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The first two Ravens-Steelers games were defensive struggles. 17-14 and 13-10 games aren't exactly common in today's NFL where the rules clearly favor the offense. These teams play similar brands of football and both defenses believe in never giving an inch which usually makes for a close game. The prior two meetings came down to go-ahead touchdowns scored inside the last three minutes of the game and as you would expect with these two teams, both touchdowns came after the offense was given great field position by the defense. Thinking about that, rather than try to predict which offensive players are going to make the extraordinary plays required to move the ball against the other defense I'm going to attempt to look at the defense's performances and try and foresee which defense will come up with the big play. I'm going to analyze the big defensive plays from their last meeting (Charlie Batch started the first meeting) and figure out if the opposing offense can do something to stop similar results from occurring again.
Ravens Defense Sacks Ben On 3rd and 8
The video from the first Steeler sack of Flacco isn't working so we'll be picking up with the Ravens first sack here in the first quarter. Before the snap the defense waits to get into position and when they do Tavaris Gooden (#56) appears to be ready to drop into coverage on the offenses right while Ray Lewis and Jarrett Johnson (#95) on the left side are flinching like they are coming in. At the snap Johnson and Lewis drop out and Gooden blitzes into a gap that Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs create as they go up field. Heath Miller picks up the blitz well but the design of the play leaves no room for Ben to step up. Ngata and Suggs both go around the guys trying to block them and meet up at Ben when he has nowhere to go. This was also the play where Ngata broke Ben's nose, if you happen to remember that whole storyline to the last game. This kind of play was well designed and executed by the Ravens defense and is hard to do something about. The blitz came from the side where the was just one receiver... Ben's hot route against the blitz was on the left side where the coverage was. If the Steelers want to use that formation again the Ravens will come with a similar blitz. Look for the Steelers to try to sneak Heath Miller out behind that blitz if they go there again this week.
Ravens D Gets Ben Again in 2nd Quarter.
This is the kind of Sack that Ben Roethlisberger takes thats drives you crazy. It's second down and there nothing downfield.... He needs to see this and just dump it off to his running back for a few yards and come back on third down. Instead he takes a sack on second down which leads to a punt. The Ravens pass rush, whichever four guys they send, isn't going to give you much more time than that. In a defensive battle like this one they can't afford to lose any yards of field position. Take your three yards and a manageable third down instead of third and nineteen.
After trading a few punts the Steelers move the ball before Ben makes a plain bad throw for an interception. Not much to analyze there. The Steelers stop the following drive by sacking Flacco which NFL.com doesn't have a highlight for and after trading penalties and field goals after halftime and the third quarter flies by in three drives without a huge defensive play. Down 10-6 in the 4th...
Roethlisberger Sacked Again
I could copy and paste what I said about the last sack here, just substituting underneath receiver for running back. It's crazy that Ben fails time and time again to make the smart throw on the early down. He always wants the big play and against the Ravens defense it's just not going to be there. Flacco had been sacked twice already at this point in the game but both times while trying to make a play on third down. This is the second sack that Ben takes against a four man rush on second down. Those are sacks that kill drives. Fortunately for him, his defense bailed him out.
Polamalu Saves The Day
Don't worry Steeler fans, wasn't going to just kill Big Ben all day. Flacco gets beat here by either a poor read or poor play design, it's hard to diagnose blame because I don't know what control Flacco has at the line... But I can tell you what happened. The Steelers show blitz but don't tip their hand on which gap they are coming through until late. Timmons slides across from the middle to the offense's right and shoots in from the front side while Polamalu creeps up on the offenses left where it looks like he is going to blitz. The way the play went, the Tight End was the hot route on the right and Ray Rice slid over to pick up Timmons on the blitz.... Of course that left Troy unblocked on the backside. One of three things happened at the line - 1. Flacco saw Polamalu and thought he was going to drop out of the blitz and cover the slot receiver, 2. Flacco saw Polamalu but the play design said to let the unblocked guy go free and hit the hot receiver before he gets there or 3. Ray Rice was supposed to pick up he backside blitzer first and let Flacco deal with the man he could see. Any way it shook out, the lesson here is the risk the Ravens run when they don't have a back or tight end ready to be in pass protection on the left side. James Harrison lines up over there on every down and that's bad because the Steelers know you have to scheme to stop him and love to send Polamalu off the edge on that side as well. That is a scary combination of guys to block from the same side and something you simply can't block up with just your offensive line.
Farrior Sacks Flacco
After Pittsburgh took the lead, Baltimore had a little over a minute left to make a comeback when Flacco got sacked. This was just a blown blitz pick up by Ray Rice. He steps up into the a-gap between the center and guard to try and block Farrior but he just whiffs on him. Flacco has receivers breaking open down field but no choice but to tuck the ball and take a Sack. However that wasn't the end of the game. Flacco was able to move the ball against the Steelers down to their 31 on 4th down. A 4th down conversion the Ravens failed to get... But a failed 4th down that will make me pick the Ravens? Let me explain
Game Ending 4th Down
This play was almost perfect. It was well designed. The Tight End Dickson comes in motion across the formation behind the two receivers to the left just before the snap... Late motion is always the hardest for a defense to respond to in coverage. The two receivers run clear out routes to the inside and Dickson sneaks out behind them into the flat totally uncovered...and makes a rookie mistake. He just runs too far. Flacco put the ball right at the sticks because thats where is has to be if there is coverage there and that is where Dickson should have been waiting for it. From there it would have been 1st and 10 on the 29. Another quick play or two and its into overtime or tied up.
Both teams Defenses made plays and both offenses made mistakes. However, the Ravens offense made mistakes that are fixable - A bad play call, a blown block, a rookie mistake. On the other hand, the Steelers offense made the same mistakes it always does. Ben has always had a problem with taking what the defense is giving him short and the Ravens know it. The Ravens gave that game away more than the Steelers won the game and I don't expect them to do the same again.
How The Steelers Can Win - If they can get up by two scores early look out. The one thing this Ravens offense has a lot of trouble with it's coming back when they are down. It doesn't play to their style.
How The Ravens Will Win - Flacco will make fewer mistakes than Big Ben and the rest of the game will write itself.
Pick - Ravens +3
Final Score Prediction - Ravens 21 Steelers 20