The Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary has been much maligned this year. From shoddy tackling, big plays allowed, and not enough created, there hasn’t been remarkable improvement for most of the year. But thanks to some of the pressure that’s been created the past two weeks, this group has taken shape. And they’re earning some of those big plays themselves, too.
Mike Mitchell did it with his athleticism. William Gay did it with his football IQ. Let’s take a look at both.
We’ll start with Mitchell. The Steelers are in Cover 1, a coverage that’s relatively unusual for them. Five man pressure with Ryan Shazier on a green dog or “hug blitz,” where he’ll rush if the back stays in to protect or take him if he leaks out.
The left cornerback, Ross Cockrell, and slot corner William Gay have outside leverage. This helps funnel the routes to the middle of field (MOF) safety Mitchell, squeezing any potential window. To the top, right cornerback Artie Burns plays inside leverage, forcing an outside throw to the field side with the sideline helping to squeeze. They play everything well.
Scott Tolzien attempts to look off Mitchell, pump faking to the quarterback’s left and then throwing down the right side. But Mitchell stays at home and flips his hips, takes a good angle, and is on route to meeting the receiver at splashdown (where the receiver will catch the football).
Tolzien is trying to throw to the receiver’s inside shoulder because Cockrell is playing outside leverage but that’s part of the Steelers’ coverage. Just as it’s drawn up, the leverage helps funnel the route and the throw to Mitchell, who picks the pass off and ends the Colts’ drive.
And your aerial view of this beaut.
Fast forward to the next drive. Pittsburgh is in their more conventional Cover 3, a three deep, four under look. They dress it up a little bit, sending ILB Vince Williams and dropping LOLB Anthony Chickillo, but it still functions the same.
Gay releases with #2, the Y tight end, before dropping him off to the safety. There is no pattern reading here. Still acting as the curl/flat defender and knowing there is nothing else in his zone, he gets his eyes to the QB, reads his eyes and shoulders, and gets depth.
I didn’t check it but I am guessing Gay is going back to his film study and knows if #2 is running up the seam, there is a chance #1 is running some in-breaking route (dig, curl, post).
Hilton, the receiver to the bottom, ends up bending his route inside of the cornerback because like on the Mitchell interception, the corners are funneling the ball to the MOF.
Gay keeps getting depth as Tolzien winds up to make the throw and ends up being right in the path of the football. Another interception and the game is over.
Your full look at it.
Without question, the Steelers are going to need a lot more of this going forward.