As great a game as Heath Miller may have had against the Minnesota Vikings, he struggled some in this one, particularly as a pass blocker. Not just the sack, but failing to get a commanding angle out on a screen on multiple occasions. First play of the game is a perfect example.
On the first punt, Jarvis Jones and Michael Palmer blew coverage on a stunt that led to a clean lane and nearly a punt block.
Jones followed that up by biting hard on a fake handoff that led to an easy nine-yard gain on a quarterback keeper by Geno Smith on the first offensive play of the game for the New York Jets.
It is worth noting that the Steelers opened this game in their dime package (I call it a dime package in this instance rather than a quarter package because Shamarko Thomas was playing a slot rather than a traditional safety role, as was the case when Robert Golden was a third safety).
With the return of Cortez Allen, the six defensive back package de jure has reverted back to the dime, sending Robert Golden to the bench and Shamarko Thomas onto the field for significant snaps. Although Thomas did alternate between the slot and as a deep safety, especially later in the game.
In fact, in this game, Thomas saw more playing time than did Vince Williams, starting from the first defensive snap, on which Thomas was on the field and Williams was not.
Dick LeBeau was daring Geno Smith to throw for much of the game. On the third play of the game, the Steelers were in their base package with both safeties up at the line. It was a run, and Ryan Clark was there with Lawrence Timmons to hold it to just a one-yard gain.
The bad day of penalties started early with Marcus Gilbert rightfully being called for a hold on the first play of the Steelers’ second offensive drive.
That made it first and 14ish instead of second and six, which helped lead to two consecutive three-and-outs to start the game. The doinked pass off Miller’s helmet was also, of course, Todd Haley’s fault.
On the very next play—half the distance to the goal line, mind you—Ben Roethlisberger saved new starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum some grief by escaping a sack that would have been a safety in a manner that only a quarterback with his size and athleticism would be able to.
Vince Williams continues to impress me with his ability to diagnose a play, get to it, and then shed a blocker, but he doesn’t always make the play, as was the case at 8:20 in the first quarter when he sniffed out a screen pass to Mike Goodson but could not bring him down.
Later on the drive, Jarvis Jones fails to follow the back out of the backfield, which leads to an easy conversation on third and five.
The next play shows the way off-coverage is supposed to be played. William Gay is playing 10 yards off tight end Jeff Cumberland. He is a quick read, and is already breaking on the ball before Geno Smith’s arm is going forward. Knowing he has LaMarr Woodley coming to help, he tackles low and Woodley finishes it off for what amounts to a short gain of just two yards.
The defensive line as a whole did an excellent job to stop the Jets from converting on third and one. Steve McLendon got penetration off the snap to disrupt the play while Cameron Heyward and Brett Keisel brought the back down before the first down marker.
The next drive is when Todd Haley started getting creative. On first down, he had Le’Veon Bell lined up at fullback and Antonio Brown lined up at running back. David Paulson was first split out wide on the left side before motioning in before the snap. Roethlisberger fakes a pitch to Brown, who decoys left, while Bell flushes out of the backfield to receive the pass, ending with a catch-and-run of 12 yards to break the string of three-and-outs. Well done.
As with Jarvis Jones, Le’Veon Bell is still a rookie, and he is capable of making rookie mistakes. On this particular occasion, from my point of view, he is not patient enough to follow his blocking, which results in cutting to the wrong hole for a substantially smaller gain.
Antonio Brown is getting too much practice converting third and 10+ opportunities, but he is also getting good at it. Kudos also to Beachum, Miller, and Emmanuel Sanders for their blocks.
The second sack of the day is the result of—you guessed it—a tackle-end stunt. The tackle just goes right through David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert with the end looping inside. Gilbert is likely more at fault here, though Roethlisberger also shares much of the blame for not getting the pass off to a wide open Sanders to at least make it third and manageable.
Shaun Suisham nails a 46-yard field goal and then sends the kickoff out of bounds…oof.
Of course, Vince Williams doesn’t always miss the play. Great job of tracking down and then stopping an end-around by Goodson to bring up third and long.
On the next play, Jason Worilds—his first play in the game, I believe—sacks Smith to end the drive. Woodley also won his battle on this play.
It was nice to see the Steelers finally able to break out a gadget play or two. Felix Jones is lucky he was able to hang on to that ball, unlike Baron Batch.
The Steelers do not have many sacks this year, but, if memory serves, they tend to be timely—usually on third downs.
There’s a Stevenson Sylvester sighting: he makes the tackle on the kickoff just before halftime.
And there’s your Curtis Brown sighting: he comes in on defense for the last play, on the big Troy Polamalu hit that sets the Jets up for a field goal at the end of the half.