If you like preseason football, this was a game for you. Let’s review:
- The Ravens gave most of their snaps to their 2nd string QB.
- He was relieved late by their 3rd string QB who tried to make a comeback evoking memories of 1998 Stoney Case.
- The game was full of ugly, turnover-flavored offense.
- We were tempted to say “It’s also the preseason for officials” with regard to the failure to call delay of game at the end of the half.
- The Ravens flexed their defensive depth with some snaps from solid players headed for the practice squad.
An unfortunate consequence of the play from Adeoye, Crawford, and Rivers is that the clock is now running on their careers. If one goes on to success, he’ll be a RFA in 2023, at least 1 year earlier than had he remained on the practice squad for the season.
That said, they contributed in a tough loss at Pittsburgh:
- OLB Aaron Adeoye (7 snaps) dropped to cover then knocked back the crossing WR Dionte Johnson (Q1, 11:57) to take him out of the play. Roethlisberger was instead forced to unload the drive-ending at the feet of Ebron and Humphrey ran up to congratulate Adeoye immediately.
- DT Aaron Crawford logged 18 snaps at DT/NT. He generated bull rush pressure vs C J.C. Hassenauer on the drive-ending, 4th-and-2 play (Q3, 13:31). He most frequently played NT when in with Ellis as Justin moved to a 3-tech role.
- OLB Chauncey Rivers (14 snaps) played both a standing edge role and rushed from a 3-point stance inside on passing downs. He did not make the stat sheet or generate a pressure, but the Steelers averaged just 4.1 yards on the snaps he played and were 3/7 on 3rd down with him in.
Davontae Harris (3rd season) played well in his first game as a Raven. He had a strip of WR Dionte Johnson (Q3, 0:46) which would have given the Steelers a 1st down inside the 5-yard line. His quick tackle of Washington for a gain of 3 (Q4, 2:42) brought up 3rd and 6 on the Steelers game-sealing drive.
Marlon Humphrey forced 2 fumbles and now has 6 for the season. He joins Charles Tillman (twice 10, 6) as the only other CB with 6+ FFs in a season.
There have been 78 players who have had 6+ forced fumbles in a season since 1999, but the list is dominated by pass rushers. Only 5 DBs have done so, with Brian Dawkins (6 twice) and Tillman the only repeaters.
Unfortunately, both of the forced fumbles rolled out of bounds. Humphrey also had 2 PDs in the end zone (Q2, 11:59; Q2, 4:36). In each case the Steelers had to settle for a FG.
Note: all snap totals exclude penalties resulting in no play, kneels, spikes, and specials team plays resulting in a run or pass. As such, they will be lower than other published totals.
The Steelers ran 70 such snaps. In a sense, it’s not worth reviewing the packages this week, since they were a concession to available personnel.
Jumbo (1): The Ravens lined up with just 3 DBs once (Q4, 5:13) as the Steelers tried to run out the clock with 22 personnel that included an extra offensive lineman. 1 play, 3 yards.
Base (5): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB versus 12 and 13 personnel in goal-to-go situations along with one other instance of 22 personnel with a 6th offensive lineman (Q4, 4:29). Overall, 5 plays, 2 yards, 0.4 YPP, 1 interception.
With the Ravens again extremely shorthanded on the DL (they activated all 4 linemen available to them), it could have made sense for the Steelers to lean on the biggest Ravens weakness and wait for the line to wilt as they did the previous 2 games. However, that would have required heavy personnel groups which would have forced Roethlisberger under center to take advantage of play action (like Tannehill) and abandon some of his own offensive strengths.
Jumbo Nickel (17): The Ravens used this package with 3 DL, 2 OLB, and 1 ILB primarily against 11 personnel on both early downs and short yardage 3rd downs. Because of the prevalence of 11 personnel used by the Steelers, this was again a change of pace for the standard nickel. 17 plays, 70 yards, 4.1 YPP.
Standard Nickel (33): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB and Martindale again used it primarily as a response to 11 personnel on early downs. The Ravens DL combinations on these plays were Crawford/Wolfe, Ellis/Wolfe, Ellis/Washington, and Washington/Wolfe. 33 plays, 198 yards, 6.0 YPP.
Rush Nickel (5): Martindale inserted a package with 1 lineman, 3 OLBs, and 2 ILBs exclusively on 3rd down (distances of 7, 9, 4, 5, and 5 yards). In each case, Wolfe was the only lineman with Rivers, Ngakoue, and Bowser as the OLBs. Only 1 was converted (Q3, 2:52). 5 play, 7 yards, 1.4 YPP.
