By Alex Kozora
Game notes from the Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Green Bay Packers.
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- Kickoff coverage to start the game. L-R. Cortez Allen, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas, Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester, Shaun Suisham, Antwon Blake, Terence Garvin, Will Allen, Will Johnson, and Markus Wheaton.
- No backside contain on opening kickoff. Wheaton doesn’t fill and Cortez Allen could have done a better job containing. Created a lane.
- Double vice gunners on the first punt. Blake/Cortez and Wheaton/Thomas the pairs.
- Look at all the attention Clay Matthews receives. Playaction, Steelers pull the left guard and center. Wasn’t an overload blitz to that side either, just Matthews rushing. Triple-teamed.
- Wheaton during the dirty walk, stalk blocking on Emmanuel Sanders screen. Able to stick to him.
- Wheaton and Blake the starting gunners, as usual.
- Cortez Allen again high-pointing the football in the end zone on 3rd and 3 during the Packers second drive. Height is a big plus.
- Packers first big zone run of the game. Hard to blame him but Lawrence Timmons watching the lead blocker, thinking that’ll take him to the football on a cutback. Usually does but not in this case. Just window dressing.
Garvin also washed. Did not stack up well against the run.
- Kick return unit. Thomas, Sly, Vince Williams, Carter, and Antwon Blake up front. Michael Palmer/David Paulson the next two (appears they’ve moved Palmer up a few yards one each kickoff), Cameron Heyward/Al Woods forming the wedge, and Felix Jones/Emmanuel Sanders return men.
- I guess Felix is trying to hold the contain man here before cutting upfield?
Don’t agree with it. Rather just plant and get upfield than moving laterally. Trust your speed and force the defender to make the tackle on nearly a 90 degree angle.
- This is supposed to be Counter OF. But Steelers trying to run vs an eight man front, Matthews is in his face as soon as Le’Veon Bell gets the ball and the play is already broken. Bell cuts left but runs into another defender, unblocked because the run wasn’t going that direction. If you’re Ben, you have to check out.
- Love, love, love Bell making the safety miss at the third level. Something every good back has to be able to do. Play was a draw with the “A” gaps wide open. Any running back can hit that hole. Find me one that can make a man miss and go pick up another five.
- Cody Wallace has to get to and hold his block on A.J. Hawk here. If he does, Kelvin Beachum can move to the DB and Bell likely scores. Wallace can’t stick and Hawk picks off Beachum, letting the defender slow the back and bring him down.
- Similarly, Matt Spaeth should have been able to hold this block vs Nick Perry. Has him sealed to the inside for a moment but Perry sheds and helps clog the lane.
Spaeth’s presence has been welcomed, if for nothing else more formation flexibility that allows the team to be more creative with Heath Miller, but he hasn’t been anything better than average.
- Vince Williams replaced Chris Carter on kick coverage. Sylvester moved to L4 (Carter’s spot) and Williams slid to L5.
- Carter may have been dinged considering Sylvester also replaced him at ROLB on the drive.
- Allow me to wax away for a moment. One aspect I’d tweak in coverage. Team plays two basic coverages. Cover 2 man and Cover 3 (not the only ones, obviously but the majority). Cornerbacks play off coverage, typically giving a 7-8 yard cushion. Designed so the team doesn’t let anything over their heads and allows the corners to read the route. Understandable.
But I don’t like the teams asking the corners to still backpedal out of their stance immediately on the snap when they’re not getting to the receiver in time to make the tackle. Extra time in order for them to “click and close” (break on the ball). Especially in ugly field conditions like LamBeau with players constantly slipping.
Example comes on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Cortez tries to break but slips and gets to the ball a bit late.
I’d try more flat foot reads where the CB doesn’t backpedal. At least, not initially until the WR eats up his cushion (closes the distance between the two). Flat foot read lets the cornerback break quicker on the ball. No momentum carrying him back
Example of it in the second half, with Cortez Allen making an immediate stop of Jarrett Boykin.
Does require cornerbacks that flip their hips very quickly to defend the top of the route tree (go routes, posts, corners) but something worth trying.
- Steelers send the house here, loop Jason Worilds through the “B” gap and he gets a free shot on Matt Flynn.
- Marcus Gilbert, like Kelvin Beachum last week, late in getting off his chip and working to the linebacker. Have to adjust blocking schemes for nickel packages.
- Power scheme again vs eight man front. Running away from the safety in the box but he makes the tackle from the backside.
- Lucky Flynn checked down and didn’t read the whole field. Jordy Nelson wide open on the curl. Troy Polamalu driving on the curl by James Jones.
- Steelers’ linebackers doing work here. Vince takes on a T.J. Lang block and holds it, Sylvester seals the edge, and Worilds comes from the backside to make the stop.
- Shamarko Thomas ran into Antonio Brown on punt return because he got beat off the line by the gunner. Had to play catch up the rest of the way and couldn’t stop momentum in time. Outcome determined at the start of the play. Old adage isn’t true. It really is about how you start.
- Good read by Ben Roethlisberger. Packers rotate to single high, throw back shoulder to Brown in island coverage.
- Greg Warren beat here. Tough to defend with defender lined up right over the gap but have to stop it. Almost resulted in another block and he was called for holding. Think Warren will be playing his last game with the Steelers Sunday.
- Antwon Blake lit up at the end of the re-try punt after the hold. Still on the ground as the broadcast cut to commercial but guess he was ok. Of course, could have pulled a Dorin Dickerson. Life as a fringe player, sadly. Can never take yourself off the field.
