Despite multiple penalties and some pass-protection issues, the Pittsburgh Steelers still emerged victorious against the New York Jets last Sunday.
As tough as stopping Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson was for Pittsburgh’s offensive line, things will not get any easier for the unit this weekend when they face the Baltimore Ravens.
With the massive and powerful Haloti Ngata, Arthur Jones, and Chris Canty occupying space along the interior, Pittsburgh’s inexperienced tackles in the forms of Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert will need to hold firm and receive some help against two of the best edge rushers in the game.
Limiting the damage of Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs will be the biggest key for the Steelers this weekend, and it will be up to their inconsistent tackles and the rest of Pittsburgh’s offense to try to neutralize both Pro Bowl pass rushers.
Dumervil + Suggs = Pressure
Matching up against Dumervil and Suggs will not be easy, and both players have been relentless when it has come to their pursuit of opposing signal-callers this fall.
Like he has since he came into the league in 2003, Suggs has been his usual havoc-wreaking self off of the edge. The fact that Suggs has a great mix of power and speed moves is bad enough, but the veteran’s relentless motor is a big reason why he has been so successful for over 10 years at the professional level.
The former Arizona State star has already racked up 7.0 sacks through his first six games in 2013, and he definitely looks healed from the Achilles injury he suffered during the summer of 2012.
To the credit of Baltimore’s general manager Ozzie Newsome, he didn’t stand pat during free agency after Suggs’ pass rushing partner Paul Kruger left for greener pastures in Cleveland back in March. Newsome took advantage of the Denver Broncos and a fax machine and inked the talented Elvis Dumervil to a contract during the offseason.
Dumervil has fit in nicely with the Ravens, and has recorded 5.0 sacks to boot. Although he is on the shorter side (5’10″), Dumervil possesses a great deal of speed and agility off of the edge, and his frame allows him to use his deceptive power when he leverages unsuspecting would-be blockers.
With Dumervil and Suggs coming to town, Beachum and Gilbert must be ready for an onslaught on the edges. Last weekend, both players combined to commit five penalties (Gilbert had two and Beachum had three) and had their fair-share of issues creating holes in the running game and maintaining a clean pocket for Ben Roethlisberger.
Baltimore’s defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows that the tackle positions are Pittsburgh’s biggest weakness on the offensive side of the ball, and I am sure that Beachum and Gilbert will receive a steady diet of pressure coming their way all evening long.
Even though Beachum and Gilbert are liabilities on the edge for the Steelers, it should not stop offensive coordinator Todd Haley and the rest of Pittsburgh’s offensive players from masking their deficiencies throughout the game. In fact, the Steelers’ offense could be primed to take advantage of Baltimore’s over-aggressiveness.
How the Steelers Can Limit the Damage
In terms of pass-protection, chipping either edge-rusher with David Paulson and Heath Miller would be a very sound idea, or even having either tight end help with a double-team in max-protection pickups. Providing extra help for Beachum and/or Gilbert would be the safest strategy for the Steelers to employ, especially if the pocket-collapse is too much for those two to handle on a consistent basis.
The chipping out of bunch formations could also come in handy since it would also give the Steelers’ offense plenty of opportunities to have Roethlisberger run delayed dumpoffs and screens to his tight ends and running backs which Baltimore’s defense would have to respect if Pittsburgh can gain chunks of yards on them.
Getting their athletic backs and ends involved in the passing game in that fashion, or even on well timed draws and delays to the aforementioned backs in spread formations or in hurry-up mode, would help to slow down Dumervil and Suggs off of the edges and account for those types of plays.
Creating any doubt and hesitation in the minds of the sure to be hard-charging veterans can only help Beachum and Gilbert as well, and a quick-hitting passing-game with Roethlisberger preferably in the shotgun, would give the youngsters some much needed confidence to build off of early in the game.
Making sure the ball leaves Roethlisberger’s hands early on every play is an absolute must, and the bigger plays down the field should open up against an aggressive secondary later if the “dinking-and-dunking” is successful.
Providing Roethlisberger with a clean pocket on Sunday will be a group effort which must be spearheaded by Beachum and Gilbert. The Ravens know that they have a matchup advantage with their outside linebackers, and it will be up to the Steelers’ inconsistent tackles to hold firm in the face of constant pressure.
Schematically, their deficiencies can be masked enough for the offense to move the ball, and it will take the efforts of their teammates and coaching staff to help them in as many ways as possible.
Baltimore’s defense can be victimized (17th overall, 352.5 yards per game), but to sustain drives and put points on the board Pittsburgh’s offense must find ways to keep Suggs and Dumervil from collapsing the edges at the point of attack if they wish to emerge victorious.
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