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Oct 31

Breaking down the evolution of the Steelers

After years of being mirror images of each other, Pittsburgh has morphed into an offensive team since 2012.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team we have become very familiar with over the years. Once upon a time, our teams were virtually mirror images of each other minus a sizeable Pittsburgh quarterback advantage from 2004-2007. Both teams featured highly talented defenses that perennially ranked in the upper echelons of the league.

Here are each team’s respective defensive rankings (by DVOA, not yardage, as always):

Defensive Ranking by DVOA

Year

Pittsburgh

Baltimore

2000

6

2

2001

9

4

2002

9

6

2003

15

1

2004

3

2

2005

3

6

2006

9

1

2007

3

5

2008

1

2

2009

9

4

2010

1

6

2011

7

1

2012

13

19

2013

19

7

Avg. 2000-2013

7.6

4.7

2014*

26

5

*through Week 8

source: Football Outsiders

That is a really long run of sustained greatness on defense for both. Pittsburgh’s worst year until recently was 2003 which set them up with the 11th pick in the 2004 draft. That worked out well for them. In their three Super Bowl appearances, they had the #1 defense twice by DVOA. However, from 2010 on, the Pittsburgh Steelers would evolve noticeably.

Pittsburgh is an offensive team and has been since 2012

Long gone is the suffocating defense that we are accustomed to. In its place is an offense operating at a high level (currently fourth in the NFL) that has been the driver of their 5-3 record.

They are without a doubt an offensive team and this has been the case for several years now. While I will leave to their fans the hypothesizing about whether Pittsburgh’s defensive problems are simply talent deficiency or an issue with Dick LeBeau (there is evidence to suggest both), I will note that their defense has been in steady and clear decline since 2010:  from first, to seventh, to 13th, to 19th to now 26th through eight games.  That is what we would call an obvious downward trend.

Of course, there’s no reason why the Steelers can’t put on a good defensive performance on Sunday and I’ll be the first to suggest that trends only go so far with these teams. They know each other too well. The Ravens offense has been pretty good this year but it’s had enough head-scratching outings to cause some doubt as to which offense will show up anyway, especially with Daniels and Forsett banged up and Pitta on IR.

Baltimore has rarely scored many points against Pittsburgh anyway. Even the 35-7 game from 2011 came on the back of a +7 turnover margin. I wouldn’t expect Baltimore to have a huge outing this time either but it needs an above average one if it wants to win.

The ever-important turnover margin

Speaking of turnovers, it is a statement of the obvious to say that the game (or any game) will probably hinge on who wins that battle but there is at least some interesting data to point out.

After all, from 2008 until the AFC Divisional game in the 2010 season, Pittsburgh never lost that battle and won six of eight games in that span. From 2011 onward, Baltimore never lost the turnover battle against Pittsburgh and won five of seven games in that time. In games where the turnover margin was zero, Baltimore won only one of the four games but all of them were by four point margins or less.

The turnover margin will undoubtedly be a major factor in deciding the victor but turnovers have an element of randomness to them also. There’s more going on here than stating their obvious importance.

Verdict: Baltimore’s offense must exploit Pittsburgh’s defense to win

In the NFL, each game and each week largely exists in a vacuum. “Momentum” and other such qualitative arguments are convenient responses to whatever the most recent game outcome was but always fail to find foundation in reality. They are some of the laziest arguments you’ll ever see but they are par for the course in sports where narrative trumps accuracy.

Maybe the Steelers feel confident after a 51-point outing and maybe the Ravens are fired up and angry about letting the Bengals escape.

Whatever.

Let’s focus on what is knowable. We have plenty of data to tell us about each team thus far. The key, as always, is in the execution. This is why we play the games — because if momentum and emotions mattered that much, the season could be decided after one week. It still takes 21.

Pittsburgh’s multi-year evolution into an offensive team has brought the spotlight onto players like Brown, Bell and Roethlisberger after years of spotlighting the defensive players. The Steelers will score some points but Baltimore, even without Jimmy Smith, has enough talent to keep it from getting out of hand.

