By Alex Kozora
Game notes from the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the New England Patriots.
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– Kick return unit: Vince Williams, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Antwon Blake, Terence Garvin, Michael Palmer, David Paulson, Al Woods/Cam Heyward forming the wedge, and Jonathan Dwyer/Felix Jones as upback/kick returner.
– Good blocks by Woods and Dwyer on Jones’ return to start the game.
Some good and bad from Le’Veon Bell early in the game.
– Love Bell’s decision/vision on this play. Cutting inside instead of trying to bounce it. Gains seven.
– Bad read on this outside zone. Should’ve hit “B” gap or cut back. Never bounce it when both DL have their helmets going upfield. Loses a yard.
– Punt return unit. Garvin, Dwyer, Blake, Allen, Robert Golden, Stevenson Sylvester, Blake, Thomas, with Cortez Allen/Ike Taylor jammers.
– Negative of Ramon Foster tapping Fernando Velasco that doesn’t involve giving away the snap count (which I don’t think it did since the team used hard counts and mixed up how long until the snap following the tap).
Foster has to keep a close split to Velasco on passes. So the Patriots can rush at Foster’s left shoulder because it’s a little bit tougher for him to get there.
Pats rush the linebacker (#52) to his outside shoulder and Foster has to struggle just to push him up the arc.
– Thomas/Blake starting gunners. Others on punt coverage. Palmer, Sly, Garvin, Greg Warren, Will Johnson, Jason Worilds, Paulson, Golden (upback).
– Picture of Steve McClendon getting clipped by Logan Mankins. Could’ve resulted in a serious injiury.
– ILB cross blitz. Might be the first time all season Dick LeBeau has run it. McLendon/Vince Williams slant outside, Timmons comes in free up the middle.
– First big catch by Rob Gronkowski of the day (2nd overall). Post by the tight end, No.2 receiver runs an out (holds the defender) and the #1 on a clearout. Good scheme,
– Next play by him the very next play. Looks like quarter, quarter, halves (though with Ike in trail, I admit I’m not 100% sure). Aside from the general William Gay vs Gronk matchup, Gay opens his hips and has no chance on the throw when Gronk works inside. Just bad technique from Gay. Matchup is difficult enough as it is when you have perfect technique.
– On the upside, let’s not forget the great open field tackle Gay had on Brandon Bolden at the goalline on the 4th and goal offsides call on Troy. New England hurried up and the Steelers were forced to keep in their dime personnel. Usually don’t get many stops there.
– On the actual 4th down stop, McClendon got excellent penetration.
– Ben interception from the end zone. Brandon Spikes rushes and provides the pressure. Guy Whimper thrown upfield, Marcus Gilbert can’t seal him, and Bell can’t stop him. For those keeping score, that’s three blockers vs one rusher and the Steelers can’t stop him.
– Next play, the Danny Amendola TD. First thing is to be aware of the chance for a big play. Being around the opponent’s 40 off a turnover is a prime area for a big play. Play itself has been well-documented. Cover 3 and Tom Brady manipulates Troy. Gay in position covering the vertical route down the left sideline.
– Good crackback by Emmanuel Sanders to help spring Bell for a good run.
– Sliding the wrong way in pass protection, free rusher, LG blocking nobody. It happens sometimes but too much this season. One of the many issues that have contributed to so many sacks/pressures.
– Steelers motion Will Johnson out, window dressing, but forces DB to hold and get depth vs Johnson’s nine route. Opens up Heath on the out route. Good play design.
– Johnson with a poor lead block on the 4th/1 early 2nd. Led with shoulder. Not going to cut it vs big Don’t’a Hightower.
– New England’s zone runs really depended on how well they blocked the backside. Here’s Heyward getting off the backside cut on stretch. Stays on his feet and takes away any cutback. Just a one yard gain.
Now here’s Heyward getting cut, falling down and opening cutback. 13 yard pickup.
Steelers should take notes on how the Pats run their ZBS. Their lineman always at the second level.
– Smash seam on Gronk TD. Aaron Dobson (#17), on curl to hold Taylor.
– Excellent touch on deep ball to Sanders early/mid 2nd quarter. Sanders wins off the line too. Single high safety so no protection over the top.
– Next play. Called run but Ben audibles out and only he and Antonio Brown know it’s a back shoulder throw. The giveaway is Ben touching his facemask at the line.
