The Steelers verses Ravens rivalry is one of the best in sports. What I find very interesting about these teams is that their offensive playcalling couldn’t be much more different. Pittsburgh loves keep things simple, mostly by passing out of 4 wide and standard personnel sets (3 receivers, a tight end and a halfback). Meanwhile Baltimore is the opposite, they mix things up as much as anybody. The Ravens ran multiple plays out of 9 different sets, Meanwhile Pittsburgh only ran multiple plays from 4 different sets. But that’s not all, there’s a lot more to talk about from Sunday Night’s game, so let’s get into it.
Things started off great for Baltimore, they quickly jumped out to a 7-0 lead. The way they did this was largely by mixing things up. On their opening drive, they didn’t run the same set in back to back plays at all. On their touchdown they came out with two tight ends, two receivers and a halfback, which is a set that you can pass out of, but it’s typically reserved for rushing. However Baltimore passed out of this set, and it led to a 33 yard touchdown. As a whole, a two tight end set with two receivers and a halfback was by far the best formation for the Ravens. That mostly being due to the fact that the Ravens weren’t afraid to pass from it, out of the 17 times they used that formation, 10 were passes. They gained a solid 3.57 yards per rushing play, but they gained a ridiculous 18.7 yards per passing play, which meant they gained 12.47 yards per play overall from that set. In fact, the second time they passed from that set, it went for a touchdown as well, which put the Ravens up 14-0.
For Pittsburgh, there’s not a ton to break down. They really don’t change things up too much, and they especially didn’t last Sunday. 17 of their first 19 plays had 3 receivers in the game. That was over the course of their first 3 drives, and they had come away with a total of 3 points. On their 4th drive they did mix things up a bit. They put 3 tight ends in for a play, which typically is used for a rushing play, however they passed and gained 23 yards. The goal of that playcall wasn’t really to surprise the Ravens however. Pittsburgh was on their own 1 yards line, so they needed extra protection. That was also the only time they ran a play with 3 tight ends (other than a play that was nullified due to penalty). They also only ran a play with two tight ends 5 times, and gained just 8 combined yards from those sets. Pittsbrugh’s strategy was clearly to keep putting receivers on the field, and hope that their great receiving corps can find ways to get open against Baltimore’s great secondary. And it really started to pay off for them towards the end of the first half. They had an 11 yard passing play out of a standard personnel set, then they passed the ball out of a 4 wide set 3 straight times, gaining 33, 6 and 26 yards, the last one being a touchdown. As I’ve mentioned, Pittsburgh loves to use sets that are usually used for passing. 87.1% of their plays were from 4 wide or standard sets. In fact, 61.3% of their plays were from standard sets alone. For a point of reference, Baltimore used standard sets just 26% of the time (most teams use it around 30-40% of the time). Using a large amount of sets worked out well at first, as the Steelers gained 7.15 yards per play from the first 13 times they passed the ball out of that set. However out of the last 13 times they passed the ball out of that set, 11 were incompletions. They were pretty successful using a 4 wide set throughout the game, and ended up averaging an even 7 yards per carry.
For Baltimore, there’s a reason why they didn’t run very many standard sets, it’s because they weren’t very effective. They averaged just 4.72 yards per play from those sets. It’s pretty surprising that they struggled from those sets, but had a ton of success with 2 tight end, 2 receiver and a halfback sets. After all they’re almost the same set, the only difference is there’s one less receiver and one more tight end. I think the reason for that is the fact that Pittsburgh has a good front 7, but could use some help in their secondary. Adding an additional blocker really helped the receivers for the Ravens have time to get open. They also averaged for 5.5 yards per play from a 4 wide or a 5 wide set. Also worth mentioning, having such success with two tight ends made closing out the game a lot easier for Baltimore. When your most effective set is the one that’s typically used for drives to methodically move down the field and take up as much time as possible, it makes doing that a lot easier. The Ravens had 3 drives in a row in the second half where they ran at least 10 plays, and ended up with a field goal, and with the way their defense was shutting down the Steelers, they were able to coast to their 3rd win of the season.