Pittsburgh’s defense against Baltimore’s offense feels like the real key to this game. The advanced metrics tell us that the Ravens offense is good enough to move the ball and score while Pittsburgh’s defense is vulnerable. However, trends only tell us what will probably happen, not what will happen.

Winning in the NFL is often a product of successfully exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses, and for Pittsburgh, that is their defense after years of being their identity. Baltimore must capitalize as they cannot hope to keep the high-performing Steelers offense to a 13-9 type of game as they once did when both teams trotted out top five defenses to wage modern day trench warfare.

Oct 31

Ravens-Steelers injury report: Jimmy Smith, Michael Campanaro ruled out

Owen Daniels is questionable.

Tight end Owen Daniels is considered questionable with a knee injury for Sunday night’s game against the Steelers.

The good news for Daniels is that not only does he have all of Sunday to rest his knee before kickoff, he was a full participant in Friday’s practice.

However, in addition to Jimmy Smith, wide receiver Michael Campanaro has been ruled out with a thigh injury.

Here’s the full injury report:

RAVENS

OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (foot), WR Michael Campanaro (thigh)

QUESTIONABLE: DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (knee), RG Marshal Yanda (knee)

PROBABLE: RB Justin Forsett (ankle), DT Haloti Ngata (shin), LB Terrell Suggs (neck), CB Lardarius Webb (not injury related)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: Smith, Campanaro

FULL PARTICIPATION: Canty, Daniels, Yanda, Forsett, Ngata, Suggs, Webb

STEELERS

OUT: CB Ike Taylor (forearm), S Ross Ventrone (hamstring)

PROBABLE: OT Marcus Gilbert (concussion), DE Brett Keisel (not injury related), DT Steve McLendon (shoulder), TE Heath Miller (not injury related), S Michael Mitchell (not injury related), S Troy Polamalu (not injury related), LB Ryan Shazier (knee), TE Matt Spaeth (hamstring), S Shamarko Thomas (hamstring)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: Ventrone

LIMITED PARTICIPATION: Taylor

FULL PARTICIPATION: Gilbert, Keisel, McLendon, Miller, Mitchell, Polamalu, Shazier, Spaeth, Thomas


Oct 31

Owen Daniels a ‘game-time’ decision against the Steelers

Daniels is 50/50 for Sunday night’s game.

Tight end Owen Daniels is considered 50/50 for Sunday night’s game against the Steelers.

Daniels was able to practice Friday, coach John Harbaugh announced, after missing Thursday’s session with the team.

“That’s good to see,” Harbaugh told reporters after practice. “It’ll probably be a game-time [decision] with Owen, realistically, coming off knee surgery.

Daniels had a minor arthroscopic procedure done to his knee, which was injured in Week 7 against the Falcons. If Daniels is unable to play, rookie Crockett Gillmore will step in once again as the starting tight end. In addition, the Ravens would be likely to use fullback Kyle Jusczyzk more in the passing game, too.

Daniels has filled in nicely this season for Dennis Pitta, who went down to a dislocated hip early on. He has 275 yards and three touchdowns on 27 catches.


Oct 31

Five Questions – Pittsburgh Steelers – Week Nine Edition

The Ravens are coming off a tough loss in Cincinnati while the Steelers are coming off a complete annihilation of the Indianapolis Colts. With both teams at 5-3, this looks to spice up a matchup that is already muy caliente. November football is here in style!

The Ravens are coming off a tough loss in Cincinnati while the Steelers are coming off a complete annihilation of the Indianapolis Colts. With both teams at 5-3, this looks to spice up a matchup that is already muy caliente. November football is here in style!

Q1: Cortez Allen just got benched, which is either incredibly upsetting to the Ravens or an even better blessing to them. Who do you expect the Ravens to target in that secondary at this point and do you think the Ravens win that matchup regularly?

