By Alex Kozora
Game breakdown and analysis from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-16 loss against the New York Giants. Gobs of info to get to so let’s not waste any more time.
- First-team kickoff coverage from left to right: Isaiah Green, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, Shaun Suisham, Howard Jones, Will Johnson, Antwon Blake, Brice McCain, and William Gay.
That makes two differences from what the Steelers showed in Thursday’s practice. Howard Jones replacing Sean Spence at R5 and William Gay replacing Justin Brown at R1.
Going to list the special teams’ grouping from the entire game below. Easier to compare than it being broken up chronologically throughout the article.
- Kick coverage unit after Suisham’s field goal cut the Giants lead to 13-9. From left to right. Devin Smith, Jordan Dangerfield, Shaquille Richardson, Chris Carter, Arthur Moats, Shaun Suisham, Eric Waters, Vic So’oto, Jordan Hall, Ross Ventrone, and Lanear Sampson.
- Punt return unit: Double-vice jammers on each side. Shaq Richardson and Antwon Blake on one side, Shamarko Thomas and Brice McCain on the other. Others on this unit: Garvin, Johnson, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Carter, Williams, Golden, and Dri Archer the return man.
- Punt return unit late in the third quarter (Bryant’s muff). Ross Ventrone/Devin Smith are jammers to one side with Isaiah Green and Justin Brown opposite. Arthur Moats, Vic So’oto, Howard Jones, Jordan Dangerfield, Sean Spence, and Tauren Poole make up the remaining parts of the group.
- First-team field goal unit from left to right. Stephon Tuitt-Cameron Heyward-Kelvin Beachum-David DeCastro-Greg Warren-Ramon Foster-Marcus Gilbert-Mike Adams-Matt Spaeth. Brad Wing is the holder.
- The backup FG unit: David Paulson, Eric Waters, Ethan Hemer, Chris Elkins, Greg Warren, Cody Wallace, Wesley Johnson, Matt Spaeth, and Vic So’oto.
- Field goal blocking unit: Gay, Spence, Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds, Tuitt, Cam Thomas, Heyward, Jarvis Jones, Will Allen, Ike Taylor, Mike Mitchell
- First-team punt coverage: Robert Golden is the upback with Antown Blake and Shamarko Thomas serving as the gunners. Garvin, Carter, Jordan Dangerfield, Will Johnson, Matt Spaeth, and Sean Spence are also on this unit.
- 2nd team punt coverage: Poole the upback, as he was running in camp. Brice McCain and Shaq Richardson the gunners. Paulson, Williams, So’oto, Howard Jones, Dangerfield, and Moats make up the rest of the group.
- Kick return unit. The front five consisted of: Shamarko Thomas, Carter, Williams, Spence, and Blake. The next two were Howard Jones and Matt Spaeth. The wedge was made up by Cody Wallace and Will Johnson. Tauren Poole, not LeGarrette Blount as one report made mention of – served as the upback for the entire game. Dri Archer was the return man.
I never paid attention to the front five on Thursday but the wedge is consistent with what I saw in practice. Wallace and Johnson were always the first players to receive reps there. The one difference is I saw Spaeth and Paulson teamed up in practice. To see Jones there is a mild surprise but great news for a rookie trying to find a way onto this team.
- Second-team kick return. Jordan Hall starts as the kick returner. Poole remains as the upback with Cody Wallace and Brian Arnfelt as the wedge. Paulson and Ethan Hemer are the next two men up. The front five has: Jordan Dangerfield, Arthur Moats, Dan Molls, Vic So’to, and Robert Golden.
- The team opened up in nickel. William Gay manned the slot while Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward started at LE and RE, respectively.
- The first play was a zone blitz. Drop Jarvis Jones into coverage while slanting Heyward over a gap, watching the QB to attempt to bat down anything thrown hot. Blitz Lawrence Timmons and crash LOLB Jason Worilds to occupy the right guard and tackle, allowing Gay to blitz freely off the edge.
- Eli Manning used a hard count to get Stephon Tuitt to jump offsides. The rookie will learn.
- The Giants’ first third down of the game, 3rd and 2. Manning rolls out to the right, looking for Jerrel Jernigan in the flat. Gay had good coverage and Manning had no choice but to chuck the ball away.
- Wonder what the official discussed with Archer after his fair catch. Seemed pretty adamant about wanting to talk to him. Could have been to give a clearer indication of a fair catch but that’s just speculation on my part.
- The offense started the game in 13 (1 RB, 3 TE) personnel. Antonio Brown was the lone receiver. Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, and Will Johnson were used as in-line blockers.
The first run of the game looks like a power scheme. Jonathan Hankins is able to cross Ramon Foster’s face to get penetration in the backfield. Le’Veon Bell does a nice job of breaking the tackle and with good blocking from David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert, picks up nine.
