After spotting yet another team a double-digit lead in Heinz Field, the Steelers followed a familiar script. They were able to battle back and swing the momentum to their side thanks to a timely turnover at the goal line. The offense put 14 points on the board in the second quarter to send the game into halftime tied. With the Steelers slated to get the ball at the start of the third quarter, they had the opportunity to seize the lead and force the Ravens to play from behind for the first time all game. Instead, an abysmal series of failed third down conversions led to the Ravens chipping away (literally) with field goals as the Steelers went 0-for-6 on third down in the second half. The Steelers had just 3 first downs in their 6 second half drives and did not run a single play in Ravens territory. For this week’s film breakdown, I took a look at what went wrong on those 6 third down attempts.
3rd and 3 at PIT 41, 13:39 in 3rd Qtr
The Steelers had gotten themselves into a third and short situation thanks to two decent runs by James Conner. Ryan Switzer had set them up with good field position thanks to a great kick return to start the half. This play was a confluence of many bad things all happening at once. The play call was essentially a double-screen option for Ben. To the right was a TE screen to Vance McDonald with offensive linemen in front of him and to the left was a WR screen to Ryan Switzer.
The initial breakdown on the play comes when CJ Mosley walks up to the line and shows a B-gap blitz. Alejandro Villanueva is focused on blocking Terrell Suggs on the outside. If you recall, Suggs has previously made interceptions of Ben on WR screen plays by taking a wide arc and getting in the throwing lane rather than rushing. He does this here, forcing Villanueva to set up wide and opening the B-gap for Mosley to get a free run at Ben, forcing a quick throw.
At the moment of the throw, we see Mosley coming free through the B-gap between Foster and Villanueva. Suggs has taken a wide angle to drift towards the passing lane. Villanueva has set up facing Suggs, allowing Mosley the space to run right past him. The routes to the right of the formation have not even had a chance to develop. Both Ravens defenders to the near side immediately attack towards Switzer once they see the route combination. In theory, a good throw here would still give Switzer a chance to make a play with the ball in his hands and pick up the first down. Unfortunately, Ben threw the ball behind him and Switzer had to make a diving play just to catch the ball back at the 43 yard line. Suggs and Levine were on him before he could get up, creating a loss of 5 and a punt. This play was an across-the-board failure of design, blocking, execution, and a poor throw by Ben.
3rd and 4 at PIT 47, 7:35 in 3rd Qtr
The defense was able to force a punt after the Ravens got across midfield to give the Steelers the ball back. The offense got into a bit of a rhythm, with Ryan Switzer picking up two first downs to get out across the 40. A 2nd and 5 running play with Switzer went nowhere, leaving the Steelers in 3rd and 4. The Ravens were once again in a single-high look and the Steelers were running a relatively simple concept with both JuJu and AB running out routes to the sideline.
The Ravens don’t bring a heavy rush and Ben has time to drop back, set his feet, and throw the ball. This failure rests purely on the shoulders of the quarterback. Ben had both JuJu and AB open on their out-breaking routes. JuJu was open right at the first down line and AB was 5 yards past the line. Instead, Ben air mails the ball 10 feet over AB’s head with the pass landing at the 38 yard line, a full 7 yards downfield from where AB’s route took him.
3rd and 12 at PIT 38, 3:08 in 3rd Qtr
A short punt by Jordan Berry gave the Ravens the ball at the 20 and Baltimore was able to drive down the field and take the lead with a 47-yard field goal. Baltimore’s drive only took 3:26 but the Ravens ran 11 plays so a good drive by the Steelers would have helped their defense get a breather. After a failed first down run and a batted down pass on second down, the Steelers faced third and long. The play call here worked to perfection against the Ravens defense. AB ran a skinny post as the only receiver on the right side and was open after his break to the middle. JuJu ran across the formation and got past the linebackers to get open coming to the sideline. James Washington ran a fly route down the numbers and also beat his defender down the field.
Ben had three open receivers to choose from and the line gave him plenty of time. Unfortunately, Ben once again missed a thrown. Ben went for AB and threw the ball behind him. With AB running to the middle of the field, Ben’s pass was so far behind Brown he had to reach back and try to make an acrobatic one-handed grab. Brown getting his fingers on the ball was the only thing that prevented the pass from being intercepted. The bad pass by Ben forced another punt.
