Steelers Versus Titans Sack Break Down

By Alex Kozora

In weeks with multiple sacks allowed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’ll be breaking down each individual one, assigning blame, and keeping track of a “sack counter” for the guilty parties. And this week, with five allowed against the Tennessee Titans, was worthy of an article dedicated to it.

Buckle up, this one is a bumpy ride.

1. 1st and 10, 2:06 left in the 1st quarter.

13 personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs). Eight man rush with eight Steelers blocking. Just a two man route vs Cover 1, go route with an inside stem for the “X” receiver and a skinny post from David Paulson.

David DeCastro initially chips Jurrell Casey (3 tech) working vs Marcus Gilbert before chipping the one tech to Kelvin Beachum’s side and then finally picking up the blitzing linebacker up the “A” gap.  But on the initial chip to Gilbert’s side, DeCastro steps on the right tackle’s foot and knocks him off balance. Casey is able to split the two leaving him against the tiny Felix Jones.

Steelers Titans Sack animated GIF


Jones acts as a buffer long enough to let Gilbert work back to Casey from the side and potentially push him inside enough so Ben can slide around it. But the issue that comes into play is Gilbert being fooled by Ben Roethlisberger’s pump fake to Pauslon, assuming the ball is out, looking downfield, and letting Casey finish running past. The DT drops Ben for a loss.



With Big Ben under center, you can never assume the play is over. Gilbert has been around long enough to understand that so the blame is on him.

Blame: Marcus Gilbert

2. 3rd and 5, :50 1st. Shotgun, 11 personnel. Six man rush with six blocking plus the tight end on a block/release. Nothing available after Ben finishes his drop and with pressure being allowed by DeCastro to the inside, Ben is forced to climb the pocket. That allows OLB Zach Brown the ability to not work through RB Isaac Redman but take a 45 degree angle to Ben after he steps up into the pocket.

Steelers Titans Sack animated GIF

Also good coverage downfield from Tennessee. Cover 2 man with two safeties over the top and defenders playing “trail” technique (play to inside hip and protecting against breaking routes) underneath.


Blame: Half on coverage, half on DeCastro for allowing pressure that forced Ben to escape.

3. 1st and 10, :44 2nd. Shotgun, 11 personnel. Five blocking plus back block/release vs a four man rush.

Backside end Derrick Morgan with an inside spin to get past Gilbert and chase Roethlisberger down from behind. Morgan wins the leverage battle here. Gets under Gilbert’s pads and is in control, making it tough for Gilbert to mirror Morgan on the spin.

Steelers Titans Sack animated GIF


Blame: Marcus Gilbert

4. 3rd and 3, 11:02 3rd. Shotgun, 11. Six block vs five rush. Moise Fokou fakes closed “A” gap blitz, dropping on the snap. But because Kelvin Beachum and Ramon Foster have to assume Fokou is blitzing (lineman work inside out, can’t allow “A” gap pressure), OLB Zach Brown is left one on one with LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Steelers Titans Sack animated GIF


Brown runs over Howling and sacks Ben. There were other issues on the play, Gilbert again gets beat around the edge by Morgan but Brown is the one that picks up the sack.


Blame: LaRod Stephens-Howling

5. 3rd and 4, 5:35 4th. Shotgun, 21 personnel (Jerricho Cotchery is in the backfield but to make the identifying a bit simpler, I consider him to be a back).

Under look with one tech weak in a three man front. Five blocking vs four man rush. T/E (tackle/end) stunt with the DE slanting to the outside in an effort to occupy the LG and the DE looping around to where the LG was lined up.

Picked up pretty poorly by both Mike Adams and Ramon Foster. Foster is able to pass off at the last second but isn’t in position to anchor and gets walked into Ben. Adams is in no man’s land, picking up nobody.

Steelers Titans Sack animated GIF


Kelvin Beachum’s low snap didn’t do the play any favors either. It was minor but every fraction of a second counts in the NFL.

Blame: Half on Foster, half on Adams for failed stunt recognition.

Sack Counter (Game)

Marcus Gilbert: 2

LaRod Stephens-Howling: 1

Mike Adams: .5

Defensive Coverage: .5

David DeCastro: .5

Ramon Foster: .5

No offensive lineman committed a penalty in this game but that is something I’ll keep track of throughout the season as well.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • Nolrog

    Do you have a criteria where you blame Ben on a sack if the OL holds their blocks long enough and Ben doesn’t get rid of that, or do you consider those to be coverage sacks?