A: If I’m the Ravens, I’m probably going to utilize the advantages I have in the short passing game. The Ravens have a good running game, and with that, they can utilize their tight ends off play action. Joe Flacco probably sweat as much as a sea lion in January in Week 2, and a big part of that was simply playing a controlled, rhythm-based passing game, and letting the run game set that up. That said, I’m changing that approach the second I see No. 28 step on the field. If he gets on the field (and the Ravens will spread with four receivers at some point to try to force the Steelers to put Allen on the field), I’m going to test him vertically through land, air and sea. I may do that anyway, looking more to test Brice McCain outside the numbers. Generally speaking, though, a team goal would be 10 combined targets to my tight ends in the 7-11 range, force the Steelers linebackers off the ball a bit to really open up my stretch zone plays.

Q2: Big Ben just went wild on the Colts last week as we all know. Is that really the capability of this offense and Big Ben at this point of his career or were the Colts just trying to figure out if the support staff (waterboy, uniform washer, etc) could play football?

A: I’m not sure if you watched that game or not, but a player doesn’t complete 40 passes for 522 yards on an accident. He was completing passes all over the field before and after Vonta Davis’s injury, and outside of that, it was the same Colts defense that held down Baltimore to a degree. While I don’t think any offense in the history of the game can be expected to unleash that kind of performance on a consistent basis, I don’t think reasonable expectations are too far from that. Roethlisberger had boatloads of time and he delivered accurate passes deeper down the field. While some in the past may be attributable to a great run-after-catch tandem in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, this was really about the protection and the throw. I think the better question here is whether he can put up another outstanding performance in Week 9. There’s a reason Ben is now the only player in league history to have thrown for over 500 yards in a game twice (read: it doesn’t happen often, let alone in consecutive weeks) but he is capable of leading this offense to 450-ish yards and 30-ish points. Doing that against the Ravens is exceedingly difficult, but if he gets the kind of protection he got in Week 8, I could see him having another big game. The Steelers have great athleticism among their receivers and against a beaten up Ravens secondary, if he gets time, he’s going to get the ball down the field on schedule. A big if.

Q3: The Steelers defense hasn’t been all that great all year long, yet they actually rank better in passing yards allowed per game than the Ravens and they aren’t all that far behind in rushing yards allowed per game. Then you look at the scores of their games and they are barely squeaking by teams like Cleveland and Jacksonville. What is up with this defense and is it finally coming into form at the mid-season mark or did they just hit some matchups that worked better for them?

A: I seem to recall another team “barely squeaking by” the Cleveland Browns. It’s a good time to point out every team in the AFC North is over .500, and it’s not an accident. Cleveland’s a competitive team. As for Jacksonville, the Steelers allowed nine points in that game, there are plenty of others to point at in terms of backing up claims of their mediocrity. A good example, though, is against Baltimore in Week 2. It felt worse than 26-6, but statistically, the Ravens didn’t throttle them the way it appeared. Definitely a strong all-around game, but less than 400 yards of offense and after three takeaways from a defense that really dominated the game, one might have thought the offense had a huge amount of success as well. But no, the Steelers defense has not been consistently good by any stretch. I’m surprised they are allowing fewer passing yards per game, and I think that speaks more to neither franchise performing well in that regard – which is odd. It’s been an issue of a lot of newer guys coming together over time, and in that, producing at a decent level here and there. Fell apart late against Tampa Bay, thoroughly dominated Carolina. Couldn’t stop Baltimore for anything, put the screws to Jacksonville. Got great pressure against Indianapolis but a confidence-shattered cornerback gave up three plays of 40 yards or more. It’s been things like that; one step forward followed quickly by one step backward. They haven’t played their best game yet, and they’ll be challenged to a high degree this week, just like they were last week.

Q4: So you guys finally brought back old man Harrison. How is he doing out there?

