In 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost a total of five games. Four of these came with Captain Rapey, Ben Roethlisberger, as the starting quarterback – the fifth was, of course, in Week 4 when the Ravens won in Pittsburgh against starting quarterback Charlie Batch.
In three of those other four losses – all with Ben as the starter, an obstacle the Ravens have not been able to overcome since 2006 – the offensive game plan of Pittsburgh’s opponent was strikingly similar: spread them out and throw the ball.
Let’s look at some visual evidence of this, from each of those three games:
Week 8 – New Orleans Saints 20, Squealers 10
Drew Brees: 34/44 305 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
5 WR, 0 TE, 0 RB – 18 yard completion to Lance Moore
3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB – Run, 1 yard loss
4 WR, 0 TE, 1 RB – 14 yard completion to Jeremy Shockey (TE lined up as WR)
Week 10 – New England Patriots 39, Shittsburgh 26
Tom Brady: 30/43 350 yards 3 TD, 0 INT
3 WR, 2 RB, 0 TE – 19 yard TD to Rob Gronkowski (TE lined up as WR)
5 WR, 0 TE, 0 RB – 16 yard completion to Wes Welker (tackled by James Harrison)
The Steelers’ final regular season loss came to the New York Jets, who scored only one offensive touchdown in the game, to go along with a kick return touchdown and a safety. Their game plan didn’t fit this mold, so I’m not including any screencaps from that contest. If it weren’t for the special teams touchdown – hardly something you want to count on – they would have likely lost the game.
The Steelers’ final loss of the season – one we all very fondly remember – came at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV.
4 WR, 0 TE, 1 RB – Incomplete to Nelson (likely TD if caught)
4 WR, 0 TE, 1 RB – 21 yard TD to Jennings
4 WR, 0 TE, 1 RB – Drop by Jones (likely huge TD if caught)
Please also take note that, in addition to having three, four, or five wide receivers, in each of the above plays the quarterback is in the shotgun formation.
We Ravens fans have been begging Cam Cameron to use the shotgun more often for two full seasons now, to no avail.
Joe Flacco shows, time and again, that he is most effective from the shotgun, yet for some unknowable reason, Cam keeps putting Joe under center. Under center, where valuable seconds are wasted dropping back and setting up, seconds Flacco often doesn’t have, with his offensive line’s shaky play and his (still, ugh) relatively long delivery.
The blueprint on how to beat Pittsburgh is right there for all to see. Spreading them out gets their blitzing linebackers and safeties away from the line of scrimmage, severely hampering defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau’s ability to disguise his intentions. As noted in the second Patriots picture above, James Harrison was 16 yards downfield tackling Wes Welker, not wreaking havoc in the backfield.
Troy Polamalu is a severe liability in coverage, something other teams take full advantage of, while the Ravens simply let him blitz off the edge and blow up their plays again, and again, and again.
Now, some will obviously point out that a detail I am glossing over in my above analysis is that the three quarterbacks in the example games are three of the top five in the NFL today – Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers.
(As an aside, I wonder if dipshit sports-talk radio callers in Pittsburgh drone on and on about how Ben “can’t beat the elite quarterbacks?”)
Flacco, while good, is not on the level of those guys at this point in his career. However, my point is simply that you have to give the guy a chance – send him out there with a strong game plan and let him sink or swim. Use the blueprint that the successful teams have handed you.
In 2011, the Ravens have the personnel to spread the Steelers out. Cam, just pick any combination (at least 4) of the following: Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans, Ed Dickson, Tandon Doss, Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith (hell, just send the guy deep and they have to at least pay attention to him), and even Ray Rice (remember his huge 4th-down catch against the Steelers in Baltimore in 2009, when he split out to Joe’s right). Line those guys up on the outside, put Joe back in the shotgun, and let’s see what happens.
I’m begging you.
Game after game, the Ravens continue to play right into the Steelers’ hands, trying to run the ball against their immovable front seven (eight, if you count hair-boy), and passing from under-center five- and seven-step drop designs. They’ll likely come out on September 11 and do the same, and I’ll be in a bar in Beaufort, North Carolina banging my head against the wall.