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Steelers Vs. Eagles Game Rewind – First Half


By Alex Kozora

Game notes from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night.

First Half

- I usually start with the special teams’ groupings here but check out my article yesterday on who ran well for the full, and more detailed, breakdown.

- Cam Thomas against started at LDE in the Steelers’ base 3-4 but Stephon Tuitt saw first team reps at left end in nickel.

- After the Eagles’ first toss that netted them 15, they try to run it again to the left. Lawrence Timmons gets the gold star on the box score with the TFL. No question it was a good close. But have to give credit to Jarvis Jones for holding well at the POA against the tight end, walking him back a little bit.

The result was to force the pulling guard to take a wider angle. Can’t get to Timmons in time and the linebacker is free to drop Lesean McCoy.

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- Looks like there was some miscommunication between Troy Polamalu and Timmons here. Both players are showing flat responsibility.

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- Great breakup by Ike Taylor on the Eagles’ 3rd and 15 on their first possession of the game. TV angle makes it impossible to watch it all but you can see Taylor open up his hips before he ducks out of screen.

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He’s able to flip, close on the dig, and play the pocket of the receiver. Drive through his hands on the catch and pop the ball out. Well done.

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- Just to illustrate it in game action, basic zone blocking principles here. Frontside offensive lineman combo block; chip the DL and then release to the second level when help arrives.

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Marcus Gilbert falls off his block too quickly but Maurkice Pouncey does a wonderful job of finishing his block, driving Mychal Kendricks out of the play.

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- Le’Veon Bell’s nice seven yard run. DeMeco Ryans with a false step, moving backwards off the ball. Late to his run fill and there’s an enormous lane for Bell to cut to.

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Nice seal by Pouncey too although he was aided by Beau Allen swimming to the inside.

- Justin Brown got first crack with the starters, working in the slot out of 11 personnel.

- Kelvin Beachum had a difficult game. Trouble anchoring and was knocked off his base throughout the game. Here’s an example of the latter, allowing pressure directly in Ben Roethlisberger’s face.

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- Newcomers CB Dayonne Nunley and OT Graham Pocic were in unifiorm but like so many others, did not play. Nunley is wearing #37, Pocici #64. Neither may make it past the first cuts.

- Scrape/exchange between Jarvis Jones and Cam Heyward screws with the Eagles’ attempted read option play. Creates confusion and there is a poor exchange between Nick Foles and McCoy.

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The read option, which essentially runs on veer principles, asks the EMOL to be unblocked and to seal the next hat over. But on the scrape, the line leaves the OLB alone (plan isn’t to block him) and now the next man over – in this case the DE – is also free because he’s looping instead of two-gapping. Why it’s an effective defense.

- Although it is difficult to contain a back like Lesean McCoy, Jason Worilds did lose his backside contain principles, taking too flat of an angle. Let McCoy cut back and pick up 13.

- 3rd and 5 for the home team. Left tackle Jason Peters cuts Jarvis Jones, taking away the OLB’s ability to watch the eyes of the QB and potentially bat the pass down. Allows Nick Foles to have an unobstructed lane to hit the slant and move the sticks.

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- Pass complete down the seam to Brent Celek for a gain of 18. Fake the draw to get the linebackers to take a step up, creating a larger window for the throw. Tough to defend but it’s imperative to watch the hat of the offensive lineman against a team like the Eagles. Here, they show high hat (helmet up) indicating it’s a pass. But again, very tough to stop because a linebackers first goal is to always stop the run. Never drop on your first step unless the situation is obvious.

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- Story of the whole game. Philadelphia winning at the point of attack. Check out the push the OL gets against the Steelers’ DL. The line of scrimmage is the 31.

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Play only goes for a marginal gain but still, that is ugly.

- Jason Worilds has a nasty inside spin. Seems to use it just as the tackle forgets that he has it. Whips Allen Barbre, who granted, is only going to start because of Lane Johnson’s suspension, in the middle of the first.

Other important aspect to note of this play.

The tight end top of the screen, think it’s Celek, is left wide open. Had the progression called for Foles to look that way, it’s the easiest six the Eagles will have all year. Appears Ryan Shazier blew his coverage. He’s the only defender in the vicinity.

- Every defender bit on the fake swing, screen to McCoy for six. Convoy of blockers ahead to take care of the Steelers’ rushing over. Play was over before the throw.

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- The wedge players have to hold hands as they link up before running downfield. How cute.

- No time here to square up in blitz pickup so a real nice job by Le’Veon Bell to cut the linebacker and keep Roethlisberger at least upright.

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But it does force the throw and a plausible reason for why his pass was behind Markus Wheaton.

- Steelers running one play off of another here. Pull Heath Miller across the formation on a handoff to LeGarrette Blount for five. Show the same look and pull Miller again the next play but boot off of it and hit Miller in the flat for a seven yard gain and the first down. This is what good offensive coordinator’s do (and why Chip Kelly has one of the most successful offenses). Defenses thrive on tells and when you show the same exact look, you give nothing away.

Although it will never happen, it’s why some have floated out the idea of showing Peyton Manning the same look on defense every single snap. It takes away his biggest asset – intelligence.

More battles in the NFL have been one before the snap of the ball than after it.

- On the same play as the Miller reception, the Steelers are fortunate Matt Spaeth didn’t suffer a serious injury. Got the back of his leg rolled up on, a sight all too common in Pittsburgh.

