The Pittsburgh Steelers defense couldn't stop the Baltimore Ravens rushing attack in Week 4. The Ravens offensive line opened gaping holes for running back Justin Forsett, who finished the game with 150 yards on 27 carres (5.6 YPC).
Josh Scobee's missed field goals ultimately cost the Steelers the game, but the front seven's inability to contain Forsett made it much closer than it ever should have been.
Up until last Thursday, the Steelers run defense had shown signs of improvement in 2015. After surrendering 100.3 yards per game in 2014, Pittsburgh entered the matchup with the Ravens allowing just 87.3 rushing yards per game.
Let's take a closer look at a few plays from the game to get a better idea of what went wrong for the Steelers run defense, and try to figure out what the team can do to improve in this area moving forward.
The Steelers get caught in the wrong defense on this play and the Ravens make them pay. Quarterback Joe Flacco recognizes the overload blitz coming from cornerback William Gay and Safety Robert Golden, and audibles to a run to the strong side of the formation.
Notice the gaping hole between defensive end Stephon Tuitt and linebacker Arthur Moats.
At the snap, Tuitt is double teamed by the center and the right guard, while Moats shoots the gap between the right tackle and the tight end, leaving cornerback Antwon Blake and linebacker Sean Spence to fill the void. Blake and Spence both anticipate a play action pass, and take a false step, giving Forsett time to shoot through the hole and get to the second level.
All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda's seal of Tuitt is key in opening up the running lane for Forsett. Yanda is a beast. After dealing with Tuitt, he takes on Spence ten yards down field. Fortunately the Steelers front won't face many players as talented as Yanda this season.
The Ravens line up in a single-back set, with rookie tight end Maxx Williams on the strong side of the formation. The Steelers counter with a 3-4 base front.
Tuitt and defensive end Cam Thomas are blown off the ball and are unable to maintain their gaps. Tuitt is manhandled by Yanda, and Thomas is double teamed, opening up a cut-back lane for Forsett.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons over pursues, eliminating himself from the play, while Blake and linebacker Bud Dupree just miss tackling Forsett in the hole.
Here we saw the Steelers front seven losing their individual matchups against a more physical Ravens offensive line. This was something that happened repeatedly throughout the course of the game.
The Steelers bring free safety Mike Mitchell into the box for run support, but the Ravens run away from him. Timmons drops into coverage, leaving Spence one on one with the left guard. Spence anticipates a cut back, but it never comes, as Yanda and center Jeremy Zuttah are able to move Tuitt and linebacker Jarvis Jones out of their lanes
The Ravens executed their stretch zone blocking scheme to perfection on this play, and it resulted in a 22-yard gain for Forsett.
After giving up 191 rushing yards to the Ravens, the Steelers now rank 18th in the NFL against the run, allowing opponents an average of 113.3 yards per game. It's a mark they'll certainly want to improve upon as the season progresses.
When looking back through the tape, it's evident that the Steelers front seven, the defensive lineman in particular, were unable to win their individual matchups and maintain gap discipline. Tuitt, Thomas and Cameron Heyward must be stronger at the point of attack on Monday night in order for the Steelers to leave San Diego with a victory.
There's no question the Steelers defense missed injured linebacker Ryan Shazier in this game. His ability to go sideline to sideline would have been a major asset. Spence is serviceable, and he made a couple of big plays, but he doesn't possess Shazier's speed and athleticism.
Fortunately for the Steelers, Shazier has been a full participant in practice this week and should be good to go against the Chargers on Monday.