A: James Harrison has been doing pretty not-bad so far. I thought he played very well against Indianapolis (credited with two sacks), and he’s taking over the starting and primary role from Arthur Moats. He doesn’t get to abuse Michael Oher anymore, unfortunately, and his production against Eugene Monroe could be the critical factor in this game. I think it’s fairly obvious he’s not 2008 James Harrison, but he’s providing a spark, and unlike certain other former Steelers outside linebackers, he’s actually on the field, which, as it turns out, is a key factor in a player’s success. The real question, and it’s something I’m fairly certain John Harbaugh is going to want to find out in this game, is how well he’ll play against a no-huddle offense. I think Baltimore is going to try to test the Steelers’ stamina (a factor in their early season slide on defense), and see if they can’t just out-run them in the second half. If it’s close, don’t be surprised if Baltimore opens that up and tries to just work the Steelers to exhaustion.

Q5: Mean Joe Greene is getting his jersey retired during this game. A great player for so long and a major piece of this Steelers franchise for so long (both on and off the field). What current player could you say has the best chance of being looked at in the same way at the end of their time with the Steelers?

A: There isn’t one. Period. No current player on any team should be held in the same regard as Charles Edward “Mean Joe” Greene. The things that man did on a field are absolutely unreal. No defensive lineman ever commanded as much attention from an offensive game plan as Greene did. Watch the Steelers’ first championship (Super Bowl IX), a win over the Vikings. Greene is being triple-teamed, and he’s still bowling over guys on his way to the ball. The Vikings were a good running team and had Hall of Fame players on that line, Greene whipped them like a collection of Oniel Cousins and Jonathan Scotts. As far as any current player having their jersey formally retired (only one right now has been formally retired, Ernie Stautner’s No. 70), Roethlisberger is the most obvious, and I would imagine his will be retired down the line at some point. There are a few I’d put over him right now (Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, and Ben shouldn’t have that before Bradshaw does. Terry will have waited four decades or more, Ben can wait too, neither of them were to their positions as the three aforementioned players were in comparison to their peers around the league). One to watch now, though, is Antonio Brown. Granted, stats often reflect the era in which a player plays, but Brown, at age 26, has 321 career catches in 62 career games. A big game Sunday vs. Baltimore (148 receiving yards) would put him over 1,000 for the season, the fastest a Steelers receiver would have accomplished that mark. He’s on pace for 120 catches, 1,704 yards and 14 touchdowns, which, I think is safe to say, would be by far the best single season a Steelers receiver has ever had, and one that would stand out among the top in the history of the game. Now, I recognize the strong possibility he finishes with fewer than 120 catches and 1,700 yards, but Brown is still very young and he is only getting better.

Q6: What Ravens player would you take for the Steelers (contracts aside)?

A: There are a lot of them. I think Ben would have some fun throwing to both Brown and Steve Smith. I’ve really liked what Darryl Smith has done in his stint in Baltimore (a largely and unfairly unrecognized player). Mosley is a great player and will continue to be that way. I haven’t given up on Lardarius Webb, who, before a few injuries, rightly should have been placed around the same level as Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman as the top players at the position. Just to keep him off the field against the Steelers, gimme Haloti Ngata, and just for the sheer volume of pageviews that would come from the announcement of him joining the Steelers, gimme Terrell Suggs. Ultimately, though, I think I’d want Webb or Jimmy Smith. The Steelers are a tad light on cornerbacks, and both their athleticism and size might help coax a few more sacks out of a defensive front seven that gets pressure but few sacks. Their quickness and playmaking ability might get a rare Steelers interception in the short-to-middle ranges, and this offense can work well if given another possession or two a game.

Oct 31

Expect a typical Ravens-Steelers game at Heinz Field this Sunday night

History indicates that this game will be a low-scoring affair with the winning team needing a late touchdown or field goal.

It’s not common for either the Ravens or Steelers to blow out one another when they meet on the football field. That’s part of the reason why Week 2′s 26-6 Baltimore win was a tad surprising. Regardless of record, both teams bring similar attributes to each game — a hard-nosed approach on defense with a reliance on the running game to churn out first downs.

