Defensive Notes vs. Steelers 11/6/11

It’s easy to be giddy after Sunday’s big win by the Baltimore Ravens over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it shouldn’t mask a serious problem.

The Ravens pass rush had a bad, bad night.


You folks are probably familiar with what I’ve defined as Ample Time and Space (ATS) for a quarterback.  I score a pass play as ATS when the QB is untouched for 3 full seconds and has a 150 degree arc in front of him with enough space to step into his throw.  In cases where the QB throws earlier than 3 seconds, I project whether or not the pocket would have held up based on positioning at the time of release.  If the projection isn’t clear, I score it as not ATS.


I know that sounds like a complex and subjective definition, but if we each scored several games independently, we’d agree on 95%+ of categorizations.


Roethlisberger is a special case, because he moves around a lot to create the space to throw, but to be clear, he does not need to stay in the pocket to be scored as having ATS.


On Sunday BR had ATS on 28 of 38 drop backs that resulted in a pass or sack (74%).  By comparison, Flacco’s high ATS% since the beginning of 2010 is 70% (last season vs. Buffalo) and he had ATS on 45% of regular-season pass plays (399 of 878 entering the Pittsburgh game) in 2010-11.


With ATS, Roethlisberger completed 15 of 28 passes for 276 yards with 1 TD and no interceptions or sacks (9.9 YPP).  Without ATS Roethlisberger was 5 of 9 for 54 yards (46 net) with 0 TDs, 1 INT, and was sacked once for 8 yards (4.6 YPP).  Both YPP numbers are a little better than what Flacco has produced over these last 2 seasons (8.8 YPP with ATS, 3.8 without ATS), but the reasons why Pittsburgh’s line was able to generate so many high-value opportunities must be understood for the sake of the rest of this season.


The Ravens face a Seattle team next that has allowed the second most sacks in the NFL (29).  That’s comforting until you consider the Steelers have allowed 26.


All of the Ravens 58 defensive snaps were competitive:



Versus the Run:  20 plays, 70 yards, 3.5 YPC

Versus the Pass:  38 plays, 322 yards, 8.5 YPP

Overall:  58 plays, 392 yards, 6.8 YPPA


By number of defensive backs:


3 DBs:  4 plays, -3 yards, -0.8 YPPA

4 DBs:  14/94, 6.7 YPPA

5 DBs:  38/281 7.4 YPPA, 1 sack, 1 TO

6 DBs:  None

7 DBs:  2/20, 10.0 YPPA, 1 TO


By number of pass rushers:


3:  2/20, 10.0 YPP 1 TO

4:  22/175, 8.0 YPP, 1 sack

5:  12/77, 6.4 YPP, 1 TO

6:  2/50, 25.0 YPP

7:  None


Individual Notes:


·         The Ravens created some opportunities for themselves, but could not cash in often.  Pollard dropped an INT on the Ravens’ second defensive snap.  McClain tipped a pass that went right through his hands to Jericho Cotchery for a 17-yard gain (Q2, 3:02).  Johnson tipped another pass that was hauled in by Cotchery (Q4, 6:16) for a gain of 13.  In total the Ravens had 7 PDs and 2 washed out by Cotchery’s grabs.  Webb had another PD which was uncredited in the Gamebook (Q2, 2:00).

·         The Ravens held the Steelers to just 9 offensive possessions including the 2-play drive in the last 8 seconds.  The most significant player in terms of that accomplishment was Joe Flacco, who converted 14 of 21 third downs and worked the clock effectively at the end of each half.


·         Pagano again found playing time for 8 DBs, but Nakamura (1 goal-line play), Smith (the last 2 prevent snaps), and Zbikowski (1 heavy nickel and 2 prevent snaps) are not getting much time.  Danny Gorrer did not see the field at all.  Carr played 39 snaps as the nickel.

·         Cary Williams, like Webb, had a tough night with all of the additional time and space afforded Roethlisberger.  Nonetheless, he broke up a 30+ yard pass to Wallace (Q2, 7:18) and just 2 plays later broke up what would have been a 1st down pass to Cotchery between the numbers and left hash to force a punt.  The 6-second TD to Wallace (Q4, 5:08) was a microcosm of Williams’ season.  He’s been asked to cover some top-shelf receivers and had some success when the combination of his press coverage and the pass rush has broken up the timing of opponents.  But more than other corners due to his size and desire to be physical, when the QB has time, it’s been a struggle.  On the go-ahead TD to Wallace, Williams missed a PD by a whisker.