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- Blount had an up and down day in pass protection. Here’s one of the downs. Fails to stay square against the blitz off the edge and the defender wins easily to the inside.

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- I mentioned the Eagles love affair for “spot routes” (7-curl-flat) before the game but give credit to NFL Writer Matt Bowen for smartly pointing out the Eagles ability to run it from different looks, another vital key to a good offense. They’ll send the running back out of the backfield to run the flat. Avoids having to use Trips Bunch and potentially give the concept away. Again, takes away tells.

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- Really effective combo block against Cameron Heyward, who never gets blown off the ball this bad. Opens up a huge lane for the runner. Ryan Shazier is also hooked but that is less of the issue on this play.

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- Let’s go back to Shazier. Here’s Foles with some eye manipulation against the rookie. First look is to his right to get Shazier moving. Then Foles comes back to his second read – probably his first true read – and hits Celek down the seam. Mike Mitchell can’t rally in time and it’s another completion.

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- Steelers showed some stack looks with Jarvis Jones playing the 30 tech (inside linebacker).

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- Riley Cooper’s near TD that ended in a drop. Lawrence Timmons needs to settle down and sit in his zone than turning and running. Pass the receiver off to the next underneath defender, Troy Polamalu.

Instead, he starts to turn and run and there’s a wide window for Foles to target Cooper.

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- Darren Sproles’ TD. Cam Thomas is turned and run out and there’s no defender in the next gap over. With Sproles’ second effort, it turns into six. Can’t let a back of his size have that second effort.

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- Dri Archer screen. Another two-way screen. Rookie back tries to outrun Kendricks laterally but this isn’t the MAC. Kendricks makes the tackle for a measly two yard gain. Straight-line, Archer is faster than virtually everyone, but find a defender with good wheels and an angle? They’re going to take you down. Lesson learned.

- 3rd and 4 for the Steelers. Roethlisberger finds Antonio Brown on his second read. Way to put the ball on the money. Had some mustard on it. Good, quick decision. One, two, ball out, move those sticks.

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- Ben’s interception. Appears to be miscommunication between Archer and Ben. Ben wants the back to peel the route off and go long while Archer continues East/West. Roethlisberger definitely not trying to throw the ball away there, it would have been in the stands if that was the plan, so miscommunication seems almost certain. Archer’s fault, too. Ben had the right decision.

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- David DeCastro doing a nice job out in space on this screen.

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- Watch Marcus Gilbert. Gets pancaked by Fletcher Cox on a T/E stunt. Bleh.

- 2nd and 1 screen by the Eagles. Ike Taylor has a clear path. Needs to be more aggressive instead of letting the receiver come to him, especially given the down/distance.

- Steelers ran consecutive Power O’s with DeCastro pulling right to left mid-way through the second quarter. Combined, they gained nine yards. Second run did involve Blount cutting back, it should be noted.

- Saw some more Power Schemes. Counter OF with Heath Miller serving as the lead blocker.

- Not sure who Jarvis Jones is trying to point to on this route. No help to be given. Single-high so there’s no safety to pass the vertical route off to. Needs to get his head around. Slowed him down and Sproles nearly hauls in the touchdown. Even at 31, Sproles still has that speed.

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- Following play. For housekeeping purposes, see if this is used at all in the regular season. Jones and Worilds at LOLB, Timmons at ROLB.

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- Brandon Graham walks Kelvin Beachum into the pocket on this successful bull rush.

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  • Steelers12328882

    How can 2 vets like Polamalu and Timmons make the mistake of both covering the flat on that one play? Ugghh, I’d just be guessing if I blamed it on Timmons, but I thought him and Shazier were making mistakes all game. I don’t understand why the Steelers defense is playing this 2-4-5 formation so much. I thought drafting Shazier and having a speedy LB like Timmons play the Buck would allow the defense to play their 3-4 base defense against just about any look. I don’t get it. I don’t like it, and I’m sick of watching 2 DLineman get blown off the LOS.

  • Alex Kozora

    The goal for the team was to be able to play true nickel instead of dime or forcing Polamalu into a hybrid linebacker role.

    With all the 11 personnel teams play, you’re forced to go nickel. And it does take a hit to your run defense. It is a big concern, yes, but one the Steelers and the rest of the league are dealing with.

  • Craig M

    “more battles won before the snap” thanks for pointing out the importance of influencing plays off of plays. I don’t think we will come together until the 3rd game of the season because of our lack of maturity factor but w/ Keisel’s leadership, heart, knowledge and professionalism it should be a quick learning curve. I think we should bring back Harrison for the same reasons. It appeared that Grad. was getting rid of the ball quicker than Ben, and I wish Ben would concentrate on that and a shorter drop-back, that extra second gives the DEs the little bit they need to change the whole aspect of a play. After this last pre-season game I now revise my view from not going 16-0 to not going 15-1, but there is always the dream.

  • Steelers12328882

    I get that I was just hoping I’d see an improved 3-4 this year instead of whatever this Nickel crap is. McLendon played like 16 snaps and I believe a few of those were in the 2-4-5, so probably a dozen plays in the 3-4 from the 1st team defense compared to like what, 50-60 in the Nickel? Ughh!!

  • Madi

    Check out Gilbert pancaking #72 at 6:02 in the 1st. Not something we’ve seen before, but a sign of things to come. :-)

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