3rd and 5 at PIT 45, 10:28 in 4th Qtr
Berry managed a 40-yard punt, but the Ravens put together another 11-play drive that took 6:15 off the clock and resulted in another field goal. After Switzer’s big return on the opening kickoff of the second half, Tucker boomed the rest of the kickoffs into the end zone. James Conner was able to scamper for a first down on the first play of the drive, but things would stall out after that. On the third down play, Ben tried to go to AB on a quick slant across the middle but it was batted down by Andy Levine. This play call actually goes back two plays prior, when on first down AB and Conner ran a cross-slant pattern and AB was wide open with room to run and Ben threw the ball at Conner’s feet. This was the play design on first down:
If Ben had thrown to AB on first down, Brown not only would have moved the chains and gotten the Steelers across midfield, there was only one defender between him and the end zone which could have put the Steelers in the lead. On third down, the Steelers called the exact same play. This time, Ben threw for AB but the Ravens were in a different defense. Part of this has to do with the Ravens disguising their coverage. On third down Baltimore came with just a 3-man rush but lined up with 6 men on the line of scrimmage.
Andy Levine, the defender who made the play, lined up over David DeCastro before the snap then dropped into coverage in the middle of the field. Ben should have seen Levine lurking and not tried to force the ball into a tight window between four defenders. Here is a look at what Ben saw before he threw the ball:
With only a 3-man rush, Ben had plenty of time to throw and tried to force this pass past the defender. Levine reached out a hand and batted the ball away.
That said, the Ravens were keyed on AB on this play with the deep safety also converging on Brown after he made his break to the middle of the field. If Ben had waited another second to throw or had lofted one to the far hash marks rather than trying to gun one to the close side, he could have hit AB on the run with plenty of green grass in front of him.
3rd and 10 at PIT 30, 3:26 in 4th Qtr
Jordan Berry came through with a good punt to pin the Ravens inside the 10 and the stadium blasted Renegade. The Steelers were only down by 6 and a defensive stop would’ve kept them in the game. Unfortunately, after defending 22 plays over the last two drives, the defense was absolutely gassed. The Ravens only faced one third down before they reached field goal range. The defense got a stop on the second third down, but Tucker’s field goal put the Ravens up by 2 scores with just 3:37 left in the game after a 14-play 6:40 drive. After two incompletions, the Steelers faced a critical third down. The play call only featured 3 receivers running routes, and they were out-manned by the 6 Ravens defenders that dropped into coverage.
The Ravens disguised their coverage scheme at the snap and had Eric Weddle drop back from near the line of scrimmage to be the deep safety on the play. Andy Levine was lined up over the center and dropped back into the middle of the field. For the Steelers, AB was running a post from the top of the screen, Washington was running a fly route and JuJu was supposed to run an out-route, but broke off his route and came back to the middle of the field when he ran into a safety near the numbers.
At the time of the throw, Levine is sitting in the middle of the field, simply reading Ben’s eyes. Washington is covered on the fly route and JuJu is working his way back towards the middle of the field to try to get open. Ben tries to fit it in to AB on the post route and Levine undercuts the throw, making the interception. AB was open after his cut, but Ben was a tick slow in throwing the ball, allowing Levine to get the depth on his drop in coverage necessary to be in position to make the interception.
3rd and 10 at PIT 16, 1:14 in 4th Qtr
The Ravens converted the interception into another field goal to take a 12-point lead. At this point it was mostly over. After a second down sack, the Steelers ran a great play with 3 deep routes against a Cover-1 defense. AB ran a beautiful double-move on the outside, JuJu was open down the seam, and James Washington beat his corner down the field. Unfortunately, Ben threw the ball into the ground when trying to pump fake. The Steelers had 3 WRs past the 35-yard line against only 2 Baltimore defenders but the quarterback could not execute a throw.
On the ensuing 4th down play, the Ravens ran a similar defense to the one that generated the interception on the prior drive. Ben tried to fit the ball in to JuJu across the middle and Levine almost made his second pick in as many drives. The ball bounced off Levine’s hands and fell incomplete, ending the drive and the game.
All told, the Steelers failed on 6 third downs and 1 fourth down during the second half against Baltimore. With the exception of the first play (the screen to Switzer), the scheme of the plays was mostly good. Receivers did get open (or would have been open if Ben had waited another second to throw the ball). Most of the onus for the third down failures falls on the quarterback. Ben threw three bad passes – one behind Switzer, one over AB’s head, and one behind AB where he had to reach back to try to catch it. The Ravens used Andy Levine as a spy in the middle of the field and he was able to make a number of plays to get third down stops. Baltimore did disguise their coverage pre-snap, but they did not bring a ton of pressure against Ben. Roethlisberger had time to throw and simply made poor choices about where to throw the football. Ultimately, the Steelers failures come down to two things – Ben’s poor decisions on where to throw the ball and his inaccuracy when he made the correct decision on where to throw. Both of these are correctable mistakes and the Steelers have to get better at converting third downs in order to keep the defense off the field moving forward.