On the Steelers: Defense not in the zone in tough loss to Ravens
William Gay walks off the field after being beaten to the end zone by the Ravens' Torrey Smith for the winning touchdown with less than 10 seconds remaining Sunday at Heinz Field.
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Did success against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots spoil the Steelers pass defense Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens?
The Steelers tactics on defense Oct. 30 against Brady were hailed for shutting down one of the great passers in NFL history. The Steelers, who usually play plenty of zone defense in the secondary behind Dick LeBeau's famed fire-zone blitzes, did little of that while beating New England, 25-17, and holding Brady to 198 yards passing.
Instead they played more man-to-man, their cornerbacks coming closer to the line of scrimmage opposite the receivers in what is known as "press" coverage.
And, likely under the theory that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, they played a lot of that same defense against Joe Flacco and the Ravens.
- What: Steelers vs. Bengals.
- When: 1 p.m. Sunday.
- Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati.
- TV, Radio: KDKA, WDVE 102.5 FM/ESPN 970 AM.
Only this time, Flacco torched them. He completed 28 of 47 passes for 300 yards and he converted 14 of 21 third downs, the most conversions in Ravens history.
Despite his success, the Steelers played that defense right up until the bitter end, with corners playing man-to-man press coverage as Baltimore swept downfield from its 8 and moved in for the kill. Flacco threw deep a number of times against that coverage and a couple of times, his receivers had the coverage beat. Rookie Torrey Smith dropped one of those in the end zone after beating Ike Taylor on a pass from the 37.
Later, Smith hung on after beating cornerback William Gay for the 26-yard touchdown pass that gave Baltimore a 23-20 victory with eight seconds to go.
Mike Tomlin was hired by Tony Dungy to coach his secondary in Tampa Bay, and Sunday night Dungy was critical of how Tomlin's Steelers played that final drive on defense.
"I thought Joe Flacco was outstanding. He was poised. He made some great throws," Dungy began in his postgame comments on NBC-TV's "Football Night in America."
"But the one thing I have to say, Dick LeBeau is a tremendous defensive coach, but I did not understand those last three plays from about the 25-yard line. Bump-and-run coverage, really giving them a chance, as Flacco said, to take those shots into the end zone where you get a chance for a long pass interference penalty or the deep touchdown. I didn't understand the defense the Steelers were in there, at the end."
Turns out, the Ravens got a pass interference penalty and a touchdown on that final long fling by Flacco.
Ryan Clark took some blame, saying he was late getting over to help out Gay, but maybe they just played the wrong defense.
Smith, Baltimore's second-round draft choice this season, is the Ravens version of Mike Wallace, an unpolished receiver who has blazing speed and came into the game averaging 21.7 yards per catch. Yet, instead of making sure he did not get behind their corners, here was Smith's version of his winning touchdown:
"The final play was actually supposed to be a speed-out so I could catch the ball and get out of bounds. But, [Gay] was in press coverage and I was just able to run past him. I saw he was holding onto me a little bit, and held onto me a little bit earlier. I saw the ball in the air, and I saw the flag out of the corner of my eye, so I gave him a little nudge myself and was able to get open."
With nearly half the season left, the Steelers chances to win the AFC North Division did not end with their loss Sunday to Baltimore. They were seriously set back.
Provided Cincinnati does not become involved in a three-way tie or keep pace, then for the Steelers to win the division over Baltimore they must finish one game ahead. That means if Baltimore finishes the second half of the season at 6-2, as the Ravens did the first half, the Steelers must win the rest of their seven games. If the Ravens go 5-3, the Steelers must go at least 6-1.
Baltimore's remaining schedule: at Seattle, Cincinnati, San Francisco, at Cleveland, Indianapolis, at San Diego, Cleveland, at Cincinnati.
The Steelers: at Cincinnati, at Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, at San Francisco, St. Louis, at Cleveland.
"I feel like we have a really good football team," Tomlin said. "We will have more opportunities to show it."
One debate that has raged since Sunday night was Tomlin's inability to decide whether to try a field goal or punt on fourth-and-5 at the Baltimore 29 with 2:34 left in a game the Steelers led by four points.
The indecision cost the Steelers a delay of game penalty of 5 yards, and then Jeremy Kapinos punted to the Baltimore 8.
Tomlin had three choices before the penalty: Go for it on fourth down, punt, try a 47-yard field goal.
Had they gone for it and not made it, Baltimore would have started its next series between the 25-29, provided the Steelers lost no yardage on a sack, etc. Had they gone for it and made it, they probably could have run the clock out and won the game. Had they gone for the field goal into the notorious Heinz Field open end and missed, Baltimore would have started its series at the 37. Had they made the field goal, they would have kicked off and Baltimore still could have tied the score with a touchdown.
As it turns out, the punt to the 8 afforded the NFL's No. 2 defense, No. 1 against the pass, to stop Flacco and his offense somewhere over the next 92 yards, and it did not.
"I accept responsibility for that," Tomlin said of the penalty. "There was some hesitation on my part. I was concerned about that distance. We had some changes in personnel with a new holder [Kapinos]. Under the circumstances, I didn't want to give them the ball on that short of a field. I sent the group out there a little late. We ended up with a delay of game, and then I made the decision to make them work the long length of the field, and ultimately that was probably the best option for us."
Move the chains
Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense converted 14 of 21 third downs Sunday night, the most in Ravens history.
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta pulls in a pass as he's defended by Steelers safety Ryan Clark in the first quarter Sunday night at Heinz Field.
First Published November 8, 2011 12:00 am