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger went for 522 yards and six touchdowns against the Colts. That’s not likely to happen against the Ravens, regardless of where each team stacks up in a given season. Let’s take a look back at the rivalry in regular-season games played at Heinz Field, since John Harbaugh took over the team in 2008.

2008: Steelers 23, Ravens 20 (overtime)

Former Steelers kicker Jeff Reed kicked a 46-yard field goal at the 9:01 mark in overtime to get the win. Roethlisberger was held to 191 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Joe Flacco threw for 192 yards and a touchdown.

2009: Steelers 23, Ravens 20

Reed kicked a 38-yard field goal with 5:30 left to go in the game. The Steelers defense was able to keep the Ravens from scoring after that. Roethlisberger barely completed 50 percent of his passes, going for 259 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Former Ravens running back Ray Rice had a great day, rushing for 141 yards on 30 carries.

2010: Ravens 17, Steelers 14

With 34 seconds remaining in the game, Flacco found receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (wait, what?) for an 18-yard touchdown to give the Ravens a win. Charlie Batch was forced to play quarterback for the Steelers and didn’t do so well. Flacco was 24-37 for 256 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

2011: Ravens 23, Steelers 20

The Ravens had to go 92 yards to win the game against Pittsburgh with only 2:24 remaining. With 42 seconds left to go, receiver Torrey Smith dropped what would have been the game-winning score. He redeemed himself as Flacco went back to the then-rookie for a 26-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left in the game. Roethlisberger threw for 330 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Flacco threw for 300 yards and a score.

2012: Ravens 13, Steelers 10

Byron Leftwich had to start this game, which made things easier on the Ravens’ defense (outside of that 31-yard scramble for a touchdown he had early on). However, Pittsburgh’s defense got the best of the Ravens’ offense, limiting Flacco to 164 passing yards and Rice to 40 rushing yards. However, Jacoby Jones had a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown that ended up being the deciding play. The teams entered the fourth quarter with the Ravens leading 13-10 and no one scored from that point.

2013: Steelers 19, Ravens 16

Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham kicked a game-winning 42-yard field goal with time expiring to give his team a win. Flacco threw for 215 yards and a touchdown — a pass to Dallas Clark that tied the game up at 16-16 with 2:02 to play in the game. Roethlisberger was held to 160 passing yards and one touchdown.

(Of course, this does not include the two playoff games between the two teams at Heinz Field — a 23-14 Steelers win in the 2008 AFC Championship and a 31-24 Steelers win in the divisional round of the 2010 playoffs.)

For whatever reason, the Ravens have historically played the Steelers extremely close at Heinz Field under Harbaugh during the regular season. Sunday night shouldn’t be any different. The Ravens have already proved what they can do against the Steelers earlier this season. So even though Roethlisberger went bananas a week ago against Indianapolis, there’s no reason to worry that he’ll do the same once again.

This should be yet another classic rivalry game for the world to see on prime time television Sunday night.


Oct 31

The decline of Ravens running back Bernard Pierce

The third-year running back had big expectations entering the season, but has fallen short since.

Bernard Pierce had some big expectations entering 2014. He drew comparisons to Arian Foster, who’s been one of the best running backs in the NFL in Gary Kubiak’s system. The expectations grew as Ray Rice was released after Week One.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t lived up to those expectations this season.

In Week 1, he fumbled on his sixth carry and was unofficially benched. He did have a good game in Week 2, rushing 22 times for 96 yards. He would miss Week 3 with a thigh injury and, although he was healthy and active for Week 4, he didn’t play at all.

In Week 5, he would carry the ball four times for 30 yards. Week 6 would have him carry the ball 15 times for 32 yards and a touchdown. Week 7 would see Pierce carry the ball eight times for 21 yards and a touchdown. In both those games he averaged less than three yards a carry ,and while he did score in those games, they both came after victory was firmly in the Ravens‘ grasp. In Week 8, Pierce was a healthy scratch.

