Losing the Turnover Battle
In most ways, the defense again played well enough to win, but was betrayed by a poor performance on offense. The microcosm for the Ravens season was the way in which they lost the turnover battle, in which the defense played a major role.
Each team had 3 good opportunities to take the ball away. Let’s review:
The Ravens Turnovers
- (Q1, 10:05): With the Ravens 2nd and 8 at their own 46, Huntley was unable to control Bozeman’s botched snap. Despite more than 1 opportunity to recover the ball, it ended up in the hands of Henry Mondeaux and put the Steelers in position for a short FG drive.
- (Q1, 4:01): With the Ravens 2nd and 12 at their own 41, Huntley was intercepted by Terrell Edmunds at the Steelers 34
- (Q4, 15:00): With the Ravens 2nd and 6 at the Steelers 11, Cam Sutton intercepted Huntley in the end zone.
The Ravens Potential Takeaways
- (Q1, 1:43): Geno Stone intercepted Roethlisberger’s pass deep down the right sideline intended for McCloud
- (Q2, 4:44): On 3rd and 8 from the Steelers 21, Chuck Clark was unable to collect a difficult interception chance between the numbers and left hash. Instead of starting near midfield (if not better) the Ravens started from their own 31 after Harvin’s punt.
- (Q4, 10:38): Brandon Stephens dropped a room-service interception near midfield which would have allowed the Ravens to start on the Steelers side of the field. Instead, their drive began at their own 14.
The Ravens blew 2 of their 3 chances while the Steelers converted theirs. The difference was 3 points and a lot of field position which was more than the difference in the game.
Defensive playmaking will have to be a priority for 2022 and the next Ravens FS remains at the top of the list.
Defense Fails on Key Downs
Unlike some previous games, the Ravens put the Steelers in some difficult 3rd-down situations down the stretch but were unable to close the deal. Since I know everyone wants to look at these, let’s do it:
- (Q4, 5:57): On 3rd/9, Campbell beat C JC Hassenauer right for pressure, but Roethlisberger threw to WR Ray-Ray McCloud PM20 (18 + 2)  with Westry closest in zone
- (Q4, 4:28): On 3rd/6 with ATS, Roethlisberger threw to TE Pat Freiermuth PR11 (5 + 6)  and Queen missed the tackle at 5 yards
- (Q4, 0:48): On 3rd/4, Roethlisberger threw for TE Freiermuth PR3 (0 + 3)  who was matched up on Ferguson but Stephens flew up to push out-of-bounds, forcing the punt
- (OT, 5:18): On 3rd/7, McPhee bulled then shed C Hassenauer for a QH, but Roethlisberger threw to TE Freiermuth PL14 (11 + 3)  despite tight coverage by Jefferson
- (OT, 3:28): On 3rd/9, Jimmy Smith was beaten outside on a whip route by WR Diontae Johnson PL11 (1 + 10) 
- (OT, 2:32): On 3rd/8 with ATS, Roethlisberger’s pass for WR Johnson 4 yards  was dropped with Seymour trailing in coverage
- (OT, 2:28): On 4th/8, Ferguson bulled RG Trai Turner for pressure while Houston beat LT Joe Haeg to force contact from the blind side. Roethlisberger threw to WR McCloud PM10 (7 + 3)  between Jefferson and Board.
Clock Management in OT
It was a day and night for clock management in OT.
As was mentioned several times on the broadcast, a tie did neither the Ravens nor the Steelers any good in terms of potential playoff outcomes. What that meant in practical terms is that there was value to considering redraw opportunities.
The play that made no sense to me in those terms was the Steelers kneel (OT, 2:06). Effectively, the Steelers had decided to kick rather than continue for a TD. However, winning on that kick was not their own path to the postseason. Had they missed the kick, they would have wanted as much time as possible to get the ball back and the Ravens would have obliged them with 4-down football because they too needed a win and nothing less.
Tomlin regained his senses (or at least received an education over the headset) during the 2-minute warning and called for the kick on 2nd down rather than run more time off the clock.
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 72 such snaps.
Base (13): Martindale deployed the base defense (3 DL, 2 OLB, 2 ILB, 4 DB) vs 12 and 21 on early downs and short yardage. Among these were 9 runs for 30 yards (3.3 YPC) and 4 pass plays for 63 yards (15.8 YPP). 13 plays, 93 yards, 7.2 YPP.
Standard Nickel (30): Martindale again used the standard nickel (including 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB) as the most common response to 11 personnel. Among these were 13 runs for 31 yards (2.4 YPC) and 17 pass plays for 59 yards (3.5 YPP). 30 plays, 90 yards, 3.0 YPP.
Jumbo/Big Nickel (11): Martindale deployed a nickel with 3 DL, 1 ILB, 2 OLB, 3 S, 2 CB as an alternate look vs some 11 and 12 personnel packages on early downs. I would term this personnel group as both “Jumbo” and “Big” normally and separate the results, but the Martindale deployed a big nickel only with 1 ILB, never 2. These plays included 5 runs for 22 yards (4.4 YPP) and 6 passes for 20 yards (3.3 YPP), 11 plays, 42 yards, 3.8 YPP.
Dime (18): The Ravens lined up with 6 DB (and 1 DL, 3 OLB, 1 ILB) on 18 passing downs including 3rd and medium/long and drives at the end of both halves. Chris Board was the sole ILB on each of these and Brandon Stephens did not stay on at safety (he did when playing CB later in the game) as Jefferson, Stone, and Clark were the grouping. 18 plays, 93 yards, 5.2 YPP. After denying conversion (any down/distance) on the first 9 dime snaps, the Ravens allowed 5 conversions among the last 9 (see “Defense Fails on Key Downs” above).
