Everyone knows that Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau loves to blitz. When he and Rex Ryan used to go up against one another in Ravens-Steelers matchups, it seemed like a contest of who could come up with the more exotic blitz package. Hell, “Blitzburgh” is a popular moniker used when describing the team’s defense by both fans and pundits alike.
But will we see that kind of scheme from the Steelers on Sunday?
It will be interesting to see whether Lebeau decides to stick with his usual inclinations to blitz, blitz, and blitz some more, or if he changes things up a bit. Joe Flacco, as can be seen in the above graphic (taken from ESPN the Magazine’s 2010 NFL Preview), was at his best against the blitz in 2009. His nearly 11-point jump in passer rating from non-blitz to blitz situations was the 4th highest of any quarterback in the NFL (interestingly enough, his backup, Marc Bulger, saw the highest rating increase against the blitz in 2009.) Joe really was “Joe Cool” in the face of five or more pass rushers.
On the other hand, Joe’s struggles against “softer” defenses are well documented. He looked completely lost against Cincinnati in Week 2, and had similar struggles against the Bengals, and other Cover 2 defenses like Indianapolis’, in 2009. Don’t think a great defensive mind like Lebeau hasn’t noticed this just as all of Ravens nation has.
Lebeau may very well decide to start the game trying to get pressure from his front four, and dropping seven or even 8 men into coverage to force Flacco to go through all of his reads. And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s the Steelers’ personnel, as much as the scheme, that generates so much heat on opposing signal-callers. When you bring your three defensive lineman after the quarterback, and then throw in James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley as rusher #4, your chances of strong pressure or a sack may rival what other teams generate bringing five or 6 men.
Against a Baltimore offensive line that has struggled at times in 2010, and is still without one of their starting tackles, don’t be surprised if Lebeau and the Steelers aren’t blitzing as much as we’re used to seeing to start the game. Even if the line is able to hold up and give Flacco time, he will need to show that he can find his receivers and deliver the ball quickly into traffic. If he gets into a rhythm early and puts up some points, the Steelers may then go ahead and open the blitz floodgates. Also, 3rd-and-long situations will likely be met with lots of pressure as Pittsburgh tries to force the issue and generate turnovers.
The Dick Lebeau-Cam Cameron chess match has become a fun one to watch. After being schooled by Lebeau in 2008, Cameron turned the tables a bit in 2009, as his offense generated 716 yards of offense in the two contests, compared to 584 for Pittsburgh. Still, all that offensive movement resulted in just the single win. Lebeau has his favorite troy, Toy Polamalu (or something) back to play with this year as well, after being forced to operate without him for most of last season. Of course, Cam has some new weapons of his own to throw at the Steelers.
It should be a good one.