In three out of eight games Pierce was an inactive. In one game he was unofficially benched. In two out of the three he missed he was completely healthy during those games. In three out of the four games he played in, he either got very little carries or carries when the game was decided. He’s had one good game this season.

Unfortunately for Pierce he’s been outperformed by Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro. Forsett is currently one of the best running backs in the NFL and Taliaferro has scored four touchdowns this year, which is one less than Pierce has scored his whole career.

The decline of Bernard Pierce is an unfortunate turn of events for him. But that’s the way it goes in the NFL sometimes.

Oct 31

Friday Ravens links: Brandon Williams standing out, Courtney Upshaw ranks hitting Ben Roethlisberger No. 1

Read what others are writing about the Baltimore Ravens.

Brandon Williams has game that matches frame

In his second season, the 2013 third-round draft pick has emerged as a big playmaker up front on the defensive line, writes The Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson.

Gary Kubiak concerned about turnover trend

The Ravens have turned the ball over five times in the past two weeks, which has caused some concern from offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, writes The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec.

Ravens season could be affected by one penalty

Purple Reign Show’s Zeyd Khan writes that the offensive pass interference penalty called on Steve Smith could come back to haunt the Ravens this season.

Dumervil, Ravens looking to sack Steelers

The Ravens have been able to record a lot of sacks lately, and CSNBaltimore.com’s Clifton Brown writes that Elvis Dumervil and the outside linebackers will look to continue the trend against Pittsburgh.

Upshaw’s hit on Roethlisberger ranks No. 1 for him

Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw ranked his devastating hit on Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2 his No. 1 hit of his career thus far, writes BaltimoreRavens.com’s Garrett Downing.

Oct 30

Taylor Lewan Midseason Rookie Offensive MVP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After naming Avery Williamson the Titans Defensive Rookie of the Year, let’s move on to the team’s offensive rookies as I continue to recap the first half of the season.  Tennes…

Oct 30

Ravens vs. Steelers: Complete Week 9 Preview for Baltimore

The Baltimore Ravens will be looking to rebound from a gut-wrenching loss when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football

Baltimore comes into this game at 5-3, after losing a hard-fought game to the Cincinnati Bengals last week, 27-24. That gave Cincinnati the season sweep of the Ravens, who also fell out of first place in the AFC North. 

With the Steelers now on deck, Baltimore must win this game just to avoid falling into last place in the division. The 4-3 Cleveland Browns are looming, and they could pass Baltimore with a win and a Ravens loss.

That would leave the Ravens in last place in the AFC North, something that’s rarely happened since the franchise was formed in 1996. 

In fact, the Ravens have finished last in the AFC North just once since divisional realignment in 2002. Needless to say, the Ravens need to win this game, but it won’t be easy with the game being in Pittsburgh.

Here is my preview of the game for Baltimore. 

Begin Slideshow

Oct 30

Why C.J. Mosley Should Be Favorite to Win Defensive Rookie of the Year

There was no more obvious choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year this season than the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft, Jadeveon Clowney.

Clowney was expected to be a very productive player from the beginning of the season, because he was joining J.J. Watt in the front seven of the Houston Texans defense. Instead, the outside linebacker has been sidelined by a knee injury for most of the season, opening the door for C.J. Mosley to become the favorite for the award.

Mosley is one of three first-round linebackers who are excelling in starting roles for their respective teams. Both Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr have made more standout plays than the Baltimore Ravens player, but his consistency and well-rounded skill set has given him the edge to this point.

In eight starts, the 22-year-old has accumulated 76 tackles, six pass deflections, two interceptions and one forced fumble.

Despite his relative youth and inexperience, Mosley’s tackle numbers rank fourth overall in the whole league, and no other rookie is within 15 tackles of him. Mosley is one of only two rookies who has more than one interception; Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller being the other.

While it’s clear that Mosley has landed in a good spot to be productive early in his career, playing alongside veteran Daryl Smith and behind veteran Haloti Ngata, his individual play has made him a very valuable member of the Ravens defense.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched Mosley in college.

