Steelers Film Room: Sugaring The “A” Gaps

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.

Today, we’ll go back to focusing on just one play. How a Bengals’ pre-snap look led to an easy sack back in the second week of the 2013 season.

Personnel: Kings (0 RB, 1 TE)

Defense: Nickel

Coverage: Cover 1

Result: Incompletion, punt

Third and 8, early second quarter. Steelers in a rare 10 personnel, an empty set with just one tight end.

Bengals in an aggressive look given the down/distance and Mike Zimmer‘s equally aggressive philosophy. Man free coverage, Cover 1.


But we want to pay attention to the line of scrimmage. The Bengals have every gap covered, including putting both linebackers in each “A” gap. Colloquially, known as “sugaring” the “A” gaps.


Its purpose? Force the offensive line to assume the blitz is coming and pinch inside. As a line, you’re taught to work inside out against pressure. Don’t let the defense have the shortest and most direct route to the QB. The line has to respect that possibility, especially without a running back to help in blitz pickup.

The Steelers’ line appears to have a slide protection from the left to counter a potential blitz. It would leave weakside end Michael Johnson rushing free, but it’s the best option. They want to avoid an interior defender free. Ostensibly, the team thought it was better to block the playside end, giving Ben Roethlisberger a better opportunity to step into the throw.


Off the snap, they hesitate, fearful of the linebackers. But both drop into coverage. This slight moment of hesitation from the left side of the line is enough to give Johnson the advantage against Mike Adams. Tough enough for Adams on a normal kickslide. Combine that hesitation and it’s an easy win for the end, who pressures Roethlisberger. It might just be a half step late but in the NFL against a premier pass rusher, it’s enough.





The press coverage has a helping hand in the incompletion, but the pressure contributed as well. Roethlisberger is forced to throw the ball before he wants to and it falls out of the reach of Jerricho Cotchery’soutstretched fingers.

Remember in the last article where we discussed how the threat of something can be just as effective as the actual thing? Same principle here. Show the interior blitz, get the line to commit for just a moment, then back off and get a free rush with four while dropping seven into coverage. Best of both worlds. Why Zimmer was one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. And why he’s now a head coach.

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

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.

  • steeltown

    Boy I sure hope Adams can turn the proverbial corner. He has size and youth on his side, but his technique and quickness at times is subpar. The concerning thing is Gilbert and Adams both look like RT

  • Code Warrior

    So hindsight 20/20 what’s the best solution here? Keep the TE in to block and slide the line left? Better hot route for Ben to throw to?

  • Alex Kozora

    I mean, if we had a crystal ball and knew the linebackers were dropping, then you don’t slide at all. Just treat it as a 4 man rush.

    Difficulty with this is even for the future, there isn’t much you can do. You always have to respect the possibility of the linebackers blitzing. And I don’t want Paulson blocking the LE.

    Just stay out of 10 personnel and keep a back in to check/release would be my best solution.