Steelers Film Room: Technique In Tight 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: Posse

Concept: Smash

Defense: Dime

Coverage: Cover 1 Robber

Result: 17 yard touchdown by Earl Bennett

No concept today. Instead, we’ll break down individual technique of how to play cornerback – and what happens when it goes wrong.

Week Three against the Chicago Bears. Bears line up in 11 personnel with the Steelers in dime. You know it was early in the year with Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden on the field defensively.

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We won’t go into the concept today, but Bears run a smash route (curl + corner) and Jay Cutler hits Earl Bennett in the left corner of the end zone for six.

Issue here, and I pointed it out in that week’s game breakdown, is Thomas’ technique. Chiefly, with his initial punch. If you’re going to roll up on the receiver, you can’t get burned off the line. A corner’s punch is dictated by the stem (release) of the receiver. You have to avoid locking your hips. It’s why fluidity is such a talked about component of defensive backs each draft. It’s part natural talent, part technique.

Getting back to the specifics of the play, a corner must always punch with the hand opposite of the receiver’s stem. For example, if the receiver stems to the inside of you, punch with your right hand. If he stems outside, punch with the left.

Because if you punch with the same hand, your hips aren’t open and you’re not prepared to turn and run. It locks your hips and if the receiver runs through – likely since you’re not deriving any power from a locked base – you’re going to get beat.

That’s what occurs here. Thomas punches with his right hand as Bennett stems outside, the receiver easily runs through, and the defensive back is immediately put in trail position. With the single high look, there’s no safety to take away the corner route.

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Thomas does his best to recover but it’s a well-thrown ball that Bennett catches, the incomplete call reversed after review.

It was a crushing score to give up on 3rd and 7 in a 27-24 game, extending the Bears’ lead to two possession and sealing victory.

Tough play for the rookie though. Unlikely Thomas had to play tight coverage in the slot very often at Syracuse. Veteran Bennett makes him pay. Lesson learned for the rook.

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
Defeating Man Coverage

Senior in college, blogging from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • steeltown

    Rook being a rook.. he regained the ground and almost made a play on the ball

  • Steelers12328882

    Yeah Shark was definitely beat by his man, but was Ryan Clark lined up in the right position to start the play? Both him and Troy are lined up in between the hash marks. That doesn’t seem right, especially with a trips formation to the left.

  • falconsaftey43

    It’s cover 1 robber. Man on the outside with Clark playing deep middle and Troy playing underneath middle looking to jump anything underneath. They are lined up correct for the coverage.

  • Alex Kozora

    There’s that plus the fact you have to protect against any of those routes bending back to the right. Fact none did is all hindsight. Pretty common to get a deep dig or crosser from a 3 receiver side like that. Can’t overplay it.

  • Steelers12328882

    hmmm, just seems obvious with 3 WRs lined up to one side that you’d want to put a Safety over them to avoid exactly what happens.

  • Steelers12328882

    But Clark clearly underplays it. Wouldn’t him adjusting himself over the WRs put himself in a comfortable medium? I mean he’s positioned in between 3 WRs on one side and a TE on the other. He’s actually adjusted slightly away from the WRs and closer to the TE.

  • falconsaftey43

    Clark’s primary job is to defend against the TE and #3 WR running seam routes. He also has to watch for digs or posts coming over the middle. If Clark lines up over the #2 say, then the offense likely audibles to double seams, and he’d have no chance to defend either. You can’t double cover everything.

  • Alex Kozora

    Pretty much this. Regardless if Clark lines up on the field or boundary hash, there’s no chance of him making a play on the corner. Single high just doesn’t allow it. It’s Thomas to blame.

  • falconsaftey43

    Definitely Thomas all the way. With single high safety, as a CB you can’t get beat outside. If anything, give up the inside where you have help.

  • Alex Kozora

    Right, funnel it. Surprised to see he wasn’t asked to shade to the outside, forcing that inside release.

  • Steelers12328882

    My knowledge is limited for sure, but if I was playing someone on Madden lol I would immediately select Clark and position him directly over that 3rd WR on the inside. Maybe Clark would still be out of position, but he’d probably be closer to the ball than he was. Troy and Willy wind up doubling the 3rd WR, so if Bennet runs a post inside instead I would think Clark still has the angle to cover that and keep an eye on the TE.

  • Alex Kozora

    Being closer to the ball but not being able to do anything about it doesn’t help you. It just means you get a closer look at them scoring.

    If #2 or #3 run an in breaking route and Clark is playing to the 3 receiver side, he’s going to be trailing on the route and out of position.

    And like I’ve said, Clark isn’t the issue. Shouldn’t be the scapegoat nor is he the focus of the play. Thomas has to own it.

  • Steelhawk55

    Bad press man coverage technique from a rookie safety in his third professional game, in primetime, lined up against a veteran receiver, still recovered and was in the hip pocket of the receiver when the ball arrived. The pass was timed and placed perfectly by Cutler and the tough catch was made. Point of the article is that if he had used proper technique at the line he likely wouldn’t have had to recover and make a play because he would have been with the WR the whole way.

  • Alex Kozora

    Sums it up perfectly.

  • Steelers12328882

    Well, if Clark was closer to the ball maybe the QB wouldn’t have thrown it so perfectly, or maybe he wouldn’t have even thrown it. You never know. I realize Shark is at fault for letting his man get by to the outside, and that’s the point of the article, but I don’t see how Clark would be in a trailing position if he lined up over the closest inside receiver. Maybe that 3rd WR would get by Wille to the inside as well, and if Clark took an outside first step he would be trailing. As it is, if any of those WRs run an out breaking route he’s in a trailing position as well.

