The Steelers' older and younger players are really blending together. The same can't be said for Ed Reed and Courtney Upshaw, two players victimized in this game on a strong run by Steelers' RB Jonathan Dwyer.
First, the aging superstar, James Harrison.
The Steelers are playing man free in the secondary. They have Troy Polamalu playing deep and everyone else playing man underneath against four receivers. Initially, this tells us that the Steelers do not fear the speed of the Ravens' receivers. If they did, they would have two safeties deep and Foote would probably be out of the game. Instead, the Steelers were able to keep both linebackers in to help with crossing routes or Ray Rice.
If Flacco has time, he might be able to look off Polamalu to one side and try to throw deep to the other side. The underneath guys are playing trail technique. They do not want to be over top of the receiver and give up the out route. So obviously, with time, Flacco should have a good chance to complete a deep throw.
But Harrison was having none of that.
Michael Oher tries to vertical pass set Harrison. Harrison is trying to close the distance down between himself and Oher so he can then initiate his move. This is why he is able to turn the corner with his move and Worilds (who played well) is not. Both tackles for the Ravens are horribly out of balance with their sets. They are lunging forward. Harrison takes advantage of this by swiping with his right hand and dipping his left shoulder. At this point, he just has to "run the hoops". Imagine a big figure eight on the ground. Now imagine running around it but keeping your inside hand touching the outside of the figure eight the entire time. That drill (running the hoops) is one of the most prominent with defensive coaches. You see the technique executed perfectly here. Harrison dips his left shoulder and squeezes through Oher and into Flacco, as opposed to running straight up the field. Harrison is getting his quickness and explosion back.
Much has been written about Flacco not really having a second read. He looks deep and then straight to his check down. But after watching both tackles flat on their faces here, can you blame him for not trying to look off Polamalu?
The Ravens have some problems along their offensive line that will need to be addressed if they plan on a deep push into the playoffs.
On to the young, emerging talent:
With Dwyer becoming the feature back, look for the Steelers to de-emphasize their counter game somewhat and run more inside zone like we see here. Therefore, I'll get into the fine details of the zone run game in a future scouting report article. There are two things I do want to point out, however. First, obviously Courtney Upshaw did not read Behind the Steel Curtain last week. If he did, he would've realized that when the force defender loses contain, bad things happen.
Secondly, Ed Reed is overrated. Don't believe me? Look at the tape.
Reed is over 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage pre-snap. The only reason he is not deeper is because he is standing on the goal line. Much is made about how he plays center field. He is so deep to compensate for a lack of speed which is evident as the 230-pound Jonathan Dwyer totally blows past him in on his way to the end zone.
Just think, if Reed had played closer to the line of scrimmage as most other safeties in the NFL, he wouldn't have gotten YouTubed 12 yards downfield by Hines Ward a few years back.
Yes, he has great ball skills, and yes he has scored a lot of touchdowns. But he just got his doors blown off by Jonathan Dwyer.
Coaches often lament after games that the other team just made more plays. Here are two great examples. Big time players make big plays in big games. Hopefully Harrison has more plays left in the tank and Dwyer is just getting started.
That's more than Upshaw and Reed can say in reference to their Week 14 performances.