Steelers Film Room: Defeating Man Coverage

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.

Personnel: Jet

Defense: Dime

Coverage: Cover 1

Result: 10 yard gain, first down

We’ll look at another route combination, one slightly less specific, in today’s film session. How the New England Patriots defeated man coverage with a “man beater” against the Steelers in Week 9.

3rd and 6, empty set for the Patriots. 3×2 formation.  Steelers are in dime. With three receivers to a side, a defense has to play some form of off coverage. Even though it isn’t the team’s style anyway, all three corners can’t be rolled up to the line. If they do, they’re at risk of getting picked off by combination routes (think slant/flat).


The route concept consists of: #1 running a crosser, #2 down the seam, and #3 to the flats. Remember receivers are listed in order numerically from the outside working in.


The Steelers, as alluded to, are in man coverage. The pass is thrown to Aaron Dobson, the #1, on the crosser. Here’s the issue for William Gay in coverage. He’s in off coverage because of the bunched formation. With Dobson running shallow, it creates natural separation against the off corner. Although the #2 doesn’t really get in the way, he does act as a slight buffer against Gay while running down the seam.


It’s an easy completion for Tom Brady and a ten yard pickup.

There’s no secret here. In this instance, the Patriots know how the defense has to react to a three receiver side with some bunching. Force the off coverage and run an underneath route to exploit it. Results in an easy gain and New England moving the sticks on 3rd down.

The best way to counter? Instead of playing true man, switch to zone and “pattern read.” Still a concept I’m learning about but it’s basically matchup man coverage, similar to basketball. Reading the releases and routes of each receiver determines who you match up with. Perhaps instead of Gay being responsible for the crosser, he carries anything vertically – like the seam route of the #2. One of the underneath corners, like Shamarko Thomas, can pass him off and look for an underneath route. It isn’t easy to handle those types of combination routes, but man coverage in this situation has little success rate.

Previous Film Room Sessions
Putting Pressure On Rookies
Facing The 46 Defense
Fake Wide Receiver Screen
The Steve McLendon Myth
Cover 2 Man
The Wildcat
Cover 1 And Forced Throws
Slant Flat In Red Zone
Divide Routes
Zone Blocking Scheme
Scrape Concept Versus The Read Option
Antonio Brown The Decoy
Sugaring The “A” Gaps
Running The Mesh
Curl Flat Versus Cover Three
The Tare Route
Reading Hats On The Goalline
G Lead Concept
Using Window Dressing

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.

  • Benjamin Simpson

    Definitely plenty of blame to be shared on this play. If your going to play press at the line. Your better jam the receiver at the line to at the very least disrupt the timing of the play. Three DB’s on the line and only one jam. Not good enough. I hate to say it but, this one might have Troy’s name on it. He jumps the seam route even though the FS is there over the top in leverage. The LC is playing an outside tech. Which means he is expecting safety help inside for leverage. If in fact there wasn’t going to be. The LC should have been playing inside tech. A corner should never let a receiver get an inside release without having some sort of help from either a LB or S. That’s why I say this one might have my boy Troy’s name on it. Good hustle from the LC to stay after it though and make the tackle. Definitely a gaff by the secondary as a whole though. I mean, it was a empty bunch formation. That’s what they do in that situation. He’s made a career out of throw ten yard passes. The outside receiver breaks in and the inside receiver breaks out and the middle runs the seam. It’s hard to imagine that would surprise us. I’d also like to say. I enjoy your film room pieces Alex. I look forward to more in the future..

  • DoctorNoah

    My comments exactly! This is on Troy for biting on the seam that was Clark’s responsibility over the top.

    I like the front five pushing on this – the DE outside stunt got there only a split second too late and was that Woodley collapsing the pocket on the left? Couldn’t read the numbers. A little more straight interior pressure and Brady hurries the throw, and that is the only way we’ve beaten him in the past…

    Good coverage by the right corner out there on an island. Trips sets are a good way to force 1:1 match ups on the weak side.

  • Alex Kozora

    It is tough for Troy, talented as he is. It’s Robber coverage, so he’s reading the QBs eyes and hoping that takes him to the ball. Against a 3 receiver side, Brady looks to the right but he has three options. So it’s more difficult to pinpoint at what receiver he’s looking at.

  • Benjamin Simpson

    I’ll agree.. He seems to try to do more then he should and make up for a lot poor coverage from the cornerbacks. He’s rarely out of position imo in spite of that. The db’s will need to step up their development and play with a little nasty. Even with the youth and new acquisitions added to the defense this year. I truly foresee an improvement overall for the defense. Just for the record. I believe Troy is the best strong safety in the NFL.

  • Alex Kozora

    Even the best players will guess wrong. Especially against an equally great QB. The New England game was a bad one all around from the secondary. I’d rather the safety give up the underneath route than drive and potentially give up the deep ball, too.