Readers of Behind the Steel Curtain are well aware of the fact that Troy Polamalu has been playing a lot of linebacker lately. It started last year against the New England Patriots, and it has continued into this year. The Patriots were not running the ball a lot last year, so playing Troy at linebacker made a lot of sense. But what about against the Baltimore Ravens? The Ravens have not run the ball well so far this year, but Ray Rice is still a very good running back. How could the Steelers run this package against a team that features the run like Baltimore? Well, if you have a player like Troy, you have options.
Simply, this is an amazing football play. Not only is Polamalu playing linebacker, but he is playing it well.
First, he attacks the play downhill. If he were to play it too laterally, it would open up a huge cutback lane. Polamalu also attempts to rip across the face of the guard. If he were to take the guard on with his outside shoulder, the play would bounce to no one. Fundamentally, Polamalu plays this well.
Moreover, Polamalu plays this well physically. He drives the guard into the running back. He blows the guard up that outweighs him by upwards of 150 pounds. Polamalu has got to be one of the most versatile defensive players in the history of the game.
Here you have Thomas taking on the role of an outside linebacker while Polamalu takes on the role of an inside linebacker. The plan of the Steelers was obvious: try to get as much speed on the field as possible in order to limit Baltimore's ability to throw play action on first down. That is where Baltimore really hurts you. Play action on first down puts them ahead of the chains. It also allows them to take shots down the field as teams become more aggressive when trying to limit their success on first down.
And, the plan was successful. Baltimore was able to complete one long pass play, but that was due to a tremendous effort by Torrey Smith. However, the play also reminds us how good Ike Taylor is.
To the best of my knowledge, there are two corners in the NFL that consistently play catch man. They are Darrelle Revis and Ike Taylor. Revis does a great job of becoming a receiver when the ball is in the air. Ike, does not. He prevents the catch well, but he does not snatch the ball out of the air. Otherwise, you will not find better technique than what Ike shows here.
There are really two keys. First, you cannot allow the receiver to break inside of you. This just allows the receiver to run under the ball. Second, you have to stay on top of the receiver. This allows the defender to deny the ball, or intercept it, when it is in the air. Ike does both of these things perfectly.
Why is the ball completed then? Smith does a great job of grabbing Ike's outside arm, and then pulling himself over top of Taylor. Afterwards, you saw Ike asking the referee for a flag since he was grabbed by Smith. Smith, one of the fastest receivers in the NFL has to grab Ike to get in front of him. Admittedly, Taylor does a lot of grabbing himself.
The key thing to take away from this is how much of the route tree that Ike eliminates by playing catch man. You cannot run a hitch or slant. Running an out route is difficult. Post corner is also next to impossible. Basically, you can run a go route, deep comeback, or a deep post. But, once again, not everyone can do this because playing catch man is so hard to do. Ike does it flawlessly, and Smith has no choice but to grab him to get open.
This is a great play from plan to execution. First off, the Steelers know that the Ravens are going to be in a man defense. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees loves to play man the closer you get to the goal line. Knowing this, the Steelers stack the receivers. Amazingly, the Ravens do not adjust. By formation, Antonio Brown is going to get open. There is nothing the defender can do to stop it.
The Ravens might have been thinking that their pass rush would force Ben Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball before this play developed. Based on recent history, that would be a good bet. The Steelers, though, were up for the challenge. The protection on this play is outstanding. Ben has a perfect pocket to throw from.
For the past two weeks Todd Haley has done a great job of moving Antonio Brown around so he can get open. Additionally, Brown has shown a willingness to expand his role in the offense. What I mean by that is Brown has shown the willingness to study the playbook so he is prepared to play multiple positions. When preparation meets execution, you end up with a two-game winning streak.
For more play breakdowns, check out the Steelers Film Room hub
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