    I’d say on the first one also that Foster just got walked back right into Bens lap – truly very poor by Foster there

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The whole line need to get better but Gilbert needs to man up.

  • Bell Cow

    Gilbert cannot be left on an island by himself. He looks like a big, slow baby Huey. Adams doesnt look much better, but I think he’d have more success in pass protection on te right side. I really hope Colbert swallows his pride this offseason and realizes he made a poor decision drafting these guys with hgh picks. I’d like to see us draft an athletic tackle in the 1st or 2nd round next year (Lewan, Hurst, Matthews, Hickey) and trade Gilbert for whatever we can get…. 4th or 5th round pick? They have to figure out this line situation before they can move forward as a team.

  • NW86

    Also on the 2nd play, you partially blame DeCastro for allowing the pressure to force Ben out of the pocket, but I’d say it was Gilbert’s man that was more in Ben’s face and more responsible for forcing him out of the pocket. IMHO, half of that sack is on Gilbert, not DeCastro.

  • kev4heels

    Very nice alex!
    Couple of things IMO:
    We need to really work with our guys and feeling/acting on stunts.
    Ben needs to do more 7 step drops and move up in the pocket a bit. Of course, this is tough to do when Beachum is playing C and being driven back 5 yards.

  • kev4heels

    2nd round pick on Gilbert. What’s annoying is that he could be a good RT but just doesn’t show any passion to be anything more than average.

  • steeltown

    Gilbert seems to really be struggling.. in most of these gifs he’s either beaten by his man or left roaming around looking for someone to block

    On that first one, Ben should’ve hit Paulson instead of just pump faking, Paulson had the inside position, let him fight for that ball with his 6’4 frame and solid hands. That would’ve negated that sack altogether, sometimes Ben shouldnt be extending the play, especially knowing that the OLine isn’t sustaining their blocks

  • Bill Bobertson

    he doesn’t even have time for a 3 step drop in some of those. That needs to change.

  • Superdriller316

    If your a 185 lb RB and a 250+/- LB is coming for you QB, you better cut his ass and get him on the ground.

  • chris ward

    Great breakdown! O-line has some major work to do and needs to get better quickly, because it is only going to get harder from here on.

  • tpalya

    Going to be a long year.

  • David Todd


  • David Todd

    And also great work on the breakdowns, Alex.

  • RMSteeler

    I didn’t stopwatch these plays, but it appears that Ben was contacted by his own player or the defensive player in 3 seconds or less. Ben’s gotta have a sense that nothing is going to work on plays like this and get a quicker release at least to the feet of the checkdown player to avoid sacks. Also, his famous pump fakes aren’t going to work if he’s contacted in 3 seconds or less. it’s odd that it looked like he had the most time the one time he was under center. He’s also caught in the pocket on each sack. Need more rollouts until OL and backs learn how to block.

  • Thomas Rancy

    have you guys ever talked about how routinely taking shorter drops because of shorter routes might make it easier to collapse the pocket at a shallow level? ei: on a 3 step drop it only takes the end 4 steps to go from the end collapsing to the middle, where as on 5 and 7 step the QB takes them farther up the feild innitially then has more vertical space to step up into (and do a big ben) on them and though it gives more ground for the takle to cover they gain more in the second phase of the play if they can push them by…??

  • Jonas

    In the second play DeCastro solved his failure imo and Ben didn’t move because of that (as 66’s player was on the ground before the movement).
    I would blame it on Gilbert OR on both as it was a stunt pick-up!

  • NW86

    Yes, I meant to say that too. I look forward to more of this, for those of us that don’t have time to search for all the film and do the analysis ourselves it is very helpful!

  • treeher

    I disagree on #2. DeCastro’s block not a factor. Ben pushed out of pocket by Gilbert’s missed block. Gilbert seems to be the culprit on too many of these sacks. Gilbert has slow feet.

  • treeher

    Agreed. See my comment before I read this.

  • treeher

    Yup. See other comments on this.

  • treeher

    This makes it clear that many issues will be fixed with our fullback returning and a natural center, hopefully Velasko. But Gilbert needs to step up his game. Gonna be tough with those slow feet.

