Film Room: Steelers Defense Showing More Physicality In Coverage

And no, it doesn’t always have to come from the secondary. Much has been made of the secondary evolving this season. Bigger corners. More man coverage. While it’s hard to learn a lot about coverages from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game Friday, partly because it’s the preseason, partly because we don’t have All-22 tape.

One area we could plainly see was the linebackers. And the Steelers are showing more physicality, even in zone coverage, to bump receivers off their route to disrupt depth and timing. Two examples.

Here’s my favorite of the two. Giants driving, inside the ten. The slot receiver runs a crossing route with the intention of getting depth to inside the goal line. Vince Williams, dropping into his zone, reroutes the receiver, bumping him in front of the goal line and forcing the receiver to get his balance and work to get to his original depth.

It’s tough to tell but it looks like QB Josh Johnson wants to hit the crosser once he clears the linebacker and into the next window. But with him getting bumped off, the timing is screwed up, and Johnson looks elsewhere. Play ends in an Arthur Moats’ sack.

Another example from the third quarter. 3rd and 4. Steven Johnson, #51, does similar. Begins to carry #3 downfield, passes him off when he gets vertical, and attacks the crosser coming from #2 (an “in” call, common part of pattern matching). That’s what Johnson does, forcing the receiver short of the sticks and then doing a nice job of pressing him laterally.

It’s just an important part to the coverage as the cornerbacks pressing at the line of scrimmage. Too often, players running crossers and down the seam were too free and left alone. There was no disruption by the Steelers to bump those guys off their routes, force them to adjust and reroute.

And while we’re not talking about ideas that are brand new or the Steelers have ever done before, clearly, it’s something worth watching throughout the year. What I saw against the Giants was encouraging.

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.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Mike Tomlin should have a clear idea of what kind of contact is permissible since he is on the competition committee. Just hope Goodell’s striped flying monkeys don’t interpret the rules differently durijng the regular season.

  • Hand of God

    Singing praises of the defense, yet there was a WIDE open receiver inside the end zone in the right quarter. Why, you might ask? Because Ross Cockrell blows and goes after someone else’s man in MAN COVERAGE!

  • Alex Kozora

    I think you’re way too quick to judge if that’s Cockrell’s fault. That’s a smash route and its common for the CB to sink as #1 breaks inside.

  • will

    Go Vince Williams!

  • blackandgoldBullion

    You hit the nail on the head.

    I said last year that other teams are getting away with this stuff. Tomlin should realize it and the Steelers should do the same. It’s not the scheme, it’s the fact they rarely bump or slow up anyone. Of course, it’s impossible to do playing 10 yards off. But when they have the chance they need to bump, play more physical, yes, even trap a jersey every now and then it that’s what the refs allow.

    I know Tomlin hates penalties, but you have to play this way or you cannot have a tough D. It’s about time.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    Regardless to whose fault it was, the Giants should have had six. It looks like blown overages we’ve seen the last couple of years.

  • Rob H

    Encouraging is the right word. It was a glaring problem last year, and so far in training camp and the first game, they have obviously been working to correct it.

  • DoctorNoah

    Yes, but Bill Belichick just drew up a play to exploit that for a touchdown in 20 weeks.

  • SfSteeler

    alls fair in love and war, within 5 yards…

  • WreckIess

    No he didn’t. Because Bill Belichick isn’t half as concerned about the Steelers (or any team that’s not the next one on their schedule) as you guys are about the Patriots. Seriously. This obsession is closing in on 7 months now. Stop being them up where they aren’t involved.

  • Kevin Artis


  • LucasY59

    Vince bumps the reciever, but it looks like he shouldve passed him off to Red, a different reciever drops into the area of the zone that looks to be VWs and is WIDE open, starts jumping around like crazy, but luckily the QB doesnt find him
    …might be a Cockrells fault that he is open as well?

  • LucasY59

    so who should be covering the guy that was wide open?

  • Steve Johnson

    Blown Coverages in the Secondary? Noo! (Sarcasm) Yes, there seems to always be communication issues in the Secondary. We’ve seen too much of this under Carnell Lake’s Leadership N Guidance during his tenure.

  • Steve Johnson

    Exactly, they have that five yard window to bump N run. However, I guess it’s difficult to do when you constantly play ten yards off the line of scrimmage.

