Steelers Film Room – Cover 1 And Forced Throws

By Alex Kozora

Throughout the rest of the offseason, we’ll examine specific plays from the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season. We won’t be focusing so much on individual play, though that inevitably comes with any breakdown, but instead, we will focus on concepts used in the pro game to show not just what happened, but why it happened.

This will be an X’s and O’s series focusing on both sides of the ball. The good and bad of the Steelers of last season.

Previously in this series, we’ve focused on the positive plays. Not so much here. Breaking down Ben Roethlisberger’s second interception against the Cleveland Browns Week 17.

Personnel: Ace (1 RB, 2 TE)

Defense: Base 3-4

Coverage: Cover 1

Result: Tashaun Gipson INT

First and ten for Pittsburgh early in the 4th quarter. Fairly complex look for the Browns. Cross fire their inside linebackers while dropping both OLBs into coverage. Despite rushing just four, the Browns get a favorable matchup of an inside linebacker solo on Le’Veon Bell. Schematically, it has Roy Horton’s – and by extension Dick LeBeau’s – fingerprints all over it.



Cover 1 man in the secondary. Strong safety T.J. Ward in a “sky” look, covering the strong side flat. In Cover 1, cornerbacks are typically taught to funnel receivers to the inside om the vicinity of the single high safety.


Ben’s target is at the bottom of the above picture, Derek Moye, running a “go” down the numbers. It’s a pass he shouldn’t have attempted. With Moye lined up in a “nasty” split, a yard removed from the tight end, there isn’t as much of a window.

Since it’s a single high look, the safety is in the middle of the field and can get inside leverage on the ball, allowing him to make a play. Seam routes and deep inside breaking routes (posts, deep digs) should only be attempted with the middle of field (MOF) open.

If my math is correct, the free safety has to cover less than 15 yards while the ball has reached its peak arc. With the excellent angle Gipson takes – that fact shouldn’t be ignored either – he records the interception.


But if Ben wants to even consider this throw, he needs to do a better job of looking the safety off. He does for a brief moment but it isn’t enough. Really though, just a throw he shouldn’t make in the first place. Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but the dig to Heath Miller would have been a preferred option on this three man route.


There are mitigating factors that led to the pick, Moye not fighting for the ball and Bell trying – and failing – to cut block the blitzing linebacker, but it all starts with the read. Versus single high, stay away from the middle of the field.

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.

  • ApexSteel

    If it’s first and 10 Heath has to be the hot read on that play. Ben just completely ignores him.


    Heath gets the 1st down there.

  • superfan

    Ward does a great job baiting Ben into that throw. Ben looks downfield, Ward takes two small steps toward Antonio Brown’s side of the field, and Ben thought he had Moye one-on-one.

    Also, I have no problem with taking a shot deep there. Interception happened inside the 15. Not the worst turnover.

  • Jonas

    It was Tashaun Gipson, Ward covered the flat 😉

    All your points are more or less refuted in the analysis. Two small steps are not a good enough read for Ben, as FS still had less than 15 yards to cover on the strongside. Never to the middle in Cover1, should be known by now..

    Also, on 1st & 10 why forcing a big play? Risking/producing a turnover is always bad, as you can’t calculate the outcome of it.. your own drive stopped and you never now how the momentum goes! In addition, it isn’t even sure that the interception is downed inside the 15, could be returned; worst case 6 points.

    Of course, Moye didn’t fight to the ball, but mainly it’s the QBs mistake, as it was a quite easy read imo

  • superfan

    My mistake, Gipson is the safety.

    I’m basing my analysis strictly on a wide angle GIF, but it appears that Ben saw single safety, knew he had two deep routes, and made his throw based on the safety vacating the middle to help on Brown.

    I agree with you on everything. That was kind of my point. I think Gipson did a great job selling his positioning, making it appear for a split second like the middle of the field would be open, and baiting Ben into a bad throw.

  • pat

    And with a broken tackle by Heath nobody is even close to him could get us to the red zone

  • Johnny Loose

    Seems like Ben had his Plaxico Burress sunglasses on while looking down field at Moye. Dangerous throw and on first down you gotta check down to Heath with Gipson in position like he was. I’ll give it to Ben that he isn’t afraid to let his receivers go to work. Too bad Moye wasn’t up for the challenge. Could have at least used his body and played some defense. 2nd and 10 if he contests the ball. 2nd and 5 if Ben checks down to Heath.

  • Jonas

    Okay, I agree..
    you could also say, that’s the advantage of a fast safety. Ryan Clark could NOT cover that much space whereas Mike Mitchell ist the perfect Cover 1 safety & could also cover that 15 yards to Moye!

  • richard

    I’ll defend Ben just a tad, as he should have gone elsewhere with the throw. It does look like Ben had to short arm the throw, due to the defender in his face. I don’t believe his intention was to throw the ball that short. If he had been able to step into the throw , and get it farther down field ,then Moye might have had a better shot at making the catch.