Racecar Nickel (2): The Ravens played 2 snaps on 3rd down with 1 DL, 1 ILB, 4 OLB, each of which included Chris Board as a proxy dimeback with Adoye, Rivers, Bowser, and Ngakoue as the OLBs. Neither included Patrick Queen. The second such play was the jump ball that Washington collected for a 16-yard conversion (Q4, 2:36) that effectively sealed the game. 2 plays, 16 yards, 8.0 YPP.
Dime (7): The Ravens inserted a 4-CB dime versus some 4-WR sets. Only 2 of those occurred on 3rd down (1 conversion), so this was primarily a response to the Steelers personnel, not a function of down, distance, and game situation. 7 plays, 39 yards, 5.6 YPP.
Martindale again dialed back his pass rush versus Roethlisberger’s array of quick deliveries.
Per NextGen. Roethlisberger averaged 2.21 seconds to release, the lowest figure in the league in week 12. His completed air yards of 3.8 was also 5th lowest in the league. Only 4 of his 36 completions were longer than 10 air yards. Despite the number of throws at or behind the LoS, the Steelers averaged just 3.5 YAC per reception.
Ben had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 20 of 51 drop backs (39%), which is a little above average. He delivered the ball before pressure could develop on 16 other occasions, so the Ravens managed 15 pressure events (5 QHs, 10 pressures). The Ravens also had a late QH on an ATS play (Ferguson, Q1, 8:32) which resulted in Bowser’s drive-ending interception.
Summarizing by number of pass rushers:
3: 8 plays, 13 yards, 1.6 YPP
4: 27 plays, 171 yards, 6.3 YPP, 1 TO
5: 12 plays, 66 yards, 5.7 YPP
6: 3 plays, 13 yards, 4.3 YPP
7+: 1 play, 1 yard
Total: 51 plays, 266 yards, 5.2 YPP, 1 TO
The Ravens rushed 5+ men on 16 of 51 drop backs (31%), which was well below their previous season average of 44%. In words, Martindale opted to spread the coverage as Roethlisberger attempted to spread the field. The result was a lot of short completions with minimal YAC.
Martindale used 17 individual blitzes from off the LoS. Only 2 of those were by a DB (Tramon Williams delivered a QH on each) with the other 15 all from the ILBs (Queen 7, Board 4, Fort 4). None of the 15 ILB blitzes resulted in a pressure (Queen did have one rushing from the LoS).
The Ravens stunted 4 times, none of which resulted in a pressure of any sort, which should not be surprising given the time required for a stunt as compared to Ben’s release time.
Simulated pressure was a preferred mode of deception. On 10 occasions they dropped 2 from the LoS to cover. Those resulted in 3 pressures and 2 QHs.
Of 51 drop backs, 4 rushes were deceptive as I define it by incorporating 2 or more of the above elements. Among those plays, only 1 resulted in a pressure (Ngakoue, Q4, 9:35).
Yannick Ngakoue (4 pressures, including 1 officially recorded as a PD), Tyus Bowser (3 QHs, 2 pressures), and Tramon Williams (2 QHs, see above) were the most effective pass rushers for the Ravens. The defensive line generated 3 pressures (Crawford, Ellis, Wolfe) in 98 aggregate pass rush snaps.
The Good News
The fact the Ravens played a close game under the most adverse circumstances is not in and of itself good news. However, the game was not without positive signs. Let’s review:
- They received outstanding play from Chuck Clark, Yannick Ngakoue, Marlon Humphrey, and Tyus Bowser. Those players will all play important roles down the stretch.
- Humphrey, in particular, may have dispelled concerns in terms of lingering effects of COVID with a top-shelf game.
- They appear to have avoided any season-ending injuries. Smith’s groin injury, combined with his lengthy list of other ailments this season, may be the exception. By comparison the loss of Bud Dupree to an ACL (as multiple sources report) is a serious blow to the Pittsburgh pass rush.
- They had solid play from CBs Tramon Williams and Davontae Harris (see above) to respond to the Steelers 4-WR personnel groups even after Smith departed.
- It’s clear this defense will be a significantly improved with the returns of Calais Campbell, Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, and Brandon Williams.
- Despite losing both games to the Steelers, it’s an understatement to say they appear vulnerable to the Ravens defense.
Unfortunately, none of these developments makes up for losing 4 games in a critical 5-game stretch or the ongoing COVID problems on the team.
I’m going to forgo individual notes this week, but we’ll have lots of discussion of Tyus Bowser and Chuck Clark on the podcast.