. He is best near the line of scrimmage and is active versus the run.
Clark (36) is in the slot and will read the quarterback to come off his man to make the pick-six.