Shamarko adds speed to field, Steelers attacked Ravens with six defensive backs

Vincent Pugliese

Pittsburgh changed up their defense, but in the end, another team used a dink-and-dunk philosophy to some level of success, particularly and especially on their final drive.

The Steelers decided to do something different with their defense.

They made it faster.

A big part of the reason inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons ended up with a career-high 17 tackles is because the Steelers were playing a nickel defense with dime personnel - six defensive backs were on the field much of the game, with strong safety Troy Polamalu playing alongside Timmons underneath, with Ike Taylor (59 snaps), Cortez Allen (47), William Gay (59), Ryan Clark (62) and Shamarko Thomas (47) platooning the secondary.

It worked in the sense Timmons was able to fill whatever run support Vince Williams would have provided (he played 18 of 62 defensive snaps), and Polamalu was left free to his devices.

The Ravens' passing game seemed to target Thomas in coverage, but the dink-and-dunk strategy employed by Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell produced positive results. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 24 of 34 passes (70.5 percent), numbers very similar to those of Jay Cutler in Chicago's Week 3 win over the Steelers.

Cutler was 20-for-30, and his one deep pass was also down the left sideline. Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for 41 yards, and Flacco hit Torrey Smith for 41 yards.

The Steelers' hope with using this modified nickel was to keep as much speed on the field while being able to stop the run. The Ravens' offensive line did not perform well enough overall to suggest the Steelers made a mistake by any means, but the allowance of catches against this Steelers defense is still an issue. It's not an issue in the grand scheme of a game, but the last drive the Ravens put together - a 16-play beauty that took 8:01 off the clock - saw Flacco complete eight of nine passes, with eight consecutively until missing Dallas Clark in the end zone.

He hit him on the next play, a one-yard rollout that suckered Steelers safety Ryan Clark into losing sight of Dallas Clark.

The speed was an added boost, and considering Flacco was 16-for-25 for 155 yards and no touchdowns before that drive, the strategy appeared to be successful.

At least until that last drive, when the Steelers were in and out of that package.

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