Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Looking Forward by Looking Backward

When the Steelers host the Ravens on Christmas Eve they will be just four weeks removed from one of the worst beatings any Steelers team has ever absorbed. In order to prepare for this rematch it is necessary to look at the train wreck that occured in Baltimore. To that end Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic offers up insights from Football Outsiders game charter Bill Benetti who, unlike most fans of the Steelers, watched the entire game:

"I was assigned the second half of the Week 12 Baltimore-Pittsburgh game, but by the time I started charting, the game had become a one-sided affair. Baltimore scored 17 points and kept the Steelers off the board altogether. In watching the game, I saw a very good defense at work, both in terms of scheme as well as execution. I’m sure this is no surprise to anyone, but I don’t know if people realize how overmatched Pittsburgh was that day.
I recorded 39 Pittsburgh pass plays in the second half. During most of those plays Roethlisberger was under enormous pressure, even though Steelers generally kept back players to assist in pass protection. Baltimore rushed only four 23 times in that second half, and 18 times Pittsburgh left additional players back in pass protection. With only four rushing, more defenders in coverage reduced Roethlisberger’s options even further.
Baltimore also called blitzes at the perfect times. Here’s the listing of the rushers and blockers for one drive at the end of the third quarter.
Rushers   Blockers
4                 6
5                 6
6                 5
4                 7
3                 7

Note that the first pass play was fairly normal; keeping one extra blocker in is common. But on the second play, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan called a corner blitz, bringing Gerome Sapp in from the edge. On that play, Sapp hurried Roethlisberger, but Ben managed to get the ball to Heath Miller regardless. On the third play, Baltimore brought six rushers, while Pittsburgh only had five blockers. This resulted in a sack and a loss of 10 yards. On the next two plays Pittsburgh, fearful of the pass rush, left in two extra blockers, while Baltimore chose not to blitz. This limited the passing options that Roethlisberger had available to him. Ryan blitzed when Pittsburgh least expected it, and he wanted to avoid blitzing when the offense kept in extra blockers. Of the 13 blitzes (either five or six rushers), only two ran up against seven or more blockers.
Another thing that Ryan is doing right is mixing up the defenders he sends on a blitz. Sapp (who is listed as a safety, but appeared to be a corner) and Corey Ivy both blitzed from the edge. I also saw a number of delayed blitzes that Pittsburgh seemed to have no answer for. Multiple times I would see Ray Lewis or some other blitzer hit Roethlisberger untouched, with no offensive player trying to block him
."

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