- Big issue against the Packers’ run game was using so much nickel. Offensive line had a much easier time double-teaming the ends and/or getting to the second level to wash linebackers. Need to play more base.
Key to stopping the scheme is getting penetration. Steve McLendon has been fantastic at that all year and been an asset vs zone schemes. Albeit, he was not completely healthy, and even came up gimpy on one occasion after a field goal, but he or Al Woods needed to play more.
Example here in the second half. No NT, makes it much easier for the center to take an angle on Brett Keisel, cut him, and open up a big running lane for Lacy.
And here again. Brett Keisel double-teamed and carried upfield.
Statistically speaking, the Steelers allowed just 3 YPC when in their base defense (5 rushes, 15 yards). In subpackages, they allowed 5.7 (22/127).
- Chris Carter lost contain of the edge on Eddie Lacy’s first half touchdown.
- Brian Arnfelt replaced Heyward as a wedge man in the second half and remained there the rest of the game.
- Look at all the options Matt McBriar had on the fake punt.
And made a heck of a throw too. Got blasted as soon as he released it. Gradkowski better watch his back…
- Arnfelt also replaced the injured Terence Garvin at R4 on kick coverage. Know bodies were in short supply but not a fan of having a lumbering DL running down kicks. Would rather put William Gay out there than Arnfelt.
- Sylvester sack that was negated by penalty. Cover 2 man, no one open for Flynn as the Packers only have a three man route. Need to give him some check down options.
- Scrape with Heyward and Carter. Heyward pushed upfield and John Kuhn rumbles for a first down.
- Cam missed three plays after taking friendly fire from Lawrence Timmons, who cut him going for a tackle. Knee/foot injury.
- Bell fumble. How does AJ Hawk get to run through such a wide open “A” gap? No one accounts for him. Looks like Cody Wallace’s responsibility. But he can’t get off Ryan Pickett and ends up on the ground.
- Side note. Packers employ a goalline package that consists of Mike Daniels (300 pounds) and BJ Raji (337 pounds) in the backfield. Lot of meat.
- Though Vince Williams with a real nice play against B.J. Raji to stuff Eddie Lacy for a loss of two. Good technique taking on the block, aiming for the blocker’s outside shoulder, lifts/disengages, and drives to the runner and brings him down.
- Pick routes on 3rd and goal the play before the blocked field goal. In/flat to the top and slant/flat at the bottom. If Flynn would have held onto the ball another moment, he would have found an open Jordy Nelson in the middle of the end zone.
- The blocked FG is a mess, obviously, but still upset that Ryan Clark tried to lateral it. Team already made the play with the block. Got greedy and didn’t think, a dangerous combination.
- Carter has an awful time trying to stay square to the football. Gets turned, tries to spin around, constantly. Causes him to lose track of the ball. Needs to use his hands much, much better.
- Credit to Pittsburgh, both coaches and players, for showing a ton of mental toughness after the block/Lacy TD saga. Many teams would’ve folded. Steelers instead responded with TD drive of their own.
- Power O run on Bell hurdle. Key blocks from Gilbert, Foster. His signature run of the year.
- Appears Wheaton fractured his finger on the next play, getting it jammed in a pile the following play. Remained in the game on offense though Thomas replaced him as a gunner.
- Spaeth TD. Heath runs a dig, holds the LB.
- Tight end Andrew Quarless ran into Flynn on Allen’s pick six. Caused ball to miss its mark.
- Hawk INT. Similar route concept from Heath as Spaeth ran (skinny post) though from a much wider split. This time, no underneath route so Hawk is free to gain depth and read the QB. Makes the play.
- “Over” front from the defense. Packers easily cut it back.
- Green Bay fakes the stretch to the left to Lacy on Kuhn’s TD. Vince Williams bites. Good design.
- Gilbert missed a cut block on the screen to Heath play before the Steelers 4th and 2 conversion. Too bad because it was a great cal vs the Packers ILB Fire Stunt.
- Showed Ike Taylor with poor tackling form last week. Learned his lesson. Open field tackle on WR screen play before Flynn fumble. Arms open, brings his hips. Key play to put Pack in 3rd and long.
- Do have to give Carter credit for getting pressure and forcing the LT to hold him on the Flynn fumble. Got skinny coming around the edge. Forced the quarterback to scramble.
- Hard for me to pinpoint what went wrong on kick return near the end of the game (doesn’t help I’m tired and on cold medicine…Santa brought me a cold for Christmas) but kudos to Thomas for taking a good angle to the ball and running the return man down.
- Will Allen somehow reversing direction and getting in position to tackle James Starks, bringing him short of the goalline. If the Steelers somehow get into the playoffs, look back to that play as a season-changer.
- Right guard TJ Lang had been getting an early jump off the ball all game. Cost them in the most critical moment (call was technically on Donny Barclay but Lang moved first).
- Last play of the game. “Dino” concept. Two post routes.
- Do not agree with Mike Tomlin’s decision to go for the TD than the field goal. Much less chance of something going wrong on the chip shot field goal than holding the Packers’ offense from scoring. Not even he could deny that.
Take a knee on the 2nd down TD run, center the ball, burn more clock, and then kick on third down if you’re that worried about the FG going wrong. Give the Packers the ball with very little time left (15-20 seconds, max).
- Chris Carter is a slightly better pass rusher than Stevenson Sylvester. Sylvester is better against the run. Both are horrible options at OLB.
- Packers tried a lot of double moves but never worked. Credit to the cornerbacks for preventing that. Not easy, have to stay alert.