  • Jonas

    Great example for the ‘mistake speed’!

  • dgh57

    Just another example of a veteran putting the move on a rookie and why their first year they see limited playing time. Bennett saw he had a rookie across from him on his inside shoulder and a single high Safety and he took full advantage of the situation.

  • Jonas

    No, Clarks 2nd read is the dig or crosser, like Alex said, and therefore he has to respect the inside slot receiver (3rd?) who runs a 10 out – Clark reacts immediately after this receiver cuts to the out- and not the inside!

  • Benjamin Simpson

    Thomas was beat from the snap. His first step was a false step to his assignment. With an inside press tech. The intention is to bump and run. His first step took away the ability to jam the receiver on the line. When it should have made easier for him to jam his receiver. He is suppose to take away the inside release, bump, and run in trail position in his the receiver hip pocket using the sideline as leverage because, Clark is to be the failsafe of the play call. Clearly failed to do that. Clark is to be the deepest defender. No one is to get deeper then him. He also failed to do that as well. He really should have been line up on the hash of the strength of the formation. A safety has to keep everything in front of him. Maybe we can get Mel Blount to come in show these young Db’s how’s it is to be done. Mel looks like he still has a couple of plays in him. IMHO, Mel Blount was the best Cb to ever play the game..

  • Alex Kozora

    How do you expect Clark to cover a corner route to the back pylon? It’s single high – he can’t stop everything. Near, far hash, it doesn’t matter. He’s not making a play on the ball.

    Single high has zero chance of stopping that route. Not Clark’s fault at all.

  • Steelers12328882

    Yeah I see Clark’s reaction to him, but that 3rd WR winds up being double covered by Troy and Willie. So, with Clark having responsibility to him as well there’s 3 defenders concentrating on 1 guy. Maybe it’s just a bad defensive call.

  • Steelers12328882

    Exactly what I’m saying. It’s 3 WRs vs 1 TE. Clark could have easily just slid over 5 yards to the other hash and maybe that would have altered Cutler’s decision, or maybe not. Fact is Shark was beat easily and there was no one to back him up. Shark, Clark and the formation are all to blame.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Technical flaw by Shark can be easily cleaned up. Lesson learned for the Rookie

  • Benjamin Simpson

    Do not misunderstand me. Thomas got beat as a result of poor play in his tech. Just the same, the free safety’s responsibility is to not let anyone get behind him. Clark is the FS. He also failed on the play. I don’t look to find blame, only solutions. The front office has found a solution I believe. His name is Mike Mitchell..

  • Benjamin Simpson

    I agree.. He will get coached up and I expect him to perform better in the situation next time. He has talent.

  • Benjamin Simpson

    Yes, Troy is playing the Robber underneath and Clark has the deep zone. If he was aligned to the hash of the strength he is in position to play over the top as he should. The TE on the backside doesn’t even release. He simply stands up and doesn’t does touch anyone. It was a six man protection. Thomas probably doesn’t whiff on his jam if he steps forward to cut off the inside release. Instead his first step was to give ground to Bennett on his shimmy shake and gets his hips out of position and gets burnt. I call that Shaked and Baked.. Clark just reacts to slow and allows Bennett to get deep on him as well..

  • Jonas

    Might be yes, still, if this receiver runs a post both Troy and even Gay, after turning his hips, would be underneath and Clark the only help over the top. Troys freelancing underneath could explain the short 3-on-1 situation!

    Shark cannot get beaten to the outside on cover 1, too. As it was a corner route, due to his speed and his vertical alone, he really was able to fought back and made the window pretty tight though – with more time in the playbook and with coaches like LeBeau, Tomlin and Lake (all former DBs, aren’t they?) showing him proper technique, he really could get stout in coverage. I like him in run situations already!

  • falconsaftey43

    Why aren’t you guys getting this. That’s NOT Clark’s job in this defense. He defends the middle, not the deep. The not let anyone deeper thing works for single high in the middle of the field where he can make a TD saving tackle. In the redzone he has to protect against the digs and seam routes, anything inside and deep. It’s the CB’s job to protect outside cuts. If Clark shades outside they’re just going to change the play to inside breaking routes, and seams and have guys open there. You’re using hindsight of what happened on the play to try and change what Clark’s responsibility should have been, you can’t do that.

  • Benjamin Simpson

    Clark does in fact have the Deep Middle. My comments illustrate that Thomas got shaked and baked. An inside out tech, does not generally afford you safety help over the top. If anyone needs to blame someone. Then clearly Thomas is at fault. That is not lost on me. Believe me when I say, I GET IT.. Your simply focusing on defending Clark. Who is Washington’s problem.

  • Steelers12328882

    LOL no we get it. It’s Shark’s fault and Clark played exactly as he should for that defensive alignment. All I’m saying is if he lined up 5 yards closer to the WRs he might have made a difference on the play, and he also might not have been out of position if one of those WRs cuts right, like is being suggested. Completely off topic from the article’s main point, but we have 4 weeks of boredom, so totally appreciate the feedback. Cheers!

  • Douglas Andrews

    With his speed he almost makes a play on the ball. Had it not been for an excellent throw by Cutler Shark was in position to defend the football. Hopefully these are things that Troy is helping him with.

  • Benjamin Simpson

    True. I credit Dan Marino for saying ” You can’t defend a perfect throw.” It was a well thrown ball. If the DL had a second or two more Brett’s stunt could have drove the LT into Cutler’s body. Credit the Bears.. It was good execution. Thomas does have good speed and I look forward to developing nicely for us..