In college, Mosley was arguably the most well-rounded linebacker playing at that level across the nation. He showed off a speed of thought that allowed him to read plays as they developed rather than react to them after they had happened. That, combined with his physical talent, allowed him to become a first-round pick.

It’s that thought Mosley might have been a potential top-10 selection if there were fewer concerns about his long-term durability. While those issues may still rear themselves later in his career, for now they are proving to be irrelevant as the linebacker continuously excels on the field.

What makes Mosley most valuable is his ability in coverage. He is a new-age linebacker in the sense that he carries a slender frame and excels in space rather than in tight. Mosley isn’t going to blow his way through blockers by lowering his shoulder; instead, he relies on his hand usage and energy to work through traffic in tight spaces.

As this play highlights, Mosley has a short-area burst and an ability to read the play as it develops, which allows him to exploit space quicker than offensive linemen.

Mosley is slow to react to the beginning of this play because Matt Ryan smartly snaps the ball when he recognizes the linebackers communicating with each other. This should allow an offensive lineman to block Mosley out of the play, because they are already moving when he is bringing his eyes back to the quarterback.

The Falcons run a stretch play outside of left tackle that is well blocked on the offensive line. Because of his hesitation, Mosley is met with a guard who has advanced to the second level and is in position to block him out of the play.

Despite being in a less advantageous position, Mosley easily accelerates and slides past the attempted block of the offensive lineman. He now has a clean lane to attack the running back in space and prevent him from advancing to the second level.

Mosley does that with an emphatic but disciplined hit that prevents the back from finishing the play with forward momentum.

While Mosley has been a good run defender, his true value comes in pass coverage. While he may not have blazing athleticism in space, he doesn’t need to because of his intelligence. Despite playing at a new level and new pace, Mosley has shown off the discipline and awareness to consistently put himself in the right spot to best serve the defense as a whole.

In zone coverages underneath, Mosley does his best work as he is always aware of his surroundings and understands how to break on the ball. He also shows off the traits to be a valuable man-coverage defender.

On this play against the Cincinnati Bengals, Mosley is going to be put into a situation where he is responsible for the offense’s tight end on the left side. It’s unclear if he is in man coverage from the start or if it’s a zone that simply turns the situation into man coverage, but either way, Mosley plays it perfectly.

As the tight end releases into his route, he advances directly toward Mosley. The linebacker doesn’t react to his initial movement, instead holding his position to keep his eyes on the quarterback and the tight end. At this point of the play, Mosley is in position to break on a quick pass or turn with the tight end in his route.

When the tight end stops in a curl route over the middle of the field, Mosley is in position to force the quarterback to hold onto the ball.

After that point, the tight end works back toward the sideline where there is space. Mosley is quick enough to react to his movement and smart enough not to go through the back of the quarterback’s intended receiver when the ball is thrown.

He makes a great play on the football, but the tight end gets to it first. Even though Mosley disrupts the catch point, the tight end is able to make an impressive second effort to prevent it from hitting the ground.

Mosley may have “given up” the catch on this play, but his coverage couldn’t have been better. He forced the quarterback to throw a perfectly placed pass and the tight end to make a very impressive catch. This is the kind of play that shows off his ability in space.

The most valuable trait in a linebacker nowadays isn’t athleticism or an ability to get off blockers: It’s versatility.

Linebackers who can be at least above average in every area allow the defense to be more flexible with their play design and play-calling. If a linebacker is incapable of playing in coverage and needs to have his flaws masked by blitzing or standing on the sideline, his value significantly drops.

Even though Mosley isn’t a great run defender yet, he is doing enough in that area to highlight the value of his coverage ability. At this point of his career, no other defender from his draft class is succeeding to his level in such a prominent role.

A fully healthy Clowney is always going to draw a huge amount of attention and preference from voters because he is a pass-rusher, but he has some ground to make up on Mosley over the second half of the season if he wants to claim the award.

Read more Baltimore Ravens news on BleacherReport.com

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