·         The Ravens went to a 3-DB set three times.  With 3rd and 1 on the first drive (Q1, 7:20), they pulled Cary Williams for Arthur Jones.  Webb was the only remaining defensive back on the field and he stuffed Mendenhall for a loss of 1.  By the way, if you want to see a wide receiver holding a corner, check out Wallace on that play.  Protecting a 4-point lead (Q4, 4:30 and Q4, 2:54), Albert McClellan was twice inserted on 1st down.  The first play was a pass dropped by Johnson, the second was a run left by Redman that McClellan and McClain stuffed for a loss of 3.

·         The defensive line/linebacker snaps versus the Steelers:  Cody 25, Jones 11, McKinney 9, McPhee 13, Ngata 44, Redding 32, Suggs 56, Ayanbadejo 12, Johnson 43, Kruger 18, Lewis 58, McClain 42, McClellan 2.

·         We’ll learn a little more about the injury situation by who practices this week, but it looked to me like Ngata was playing hurt.  He did not enter on offense where he has been particularly effective against the Steelers.  He didn’t seem to have the same quickness he has had the last few weeks.  Haloti nonetheless turned in one of the big defensive plays of the night.  With the Steelers 2nd and 13 at the Ravens 37 (Q4, 2:46), Roethlisberger threw short left for Redman.  Ngata anticipated the throw and tracked down Redman near the sideline, still 5 yards shy of a 1st down.  Had he not been able to make that play, the Steelers might have got a game-sealing 1st down right there.  Roethlisberger then missed Moore on 3rd and 5 to set up the dramatic finish.

·         If there was any question about Ayanbadejo faking an injury to stop the no huddle, that was dispelled when he didn’t take the field subsequently on either 3rd and 4 (Q4, 3:38) or 3rd and 5 (Q4, 2:37).

·         If Ayanbadejo is indeed hurt, it will be interesting to see if they move to a traditional dime alignment in passing situations.  Pollard would be the obvious choice to move next to Ray with Zibby, Carr, or Nakamura taking the back end.  After Ayanbadejo’s injury Sunday night, McClain played the nickel snaps.

·         McClain had an up-and-down game.  The interception which went through his hands cost the Ravens 3 points.  Mendenhall took him for a ride on his 4-yard run for a 1st down (Q3, 14:03).  McClain was kicked out by Foster (Q2, 4:48) on Mendenhall’s 8-yard run.  Finally, he was late covering Miller (Q1, 2:08) on what would be a 15-yard completion on the right sideline.  On the plus side, he had a solid hit to dislodge the ball from Brown (Q4, 5:14).  Jameel lined up standing on the ORS (Q3, 13:16) and beat Gilbert inside with a spin move.  He was just a moment late to deliver a hit to Roethlisberger who had dumped off to Miller for a gain of 13. 

·         Suggs’ interception (Q3, 10:42) was the game’s most important play and a clear indication of study.  On the post-game interview he said Roethlisberger had spent extra time communicating with Wallace, so he decided to jump the screen and rush from there if the pass was going elsewhere.  He had played in control as a pass rusher for most of the night, aware that the screen is a big weapon.  Plays I would cite as examples (Q1, 0:48 and Q2, 8:46).

·         The Steelers didn’t run the no-huddle offense for long, but it was effective on the first drive of the 2nd half.  They drove 66 yards on 8 plays before Suggs’ pick ended their continuous no-huddle series.  The Steelers have now converted to the no-huddle early in Q3 several times against the Ravens.  I’m trying to understand the logic in this case.  Prevent defensive substitution?  The Ravens had 3 separate personnel-grouping changes on a 9-play drive.  Tire the defense?  The Ravens had only 24 1st-half snaps, so I’d have expected the Steelers to be more concerned about tiring their own defense.  Slow down the pass rush?  The Steelers had 11 of 16 plays with ATS prior to halftime.  Whatever the reason, the Steelers ran only 3 no-huddle plays thereafter per the Gamebook.

·         Hasslebeck also had 8.5 YPP in week 2 versus the Ravens.  The last time they won when allowing as many or more yards per pass play was against Buffalo last season when Ryan Fitzpatrick had 8.7 YPP in the 37-34 Ravens win.

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The opinions posted here are those of the administrator of this blog and his loyal readers. They are in no way official comments from the team, and should not be misconstued as such, even though he thinks he could do just as well or even a better job!

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