- 22 personnel the next play. Classic Power O with David DeCastro pulling right to left, a welcomed site. Something this team has sprinkled in during camp and this further shows a commitment to using DeCastro’s athleticism while not being an exclusive zone blocking team.
It didn’t look like the team had a zone run until the fifth handoff of the game. And by my count, there were six Power O’s called on Saturday. DeCastro was called on three times. Bryant Browning also pulled once from right to left.
Other note worth mentioning on this play. Believe I said it before but it bears repeating. No tight end sets their hips better in the run game than Heath Miller. On this run, he comes off the ball a little off-balanced and not in the best position to seal the linebacker.
But he’s somehow able to turn, set his hips and seal, creating the path for Bell to chug through.
Running out of two tight end sets should yield some awfully positive results in 2014.
- Let’s give a quick breakdown of Dri Archer’s 46 yard catch and run. Two way screen from both sides. What this does to the linebackers is gets them to break towards the top of the screen, towards Markus Wheaton. They now have to turn and run at an angle to Archer instead of dropping back and driving downhill towards him.
It allows Archer to cut it back. None of those linebackers have the change of direction to follow. Good design to play to Archer’s assets.
Also have to give some credit to DeCastro for getting downfield and cutting one of the linebackers.
Markus Wheaton celebrates a bit too prematurely, thinking Archer is going to house it.
- The Steelers’ 3rd and 3 before Suisham’s field goal. Attempted slant/flat, throwing the fade to Lance Moore. Falls incomplete. That’s ok though. Like the concept. Being big isn’t the only way to score in the red zone. Route combinations, creating rubs, taking advantage of poorly aligned defenders can work just as effectively.
- Dave Bryan already broke it down well so a cliff notes version of what happened on the Rashad Jennings’ 73 yard TD run. The Giants run between the tackles to take advantage of the fact Sean Spence is lined up at LOLB. Lawrence Timmons is the only linebacker between the hashes.
The scheme is classic Power 0. Left tackle seals the right end and executes it well. Gets a good push versus Heyward. Right guard Brandon Mosely pulls and sticks – and probably holds – Timmons. Jennings gets through the first and second levels clean.
The Steelers were rotating from a two deep shell to single high, putting Mike Mitchell in a disadvantageous position and forcing Will Allen to break out of his pedal and drive downhill. Little bit tougher task for Allen but it’s still a flat angle and the reason why, as Mike Tomlin alluded to, an 8-10 yard gain turns into a 73 yard splash play.
The Steelers are also in nickel versus 11 personnel. Obviously makes stopping the run harder.
Dave also pointed out there might have been an audible from Manning from a pass to a run. That makes sense when you look at Ruben Randle, #82, at the bottom of the screen. Off the snap, he turns to his left as if he was expecting a pass. That signals either an audible of packaged play where Manning is given a run/pass option.
- The end around to Markus Wheaton was the exact same play the Steelers ran on the first play of 11 on 11 during Thursday’s practice
- Not a surprise but Chris Hubbard replaced Ramon Foster at left guard after he got poked in the eye.
- The play after Foster’s injury, Antonio Brown and Justin Brown were the two wide receivers. On the same play, Bruce Gradkowski was lit up by Jason Pierre-Paul. He swam over Kelvin Beachum, winning to the inside, and putting the left tackle on the ground.
- On 3rd and 8, the team goes back to 11 personnel and removes Justin Brown from the field. Wheaton on the outside and Lance Moore in the slot. Although the team passed on the play Brown was in, it could be a clue as to what Richard Mann meant when he said the team might have to “jerry-rig” its wide receivers in the run game. Bringing in a big body like Brown would be an upgrade.
- Brad Wing’s hangtimes from the entire game. Distances will be in parentheses. Don’t have a time on the shank because the camera could not find the ball: 4.34 (23), 4.75 (27), 4.71 (52), 4.91 (54), 5.15 (42).
Keep in mind the first two punts came from the Giants’ 35 and the Steelers’ 49. Would have liked to see better distance on the second punt that was downed at the Giants’ 24. Hangtimes were solid. Just can’t have those “junior varsity” punts. They’re back breakers.
- For whatever reason, the Preseason Live broadcast switches from the Giants’ feed to the Steelers mid-way through the first quarter. I kinda wish it hadn’t.
- Jarvis Jones’ sack. Saw quick and violent hands. Knocks away Charles Brown’s hands as he works to get his arms extended into the outside linebacker. Beats him inside, chases down Manning, and comes away with the sack.
- The Steelers didn’t have their first snap in their base defense until there was 4:47 left in the first quarter. Cam Thomas started at nose tackle. But to be fair, the Giants did run a lot of 11 personnel.
- Second-team offensive line: Mike Adams, Chris Hubbard, Cody Wallace, Bryant Browning, and Guy Whimper.
