Big Test? Two Keys for Steelers Offense Against Ravens Defense
PITTSBURGH — Diontae Johnson and the Steelers’ offense have improved slightly after the bye week, but some pitfalls over the past few weeks have led to questions about how they can respond to teams playing new coverages against them, including the Baltimore Ravens.
In Pittsburgh’s last matchup against the Ravens, the Steelers were held to just 14 points and threw three interceptions in the Ravens’ territory. Johnson and the Steelers had seen lots of man-to-man coverages prior to that week, but the Ravens flipped it on them and brought out zone-heavy looks. For the Steelers, that is the most important thing to beat when heading to Baltimore this weekend.
“We have to beat more zone coverages this week,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen a lot more zone coverages lately in the past few games because we don’t have a problem beating man-to-man coverages. In those weighty moments, it comes down to if we have the right plays dialed up to beat zone coverage. Coach T harped on that today in the team meeting, beating zone coverage. We’re gonna see a lot more of that.”
But the question is why are teams switching to zone coverages against Pittsburgh? Well, there are a few reasons for that, but one of the biggest reasons might just be Kenny Pickett’s mobility. In man situations, Pickett has proven he can burn teams with his legs. While Johnson sees a few other factors contributing to that as well, in the weighty moments, Pickett’s mobility is proving to be a significant factor for teams to contend with each week.
“Part of it is his mobility,” Johnson said. “Then, it’s us winning our one-on-ones on third downs. We’ve been showing that, that they can’t stop us. Honestly, when they ran zone, we struggled. We have to be really sudden in our routes. You have to know how the defense is playing off the line and adjust your release when you’re coming off the ball as well when they play zone.”
The targets on Saturday against Las Vegas were evenly spread around the team. Najee Harris led the team with nine targets, but Johnson had 7, Pat Freiermuth had 8, and George Pickens had five. That is the most evenly spread-around game that Pittsburgh had had for most of the season. So, what led to that? On money downs, the Raiders decided to double Johnson, thus taking him out of the game.
“We saw last week that they doubled me a little bit on third down and left those one-on-one matchups for George and Pat,” Johnson said. “Whenever my opportunity came, I made the most of it.”
With zone coverages coming at Pickett more and the disguises, Pickett will need to read the pre-snap looks better in the coming weeks. However, Johnson is already seeing some of that maturity in his mental game coming on for Pickett. If the Steelers want to knock off the Ravens, Pickett’s got a big challenge in that department.
“Kenny’s playing way better as far as when he first came in. He’s starting to see it differently,’ Johnson said. “You can just see that he’s playing more comfortably, getting the ball down the field, spreading it around, getting it to his guys down the field.”
If the Steelers want to win in Baltimore, Pickett’s level of play against those zone coverages will be the catalyst to a potential win. However, on the other side of everything, so will the receivers beating those zone coverages and consistently finding the zones within that area. As the best defense they have played since the bye week, expect Baltimore to test the young offense.