Martindale did not employ much in the way of numbers, but the Ravens were successful when he did so.
Roethlisberger had ATS on 12 of 45 drop backs (27%) resulting in a pass or sack. He also had 17 ball-out-quick (BOQ) instances (38%) and the Ravens generated 16 pressure events (36%) within 3 seconds. By pressure situation:
ATS: 5/12 for 67 yards (5.4 YPP), 1 interception
BOQ: 14/17 for 58 yards (3.4 YPP)
Pressured: 11/15 for 110 yards, (6.5 YPP), 1 sack
This was the second consecutive inverted game (better results under pressure than with ATS) for a Ravens opponent.
Summarizing by number of pass rushers:
3: 2 plays, 10 yards, 5.0 YPP
4: 29 plays, 168 yards, 5.8 YPP, 1 turnover
5: 13 plays, 47 yards, 3.6 YPP, 1 sack
6: 1 play, 10 yards
Total: 45 plays, 235 yards, 5.2 YPP, 1 sack, 1 turnover
Martindale called 4 off-ball blitzes (0.09 per pass play), all individual. I define off-ball blitzes as from a player who was either outside the slot receiver or more than 1.5 yards off the LoS at the snap. Those 4 plays went for 6 net yards (1.5 YPP) including Seymour’s sack blitzing from the slot.
There were 13 stunts over 12 plays which resulted in 74 yards (6.2 YPP).
The Ravens showed simulated pressure 8 times where 2+ dropped from the LoS to cover. Those plays went for 61 net yards, (7.6 YPP), including 1 sack.
I define a deceptive pass rush as incorporating 2 or more of the above elements (off-ball blitzes, stunts, and simulated pressures). The Ravens ran 8 deceptive rushes which resulted in 61 yards (7.6 YPP), including 1 sack.
In words, the Ravens were not particularly successful with deception but had good results with numbers.
Brandon Williams led the Ravens with 3 full pressures.
- The Ravens rotated injuries at OLB. Odafe Oweh sat out the finale with a foot injury. McPhee returned to play for the first time since week 10. Houston left for 1 play with an injury. Ferguson similarly left briefly. Bowser was helped off the field with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. The Ravens will need to find another young player for this group in 2022.
- Brandon Stephens played both FS and LCB when Westry and Young were both sidelined with injuries. He made consecutive fine plays on the right sideline (beginning Q4, 0:52) to end a potential, game-winning drive in regulation.
- Justin Madubuike did not have a pressure event, but used his quickness effectively in the run game. I had 4 positive run notes (Q1, 14:09; Q2, 11:26; Q2, 2:35; Q4, 11:53).
- Kevon Seymour did not allow a reception longer than 7 yards. He took down RB Harris for a loss of 1 (Q4, 13:34) and WR Johnson for a loss of 2 (Q4, 7:05). In addition to his coverage contributions, he had his first NFL sack (Q3, 4:51).
- (Q1, 7:03): On 3rd/11, he stuck WR Johnson PM10 (4 + 6)  to bring up 4th/1 which led to a field goal after a false start on the next play
- (Q2, 5:34): He knocked down Roethlisberger’s pass for TE Zach Gentry from behind, 1 yard 
- (Q2, 4:44): On 3rd/8, he made a diving interception attempt but was not able to collect it, 25 yards 
- (Q3, 12:25): He and Queen were both sealed by FB Derek Watt to lead RB Benny Snell RR7
- (Q3, 4:55): He undercut the route of WR McCloud to force an overthrow, 5 yards 
Chuck stacked another fine game on a solid season. He does some good things to read the QB, but he’ll be more effective if the Ravens rely on him less as a single-high safety.
- (Q1, 8:38): He was blocked by C Hassenauer and LG John Leglue to help lead RB Snell RM9
- (Q2, 11:26): He beat a cut block from C Hassenauer to tackle RB Snell RR1
- (Q2, 2:35): He bulled then shed C Hassenauer to tackle RB Kalen Ballage RM0
- (Q4, 12:34): On 3rd/1, he bulled C Hassenauer to flush Roethlisberger but he completed PR10
- (Q4, 6:25): On 2nd/12, he bulled then pc’d LG Leglue for a fast pressure on PR8
- (OT, 6:24): He bulled C Hassenauer for pressure on PM11 to RB Najee Harris
- (OT, 2:18): He beat LT Leglue inside to blow up RB Harris RM0 cleaned up by Campbell
It’s possible the Ravens will want Brandon back in 2022 as part of a staged transition to a younger DL. If this was his final game, he went out on a high note. His tackle contributions came on gains of 1, 1, 1, 0, 3, and 15, including 5 defensive wins.
- (Q1, 14:53): He penetrated unblocked through the right A-gap to tackle RB Harris RM0
- (Q2, 10:45): He had underneath coverage of TE Gentry on PL25 (14 + 11) 
- (Q2, 9:34): He undercut TE Gentry on PR2 (-3 + 5)  on boot right
- (Q4, 7:44): On 2nd/2, he tackled WR Chase Claypool in space for RR2
- (Q4, 5:14): He arrived with the football on TE Freiermuth which went uncollected but no PD was credited
- (OT, 5:23): He bulled RB Harris into Roethlisberger for pressure, incomplete
Josh solidified the ILB corps with his arrival, just as he did in 2019. The Ravens have candidates to take the Mike role for 2022, but I don’t see a reason why the Ravens would not want him back.
I do not award MVPs after a loss.