  • francesco

    Yes Cockrell is the culprit. Just do your job and stop worrying about somebody else. Just do your job for crying out loud!

  • francesco

    On the second video clip…Giants RB was wide open.

  • francesco

    I hear you!!!
    Not convinced this defence will stop the NE offence. Only hope is if we get TD’s on almost every drive.

  • falconsaftey43

    Likely Williams, didn’t pass off the crosser quick enough.

  • falconsaftey43

    Could easily be Williams fault. It is a smash concept to trips, curl corner drag from outside in. Typically in zone outside CB will sink under the corner route, Williams would then pass off the crosser to matakevich and pick up the curl (guy who is open). Safety (gay in this case) plays over top the corner. Played that way because if the inside most WR runs a flat instead of a drag, it would be really hard for the ILB to cover that. This way, the CB is able to take the flat.

    Basic rules of zone coverage pass off’s, it is normally set up to be in a position to cover the guy running towards you, not away from you. (Outside defender defends inside players running out, not outside players running in).

  • Nolrog

    Going to be interesting when we play NE to see if they play an aggressive coverage or if they play off the line and let Brady dink and dunk his brains out.

  • SilverSteel

    Cockrell does go back to his man after going towards the other WR which made me think he just got confused on who to cover.

  • pittfan

    yup! someone fudged up

  • pittfan

    I’m obsessed! i wanna beat their arses! lol

  • LucasY59

    thats what I thought the open guy went to the spot that VW left

  • Michael Conrad

    I don’t know but it looks like a player was open on both examples of tighter coverage..I think it looks like the D Tom Brady ate up, I call it the Chinese fire drill D . I see receivers uncovering as they run through the coverage. Its up to the QB to find the open receiver. A good one will.

  • Steeler Nation!

    Yes. Corner may zone point and break up on the shallow route or deep to the corner route. LB should press to the flat route.

  • ND_Steel

    Especially come playoff time! Aggressive behavior gets rewarded, not penalized. NE has been getting away with it for years! Smart!

  • Uncle Rico.

    The second gif is no big deal to me. Fort drifts with the QBs, shoulder turn, movement. Gives the illusion that the RB is open. But if the QB was looking his way, that window closes.

    The other is a bit troublesome. Steelers played a split field coverage most of the night. Particularly when facing 3×1. Sorta new for them. Or at least since Ike’s prime. Lot of mention of the Steelers using man back then. But it was still mostly zone. In similar situations as above, the Steelers would man up Ike on the single receiver side with a safety over the top, and play quarters on the multi receiver side of the formation. QQH, with man to the H, basicially.

    This is something they obviously want to get a long look at this preseason, hopefully with Burns to the single side. Then they can play some zone/match variant to the multi side.

    That looks like what they were doing on the first gif. Split field coverage, man left, zone right. But it’s often hard to tell exactly what the zone coverage is when the field is condensed and when there is an glaring screw up in coverage. This is a double smash 7 route combo. Showing 34 cover 3, but roll to split field. VW takes the first inbreaking route. Golden takes the first inside vertical (#3), and Cockrell doesn’t know what to do, chase #1 or play deep quarter. Hard to say. But on the man side they have 4 defenders. Sensabaugh manned on the WR, Watt picks up the RB on the flat route, safety over the top, and Matakevich looking like he’s trying to find something to do. One too many in coverage. Then on the other side, you have one too few. The defense is unsound. My best guess is Watt was suppose to rush and Moats was suppose to drop. That’s the only thing I see that balances the D and makes it sound. Suppose to be a box coverage to the zone side, and one corner of the box was missing?

  • Clutterbox

    I’m not sure if they are more physical or not. The 3 or 4 plays before the first clip they were passing short passes down the center with relative ease and the Steelers D adjusted.

  • Hand of God

    Man coverage means man coverage – no one plays zone inside the 10. There’s no crossing combo route, so Cockrell played soft, and even worse let his man run free. Didn’t cost them anything here, but against Brady, it’s 6.

  • Hand of God

    As a coach, you can only coach them, you can’t play their positions for them. It’s obvious to me (for what that’s worth) that Cockrell just renegade’s (no pun intended) way too much. Dude’s a problem. Period.