- In two receiver sets, Wheaton and Justin Brown served as the wide receivers. In 11 personnel, Brown often kicked to the slot while Derek Moye played on the outside.
- If you were watching the KDKA broadcast, there was a mysterious hold that negated a Bruce Gradkowski third down run. It was on Bryant Browning, who lunged, got beat, and held the tackle.
- The ensuing play following the penalty. Ugly. Whimper’s feet go dead and Mike Adams doubles-over against JPP. Tons of pressure.
- Cam Thomas showed really positive arm extension when taking on base blocks. Gets them extended on this play, sheds the block, and makes his first tackle in a Steelers’ uniform.
- Sean Spence with a play similar to what he’s shown all camp. Reads the FB, follows the flow of the ball, explodes through the gap, fills, and makes the tackle. Textbook.
- Will Allen is slipping in this still shot, but it’s another poor angle as Andre Williams rips off a big gain. Tough day for the veteran.
- Jarvis Jones lined up as the “30 tech” – the linebacker over the three tech – on consecutive plays.
- Mike Mitchell’s helmet comes flying off as he pops Williams along the sideline, bouncing off Jarvis Jones’ head before hitting the ground. Talk about dodging artillery.
- On one play, Dri Archer is split outside the numbers with Wheaton positioned in the slot. It was rare for Archer to be split out this wide in camp but the team did show it. Same with Wheaton being lined up in the slot.
- Tauren Poole slips in attempted blitz pickup, resulting in an early 2nd quarter sack of Bruce Gradkowski.
- Matt Spaeth pulls and correctly attacks the outside shoulder of the linebacker in an attempt to seal him. But he doesn’t have the strength to stick and the linebacker slips inside to drop Jordan Hall at the line.
- Another new wrinkle with Dri Archer in the mix. Screen play but instead of throwing it behind your blockers, Archer runs an angle route away from them. I guess the idea is to, similar to what took place on his 46 yard gain, get the defense flowing downhill towards the catch only to have Archer move laterally, get behind his blockers, and outrun everyone.
Basically, goading the defense to run downhill at an angle only for the runner to cutback. Not many are going to have the change of direction to catch Archer.
- Second-team defense: Ethan Hemer/Hebron Fangupo/Josh Mauro along the DL. Vince Williams and Sean Spence – who would soon be replaced by Terence Garvin – at ILB. Arthur Moats and Chris Carter at OLB. Antown Blake and William Gay at CB. Shamarko Thomas paired with Robert Golden at safety.
- Gay would soon give way to Isaiah Green at RCB. Brice McCain played slot in nickel packages.
- Empty set for the Steelers, meaning there’s no BoB (back on backer) protection. Cody Wallace missed a MIKE blitz and he shoots in free up the middle.
- Of course, the next play, when there is a running back to defend against the same blitz, Poole whiffs on the pickup.
- Make that back-to-back poor plays from Poole. This time, it’s a run. Goes for seven but that’s opened up by the concept; successful Power O. Poole needs to cut this run upfield to the inside of Wheaton’s stalk block. Not to the outside and right into the defender. This isn’t Wheaton’s fault one bit. He’s set to the inside, ready to seal the defender. Poole bounces it when he shouldn’t.
Todd Haley even makes quick motion to the back to cut it upfield.
- Will Johnson lined up all over the place in the first half. In the backfield, on the line, off the line in a two point stance, in the slot. Using him in a variety of places. That makes their personnel more flexible. Especially in no-huddle. You’ll probably see it for the first time at home next week.
- It did look like Gradkowski’s incompletion to Justin Brown was Brown’s fault. Cut the route off too flat. Should have been a corner instead of a deep out.
- Markus Wheaton’s 28 yard catch. Really like the nuanced route-running here. Dips the inside shoulder as he breaks on the corner, making himself a harder target to shove for the cornerback. Then gets his head around, locates the ball, and makes the catch.
- With 5:24 left in the second, the Steelers had recorded nine first downs. In the final 35:26, they would record just five.
- Cam Thomas stayed in with the second team to get as many reps at defensive end as possible since he had to play the nose with the first teamers. Needs all the reps he can get.
- Minor, detail-oriented play. FB dive to the Giants’ John Connor on 3rd and 1. The whistle does rule him down but it wasn’t clear at first if he had tripped over a defender or his own line. Antwon Blake and Shamarko Thomas rush over to touch the runner down just in case. Smart, instinctive play.
- Giants run Power O, pulling the right guard. Vince Williams shoots through the vacated gap and gets backfield penetration.
- Although he does stunt, Josh Mauro begins this play as the RE. Swing pass away but like the effort to try and run it down, even if Thomas is the one who makes the tackle. Run to the ball. That’s what Mauro did.
- Sure, Chris Carter can make a backup left tackle look bad with his burst off the edge. Can’t do it versus starting-caliber players. Just another preseason where Carter will tease us.