– Amendola 57 yard reception. Either quarter, quarter, halves or maybe Cover 4. No clue what Ryan Clark is doing on this play. Amendola crosses his face but the safety still chases Edelman. Maybe he’s expecting Ike to get depth but still, Clark should not be driving that hard on any route. Maybe Brady’s eyes fooled the secondary again, hard to tell.
– Dwyer’s 30 yard run. One detail that helped Dwyer break it. Don’t’a Hightower (54) jumped over one gap to the inside before the snap. Gets sealed off and Dwyer runs through where Hightower was originally.
– Basically ran smash seam on the Antonio Brown TD. Liked putting him in the slot to mix it up. Pats originally have a two deep look but rotate to Robber coverage post-snap. Ben recognizes it and pulls the trigger.
– Kickoff coverage. Jarvis Jones, Garvin, Allen, Isaiah Green, Blake, Johnson, Golden, Allen, Sly, Thomas.
– Second time in as many weeks Fernando Velasco with a good block in space on RB screen.
– Sanders again good crackback. And this time, he is forced to kind of work over the top of Rob Ninkovich to get there.
– Steelers really tried to exploit Dont’a Hightower in coverage. Threw his way multiple times out of empty set with the RB motioned out (wheel and in routes most common).
– Cotchery’s 1st TD of the day. Cover Two shell, post route Cotch runs is exactly how you beat the coverage. Bit of a scramble drill so nice job separating at the end of the play to make the catch. Good ball by Ben as well, basically throwing the receiver open.
– Kudos to Will Allen for throwing his body into Michael Buchanan on Brown’s big punt return. Gave him the edge to get upfield.
– Mike Tomlin really fired up after Bell ripped off a 25 yard draw in the second quarter.
– Next play. Working off that, team fakes the draw causing the linebackers to creep up and then Ben quickly hits Miller in the seam for a 15 yard gain. Say what you will about Todd Haley and the flaws of the offense, but he does a good job of setting up plays.
– Timmons sees Amendola’s nasty split, thinks the run is going that way. Crashes that side off the snap. Doesn’t read his keys, see the guard pulling the other way, and the run goes for a sizeable gain. Lack of fundamental football.
– Ike often matched up in the slot shadowing Amendola.
– Cross stunt by the DL that leads to sack.
– Felix Jones 10 yard kick return after Pats FG that made it 27-24 NE. Dwyer whiffed on blocker that dropped Jones.
– Edelman long PR. Not enough space between Warren/Worilds.
– Creative combo route by NE. #3 WR to the flats. #2 inside stem down the seam, #1 on a drag/shallow cross. Steelers playing man, can’t cover it.
– Great tackle by Blake as the gunner early in the 4th. Still working hard and maybe keeps gunner spot even if/when Curtis Brown returns.
– 3rd down, Shark vs Gronk. Thomas plays it as well as you can. Drives on the throw, squares up and a good hit on the tight end. But Gronkowski just too strong and drags him for the first down.
– Timmons not bringing his feet, going for the knockout blow on Ridley TD late in the game.
– Shot of Marcus Gilbert getting his leg rolled up on. Kelvin Beachum beat by quick hands of the end on the play.
– Aaron Dobson 81 yard TD. Brady could take his pick. Dobson open up top, Gronk open on the bottom. Gay, despite having no help over the top, tried to re-route Gronk and predictably failed. This team never blows coverages like they have in this game and season.
– Think Bell was briefly benched for screwing assignment up, not realizing an audible to a run. Led to busted play.
– Still trying to determine the many issues of Mike Adams. Wasn’t able to use coaches tape in my evaluation last week so got a quality look at him this week. Not playing with his hands up/arms extended. Has his hands down on his hips on this play with the LBs up ready to throw them into Adams’ chest. He’s heavy-footed and heavy-handed, a dubious combination.
– Brown ran wrong route on final INT. Supposed to be a corner route (divide routes with post vs two deep to stress safety) but Brown runs post. Easy INT for the safety.
– Blount’s 23 yard run. Ugly play, Ike gets concussed, Heyward pulls up lame, team just looks defeated (which they were). Microcosm of the game.
– As others have discussed, way too much Cover 3 in this game. Patriots have always attacked the seam and I don’t’ get why we didn’t see more Cover 2/4.
– Brett Keisel had a good game from a pass rushing standpoint. Shed blocks and generated pressure (Troy’s FF for example).
– Kelvin Beachum played with much better bend. An encouraging sign. And Guy Whimper held his own at guard, although not facing Vince Wilfork/Tommy Kelly certainly helps.