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Dean Pees Says He Should Have Shadowed Antonio Brown With Marlon Humphrey

Posted Dec 14, 2017

Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said the Ravens discussed making the move on the sideline, but that you ideally want to practice shadowing a receiver before making the in-game adjustment.

Ravens fans and media pundits have been debating it all week.

Should the Ravens have used first-round rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey to shadow Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in Sunday night’s 39-38 loss?

It’s tough for anyone to stop Brown. He leads the league in receiving yards (1,509), is in the MVP conversation and may be the best wide receiver on the planet.

But after Brown put up 213 yards and caught essentially a game-winning 34-yard pass to beat the Ravens, there’s still a lot of second-guessing.

Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees was asked Thursday whether, in retrospect, he believes he should have made the switch.

“I’ll be honest with you; yeah we probably should have,” Pees said.

Humphrey had a strong day against Brown. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), the first-round rookie yielded just two catches on five targets for 7 yards. It included a 5-yard tackle for loss.

Veteran Brandon Carr, who has nine more years of experience but not as much speed as Humphrey, had a tougher day against Brown. Per PFF, Carr gave up five catches on eight targets for 117 yards, and was one-on-one against Brown for the 34-yard completion.

Pees said the Ravens talked on the sideline Sunday about having Humphrey follow Brown wherever he lined up. In the end, they opted not to make the move.

The Ravens like to have practiced such a plan in the week leading up to the game. If practiced, then the cornerback can play man-to-man coverage, zone or whatever else is called wherever he’s lined up. Without practice, the defense would've been stuck in man-to-man, becoming more predictable.

With that said, Pees said sometimes predictability must be sacrificed.

“If we had done it in that game, it obviously would have been giving away that we were playing man-to-man,” Pees said. “But sometimes it doesn’t even matter if they know what you’re in if you can play it better than they can play it.”

Baltimore went into the game with the plan of keeping their starting cornerbacks on their respective sides on the field, as they typically do. Humphrey played on the right and Carr was on the left.

But not having top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who tore his Achilles one week earlier, left the Ravens more vulnerable outside. Had the Ravens had Smith, they would have been better suited to match up.

Pees said he tried to play man-to-man coverage at the start of the game, but quickly changed to more zone calls. Roethlisberger completed 10 of his first 11 passes and the Steelers jumped out to a 14-0 lead.

Pees said he pressured 40 percent of the time, and of those 40 plays, only one was with man pressure. “Just trying to keep the ball inside and in front of us," he said.

That’s a small tweak in play-calling. Making the in-game change to shadowing a wide receiver is a bigger challenge for the players, and would have been a lot to ask of Humphrey in his first start.

“I have found in the past, unless it’s just a little tweak of something, generally when you try to make a big-time adjustment on the sideline, generally it does not work out well because you haven’t practiced it,” said Pees, who is in his 38th year of coaching.

“There are a lot of teams that match up guys on guys. Now what you have to be able to do is practice all week, line up on that guy and be able to play zone and other things other than every time he lines up on that guy, we’re in man coverage. That takes a little more sometimes than what you’d think, especially when you have a young guy like Marlon.”

Pees was also asked why he didn’t give Carr double-coverage help over the top to try to help stop Brown’s deep gains, particularly at the end of the game.

Pees explained that he had doubled Brown multiple times throughout the game, including on an earlier third-and-4 situation just like the one Brown made a play on at the end. Pees wanted to give a different look the second time, and the Steelers hadn’t shown a tendency for taking a deep shot in that situation.

Thus, Carr was left matched up one-on-one and got beat off the release. Brown was too fast for Carr to catch up, and the timing between Brown and Roethlisberger on that play was perfect.

“I tried to call a coverage that’s a little tighter coverage to get them to fourth-and-4 to try to end the game,” Pees said. “You can be criticized for being too soft if I would have played zone and they completed one underneath for 4 yards … or you can be criticized for being too aggressive and trying to play man and trying to get up there and get them.”

Overall, after giving up the most passing yards (506) in a single game in franchise history, Pees said the fault was widespread in Pittsburgh.

“We didn’t play fundamentally well all across the board,” he said. “That goes on all of us.”

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