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How the Steelers exploited John Harbaugh’s blunder

The Ravens failure to score at the end of the first half was due to mismanagement and smart defense.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers led 12-7 as the first half was winding down, but with 26 seconds left the Ravens called their final time with a second down on the 1 yard line, almost guaranteeing a score to either take the lead or make it a 2 point game.

That isn’t what would happen. John Harbaugh would blame it on the referee’s failure to call the Steelers for a delay of game, while on television Chris Collinsworth blamed Harbaugh’s clock management. We’re going to the film to see what really happened, and how the Steelers escaped the first half with a 5 point lead.


The run

The Ravens have 26 seconds and 3 downs to try and get points. They talked during the timeout, setting up the plays. Harbaugh would call a run on second down, followed by a quick pass. It’s not a bad plan, the clock runs after the run, but a quick pass into the end zone results in a touchdown or incompletion and a field goal on 4th down.

But first the Ravens had a run play that needed to gain one yard, and the Ravens had been running the ball well. Before we dive into it, take a look at the key players before the snap.

And now the play.

Week 12, 2nd quarter, 0:26.

The Ravens are blocking to the right on the play side, and they want Gus Edwards to be able to pick his spot to try and break through or even jump over the line. Cam Heyward stands out for holding his ground against a double team and driving them further inside, leaving Terrell Edmunds and Robert Spillane guarding the outside and a big pile in the middle.

Now look at what Chris Wormley does. Wormley splits the tackle and guard on his side and gets to Edwards in the backfield. Edwards slips away from Wormley, but his momentum is gone. It is easier to see how impressive Wormley’s play was here from another angle.

Chris Wormley is the defensive lineman outside the hashmarks to screen right.

Wormley comes across the entire line to hit Edwards, blowing up the play. The play would be finished, and the truly brilliant part of this play would come from Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds makes the tackle, but more than that, he drives Edwards onto the pile with second effort and help from Robert Spillane. Minkah Fitzpatrick dives over the line to get a bit of contact on Edwards and at the very end Jordan Dangerfield dives on top of the pile.

That would all be important to the Steelers escaping the half without giving up points.

Look at that picture. only 5 players are not in the pile. Robert Griffin III, Chris Wormley, #74 for Baltimore (who Wormley dragged from right tackle) Bud Dupree and #84 Nick Boyle.

Seventeen football players are piled up in the middle of the field.

This is the point where Harbaugh claims the Steelers illegally delayed the game, and the player most frequently blamed for it has been Vince Williams. Looking at the film there are three players that get up at the end of the play, Edwards, Williams and Orlando Brown Jr.

Here they are after Jordan Dangerfield gets up and starts moving other people, around the 20 second mark.

Here they are 4 seconds later

The three players in question are all at the bottom of the pile, and Vince Williams isn’t on top of Edwards. Their legs may be tangled, but the player on top is Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds is the player preventing Gus Edwards from getting up. Edmunds is one player to watch, but so is Orlando Brown Jr.

Here’s the TV clip of the play, sadly the camera cuts away to show Harbaugh pointing for 3 seconds, but you can still see most of what happens.

Isaiah Buggs is getting up at the 17 second mark, at the 16 second mark Terrell Edmunds is getting up, before that there are a lot of players with hands in the pile. Part of the reason for that is after the play the Steelers get the ball away from Gus Edwards, if you watch the first clip again and follow Minkah Fitzpatrick diving to meet Edwards, you can see where he starts fighting for the ball. In the second half of the broadcast angle clip you can see the referee with the ball coming into the picture. The ball left the pile before the last three players got up, and the referee already had it. If you can find the ball after Harbaugh’s pointing, you can see the referee waiting for Orlando Brown Jr. to get up so he can place the ball. Brown Jr. has to wait for Gus Edwards to get off his legs to get up, and Vince Williams is the last player out of the pile.

There’s no penalty there. There’s no delay of game. 17 players in a pile take 14 seconds to get untangled. That’s 4 seconds more than the NFL determined it would take after a sack for teams to get lined up and get a play off, that’s why intentional grounding results in a spot foul, loss of down and a 10 second run off.

The time run off the clock wasn’t due to the Steelers cheating the game, it was due to alert defenders making a series of good plays.
1. Cam Heyward driving two lineman into the pile to close any gaps and keep Edmunds and Spillane free
2. Chris Wormley making a great play to get across the formation and destroy Edwards’ momentum.
3. Terrell Edmunds not just tackling Edwards, but then driving him onto the pile, with Robert Spillane’s help.
4. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jordan Dangerfield diving on top of the pile.
5. Fighting for the football, and getting it away from the runner, which always buys a few seconds in a pile.
6. Steadily leaving the pile, there wasn’t a point where any player was free of obstacles to get up and didn’t get up. That’s how you get a penalty, the Steelers were smart and kept moving, just one at a time and not in the biggest hurry.

John Harbaugh ran the ball, and the Steelers turned that run into a dogpile of 17 players that took 14 seconds to break up.

And the Ravens still had time to get off their second play. On television the Ravens were criticized for not having a plan for after the run, but they did. they had a play and they got that play off. It was a good play too.

Week 12, 2nd quarter, 0.04

They show a run up the middle again, and the Steelers are fighting to stop it. Fortunately for the Steelers Jordan Dangerfield is keeping his eyes on the quarterback to prevent any runs from him outside, and Minkah Fitzpatrick reads the play quick enough to get back and make another great pass breakup in the end zone.

These two plays, and the time run-off between kept the Ravens scoreless when they were in a great position to take the lead. The Ravens burned a time-out in the first half, used their final time out with 26 seconds left and ended up a few seconds short of having a 4th down play.

The Steelers, for their part, made a series of really good, and smart plays to take advantage of the Ravens mis-steps. In an ugly game where their offense was struggling the Steelers defense found a way to win the game.