  • gevins

    I also agree it was more gilbert

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    steel, on that first play the second slide, or maybe it was a little later, look closely at he area paulson is crossing when ben is about to throw, can only see the lower part of paulson and his cover lb or db, the cover had good position on his left hip and unless ben could have really been able to step in to the throw and fire a bullet pass, it is probably picked if it could not be delivered that way.

  • gevins

    If you look Gilbert almost had a hand in every sack giving up. On the one he did not he just stands there and blocks nobody. He is Terrible. It is time to put Beachum over there and the new center at center. I cannot even imagine Gilbert protecting Bens Back. He would be dead.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    what do ya do when the check down is on his butt>> Can’t throw it away from in the pocket so it has to be clear he was trying to hit a receiver or have one near, looked a lot like our receivers were clearly not coming open against the d.

  • lefnor

    At the fourth sack Adams was beaten badly by Wimbley and that would be a sack also but Adams was “fortunate” that Stephens-Howling allowed a sack faster.

  • Jonas

    Like him in his rookie season though!

  • steeltown

    I disagree.. that last image in the 1st breakdown Ben has already looked him off.. but in the 2nd to last image its clear Bens in the process of the pump fake in Paulsons direction and Paulson is clearly ahead of the defender, could’ve thrown it in front of him in stride and let him use his TE frame accordingly (Ben even stepped up into the pump fake)

    I think my point is Ben will need to do this more this season due to the OLine deficiencies, instead of pump faking all the time. He just isn’t always going to have enough time back their to sit on the play, he needs to get rid of the ball, like you see Manning and Brees do consistently

  • Nolrog

    Yeah. Just a pathetic display by our line.

  • Bilgewater D

    We’ve been picking too far away from the top 10 to 12 to do this. Who would have been better?

    The problem is that Adams is not a Left Tackle. He can be a pro-bowl right tackle.

    You have to be picking in the top ten to get that type of Left Tackle. They are like QB’s now. You gotta pick’em high.

    If we get crushed by the Bengals, there is a good chance that will happen this year.

  • treeher

    If it had been Miller, Ben might have let it fly. Might be a confidence issue.

  • steeltown

    could be

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Yep, I think so too. DeCastro, although he allowed pressure on the QB, wound up pancaking his man.

  • Dan

    I think it could be easily argued that a great number of Ben’s sacks are his fault in that he holds on to the ball too long. However, suppose that on average he loses 4-8 yards in a sack. And suppose that 25% of the time he makes some great play by holding on to the ball a bit longer instead of just dumping it off to the sideline. And let’s assume that most of the time a QB dumps it off, he takes a hit anyway (no reason to dump it unless there’s an eminent hit). Then for me, if there is not a significant increase in chance of injury or turnover, I would rather get that big play 25% of the time in exchange for the cost of a few extra yards on 2nd or 3rd down. 2nd & 10 verses, 2nd & 16 isn’t that big of a deal if you sometimes get a big play.


    Not to counter the theme here, but I thought Ben showed poor pocket awareness on 2 sacks…I didn’t have time to review all of the good work Alex did here but the 1st one when he pumped and pulled it down…that was a throw away opportunity. I remember another one yelling for Ben to get rid of it.

    Ben’s internal clock needs to tick a little faster imo…especially when you’re trying to break in a new OL.

  • Bill Eltringham

    Wow. That last one with Adams and foster is pretty basic stuff. You see other teams pick that up on us all the time. They have to get better quickly.

  • Bell Cow

    I understand your point, but we have left some players on the board who would’ve done better. Osemele would’ve been a better pick than Adams.Clint Boling would’ve been better than Gilbert. Both now play guard, but Osemele has played RT for Baltimore and Boling is a better player than Decastro at this point in his career. Of course, hindsight tells us that now but I’m sure there are more examples of players picked afterwards who have excelled.

    Maybe it’s coaching as well? I think the loss of Russ Grimm was bigger than we might have thought.

  • AndyR34

    I think it is clear that our Oline is not very good. Maybe they will improve as the year goes along…maybe not. But it will be a very long year for Ben and the offense. BTW…such a limited skill Oline also limits what Haley can call. If you can’t run block very well, nor pass block very well, it limits what your offense can do…thus leading to very obvious play calls. Sorry for all of the redundancy. 🙁

  • Dan

    The time from snap to sack on each of those plays is as follows:

    3.7 seconds for the first
    3.9 seconds for the second
    3.7 seconds for the third
    2.9 seconds for the fourth
    2.8 seconds for the fifth

    To be specific, I timed each one from the moment the ball was snapped until the moment Roethlisberger was in the grasp of the defender(s) who sacked him.

