The Steelers, dealing with a multitude of injuries, knew they had to bring out their creative minds to beat the Ravens on Sunday. On defense, they did just that with Mike Hilton, Ulysees Gilbert III and Devin Bush out before the game and without Tyson Alualu after the first quarter. Lamar Jackson saw exotic looks, but even more, true, the Steelers scheme on the back end and up front were masterful. What did they do that was so effective to throw Jackson off?
Steelers Implement 3 OLB Package
The 3 OLB package was one that the Steelers pulled out for the first time on Sunday. With confidence growing in rookie Alex Highsmith, it made sense. It allowed the Steelers to move Bud Dupree around the formation, Highsmith was more than adept in coverage, and as such, the Steelers could use the package to run blitzes that would stress either one side of the offensive line.
This is one such example of the Steelers playing some mind games with this package. They overload the right side of the line with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. That obviously offers the Ravens with a significant threat of a blitz with a free runner. However, there is also a significant threat of an inside linebacker blitz with Highsmith coming off the left side, so they slide the protection left. They use a chip and chop block to try and offset this as the protection is actually slide left. Highsmith and Watt both drop out back into coverage and Dupree essentially makes this play on his own. The Steelers get Dupree free away from the lineman. On the chip, Dupree knocks the tight end down and ends up causing the two tight ends to collide with each other. He sidesteps Gus Edwards’ chop block and uses his relentless motor to secure the sack. This play was all Dupree, but it started by shifting the Ravens’ protection call to get Dupree an advantageous matchup.
The Ravens love running play-action out of this pistol set with a man off to Jackson’s left or right. The route combinations are easy to hit for Jackson. It gets him options at multiple levels of the field while stressing the linebackers. That happens here as the Steelers are keyed in on the running action and Robert Spillane leaves Mark Andrews wide open to the sideline. Alex Highsmith is not to blame here as he is in man coverage, however, this is key for him to note in the future.
This play is why it was so key that Highsmith noted this play from the first half. The Ravens go back to the well with the same exact play, but Highsmith plays this completely differently. Instead of riding Patrick Ricard down the line, he plays with a midpoint technique. Jackson will have to float this ball over Highsmith to complete it with Highsmith getting more depth. However, Highsmith knows exactly what is going to happen on this play and can get the interception as a result. That is a tremendous adjustment on the fly by a rookie and shows great film study. It is a huge reason why they are so confident in using this 3-5 set.
The Steelers did have success against the run out of this set, too. For the Steelers, the 3-5 set is rather easy in terms of gap assignments. The 3-5 defensive front is often used in youth football to teach gap responsibilities, and while the Steelers’ version of the set is more complicated, it does simplify things against a confusing and nervewracking Ravens rushing attack. It is the motion and threat of Lamar Jackson that makes this attack so deadly. However, with Dupree and Watt to the left side, the Steelers essentially have two edge setters. They read it all by the motion, Watt holds a strong edge, and Tuitt comes over to help for the tackle. The 3-5 essentially creates another gap for the offense to weave through but gives the Steelers insurance on the edge as well.
The 3-5 set allowed the Steelers to use their outside linebackers in different roles. It gave them one-on-one matchups in the pass rush and even allowed free rushes for Dupree. Having the personnel at that spot that they could trust in coverage, the Steelers implemented the set as a counter to the Ravens attack on the edges in the running game as well. If Mike Hilton was playing this may not have been necessary, but it was a creative and smart way to contain and confuse the Ravens offense.