Drive-By-Drive Analysis Reveals Worrying Third-Down Trend For Steelers Defense

By Matthew Marczi

The Pittsburgh Steelers had ample opportunity to hold the Baltimore Ravens to drive after drive without a scoring attempt. And time after time, they failed to take advantage of those opportunities.

The Ravens held the ball on nine occasions. They punted once. They also ended the first and second halves with the ball, intentionally allowing the clock to run down.

Every other time they had the ball in the game, the Steelers couldn’t stop them from scoring, and it was almost always because of a breakdown on third down.

The only time the Ravens didn’t convert a key third down on a scoring drive, in fact, was after Jacoby Jones’s big kickoff return down to the Steelers’ 27-yard line, after which they eventually kicked one home from the 20.

Let’s recap:

Drive One: On third and seven from their own 32, Joe Flacco found Brandon Stokley in front of Will Allen for the first down on what otherwise could have been a three-and-out. Later, he found Torrey Smith in the back of the end zone for a touchdown on third and seven.

Drive Two: Punt

Drive Three: From their own 47 following Shaun Suisham’s debacle of a field goal attempt, Ike Taylor was flagged for a 26-yard pass interference on third and seven, placing the ball on the 27. They eventually got to the 25 before kicking a field goal.

Drive Four: End of half

Drive Five: Flacco twice found Smith on third and eight for first downs, first from the 48, then from the 30.

Drive Six: A field goal drive was set up by the 73-yard kickoff return by Jones, which started them in field goal range.

Drive Seven: Flacco had over six seconds to look down field before Jones finally flashed open for 24 yards down the field on a third and four from their own 42.

Drive Eight: On third and four from the Ravens’ own 40, the Steelers brought the blitz with nobody covering Ray Rice out of the backfield. He scrambled up the right sideline for 22 yards down to the 38. Then on third and 12 from the 40, Flacco hit Smith for a 10-yard completion to get into field goal range and make it an eight-point game.

Drive Nine: End of game

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Elijah Stevenson

    I credit our defense for holding them with just one TD and the rest FG a defense should feel good if you hold a team and give your offense a chance to win the game. The offense decided to come out in fire in the second half to late, if only they scored amsimee points in the first half because the defense only have up 10 points.

  • Bill Molinaro

    In order of responsibility for third down failure: Poor pass rush, QBs have plenty of space to operate; poor safety play-Troy is some sort of linebacker and the other two safeties repeatedly aren’t in position to make play; Ike Taylor was a great CB but he’s getting older and often needs help; and inability to do anything with tight crossing patterns but in truth, this is a problem for most of the defenses in the league. Main area to fix to correct: Defensive line especially the nose tackle & linebackers. We need to push the pocket into the QBs face ala Big Snack!

  • Elijah Stevenson

    Will Allen and Ryan Clark should be helping ike. And what wing with putting troy polamalu back at safety position it seems he’s not comfortable at LB than at SS

  • cencalsteeler

    Other than Worilds (and the Ravens adjusted to that in the second half), Flacco pretty much had no pressure to deal with at all. That, coupled with the bend don’t break defense. It’s a perfect recipe for opposing teams to convert third downs. We pretty much have seen it all season.

  • Virdin Barzey

    I agree. The Ravens adjusted to the pressure by Worilds and that was that. Lebeau had no answer and was content to rely on the coverage. In case no one has noticed the third down issue has been going on for years. Its been a problem for quite a while now and I guess Dick and Tommy don’t see it as such.

    In the past we would have 3rd and forever and yet the opposing team will find a gaping whole in our defense. Add to that the fact that Tom Lady eats this defense up every time he plays us and there is a problem that has never been address….and it starts with the play calling on 3rd downs.

  • HopalongCassidy

    Playing soft on third down keeps the other teams drives alive.

  • cencalsteeler

    When we play soft coverage, or bend don’t break, it creates holes in our coverage. Those holes are exposed by any decent quarterback. Also, if I was an opposing qb, I would target Ike as much as I could. The worst scenario would be a batted down ball, think about it.

  • Vince Natale

    EXACTLY! Look, me and my crew watch every single snap, of every single game, have done so for over 25 years now.. And go to at least one home game every year at Heinz.. And it’s a common joke in my group, that when an opponent ends up with 3rd and long, we disgustedly say “well, they’ve got us right where they want us”… We’ve always faired better on 3rd and short defensively. On 3rd and long, we always rush 3, & drop 8.. Nobody can cover routes for 7 seconds .. Hell, we don’t even “cover” the routes,, just back-peddle behind the sticks, and “tackle the catch” … Ugh, makes my skin crawl just repeating it .. Been going on for years …. I watch aggressive teams (like the Ratbirds) send the heat on these plays and take their chances with a QB having to make a quick decision .. Even if it’s completed, it’s usually a short hot read, in which case you still have 8 yards for someone to “tackle the catch”!!! We NEVER DO IT!! Seems to have become even more pronounced the last several years. We even play that way backed up in the redzone.. Anyone else notice on the Cotchery TD, and failed 2-point conversion, the Ratbirds had only 3 DB’s covering the 3 WR’s,, everyone else was “coming” at Ben .. 1st time obviously Ben beat it, 2nd time he threw so quick to Sanders because of the pressure, they got us .. I’d rather go down swinging .. We ALWAYS drop a ton of guys and “hope for a bad throw”.. It’s MADDENING!!!

  • cencalsteeler

    Couple that with Troy playing lb. He gets caught in the wash too easily. He has a better chance at getting to the qb. when he’s playing safety. He can see the formation better (like a no huddle defensive qb) and pick his area to blitz, increasing his chances at pressuring the qb.

  • http://pittsburghsportsinat.blogspot.com/ bgsteelfan

    I’ve been saying this all year. It is maddening.

  • Virdin Barzey

    You’re not the only one. I rarely question LeBeau but it seems like a philosophy he has with the defense and its terrible.

    Where is Blitzburgh over the years? Well, it seems like our LBs over the years have difficulty getting to the QB on the blitzes. Even Pola hardly gets there to make the sack.
    With guys like Clark and Ike, good luck leaving those guys to cover for long periods on 3rd down.

  • CrazyTerry

    I never understood why Ike wasn’t targeted more late in his careeer though it looks like coaches have figured him out. Even when Ike was in his prime as a pretty decent CB, what did a QB have to lose by targeting him on 1st and 2nd downs? An incomplete? He was always a pretty good 3rd down CB where an incomplete kills the drive. Now he is not even defending passes. He has become awful.