    They say that an ideal time for a QB to get rid of the ball is in three seconds. But that assumes that a QB’s first read is open.

    On the first sack, Roethlisberger pump-faked in the direction of David Paulson, but Paulson was well-covered, and the defender could have undercut the route to intercept the pass if it’d been thrown. Right after that, the pocket collapsed.

    On the second sack, every receiver downfield was blanketed, as illustrated above, so that was a coverage sack. The duration between the snap and the sack was longest on this one.

    On the third sack, it appeared to me that Roethlisberger wanted to throw to Emmanuel Sanders on a short cross route, but with pressure in his face, he held the ball and then tried to check it down to LaRod Stephens-Howling. Unfortunately, Roethlisberger’s knee touched the ground before he got the ball off.

    On the fourth and fifth sacks, the time between the snap and the sack was less than three seconds, so Roethlisberger had no realistic chance of doing anything.

    All in all, none of these sacks were Roethlisberger’s fault. It’s not like he was running around for five or six seconds before he got sacked. Each time he was sacked took less than four seconds, so if the first read wasn’t open, he was doomed.

  • Dan

    It could have also been a quick-strike timing pattern in which Roethlisberger was supposed to throw to a certain spot. The thing about timing patterns is that the QB is supposed to throw to a spot and trust that the receiver is open. Since it’s possible that the defender could have made a play on the ball if it was thrown to the right spot, Roethlisberger held it at the last moment, and then got sacked less than a second later.

  • treeher

    Maybe, but a low leading pass would have been impossible to defend, even though difficult to catch as well.

  • Dan

    Possibly. I don’t know exactly how they modify timing patterns. Regardless, I don’t blame Roethlisberger for that first sack, but if others want to, fine. He absolutely was not at fault for the other four, though.

  • Eddy

    Great breakdown, I look forward to reading these throughout the year.

  • cencalsteeler

    Bottom line- Their D line outplayed our O line. Keep it up Alex, awesome job again.

  • SteelerCop

    First of All, THANKS for doing this…I try to see what the O-line is doing…but you can’t get all the camera angles watching on TV. By watch this film…I see why Big Ben gets sacked…NONE of the 5 sacks where Big Ben’s fault. We need RUSS GRIM BACK IN THE WORST WAY!!! None of these O-line can block!!! I can’t believe the STEELERS spent a 1st and 2nd round picks on these players! From what I observed, the O-line waits to be engaged….and they start backing up…WHY!!!! Then the defender engages them…and they are on their heels getting pushed into Big Ben….THIS IS HORRIBLE O-LINE PLAY…THEY MUST GET TOUGHER…THEY MUST DO THE ENGAGING….MAN UP AND ATTACK THE DEFENDER….HIT SOMEBODY! IF I SEE ANOTHER O-LINE JUST STANDING AROUND LOOKING STUPID…I AM GOING TO SCREAM!!!! #SMH

  • Nolrog

    You bring up an interesting point. Is there really a net gain for him holding the ball so long?Keep in mind that his health is also a factor; does getting rid of the ball keep him on the field more. He misses a game or two every year because hes banged up (last full season was 2008 . . . I guess technically 2010, he played 12 because of the suspension, so no games lost due to injury.)So while there may be a net gain during games he plays in, there may be a net loss because he misses games.Coming back to the sack information, it would also be interesting to see sacks by how long since the snap. Anything say 4 seconds and under is the line, anything 5 seconds or over are balls he should get rid of (be they coverage or whatever.)

  • Dan

    I reckon these same topics are discussed in the meeting rooms. Personally I think there have been times in the past, particularly in 2011, when Ben played hurt, but we’d have been better off with the back up.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    #4. Todd Haley. Why the flip would you put in a midget back on 3rd and 3…not looking for a back to make people miss…looking for a back that can potential run for the first (3 yards), catch a screen, and most importantly, pick up a blitzer.

    #2 Ben roethlisberger, gotta throw that ball sooner.

  • steeltown

    Yep, Paulson had him beat and the Safety was way deep on that play