Steelers Defenders Admit Falcons Offense Exposed Communications Issues They Thought Were Fixed


The Atlanta Falcons’ potent, rapid-paced offense exposed a key flaw in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense that the players on the field believed earlier this summer that they had addressed and gotten a handle on.

No, it’s not the fact that everybody on the defense is mediocre or worse and they all need to be cut and the coaches need to be fired. I just wanted to nip that in the bud right off the bat.

The problem is communication, and according to those who were on the field—or on the sidelines—the Steelers defense realized going up against the Falcons on Sunday evening that they still have work to do when it comes to communicating with one another quickly and clearly.

The good news is that the problem is believed to be quite solvable. If so, then we can at least find a silver lining in the first-team defense’s performance in that game, which was, by and large, sub-par to say the least, when it comes to the passing game.

Outside linebacker Arthur Moats, who started in the first preseason game, but not against the Falcons, despite playing extensively, believes that they did some good things, but “at the same time there is room for improvement”, and he had one area in mind.


I feel like from a communication standpoint we can continue to get better”, he told Teresa Varley yesterday following Sunday’s game. “We had some issues that we thought we put to bed last year. They rose back up”.

He pointed out that such communication struggles “can become an issue” if “you don’t put emphasis on it”. He said that you don’t see those types of things happen during practices. “Until you have a team like the Falcons with the tempo in there on offense, you realize why we have it in place”.

But perhaps they have slacked off on it, and will have a short turnaround trying to fix it in time for Saturday’s tune-up game. “Now that we have seen it in a stadium, we know we can put emphasis on the communications, hand signals so if we see it again we are taken care of”.

Communication problems were the glaring weakness against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, far more than anything else. New England was able to exploit the defense simply by audibling to ideal matchups and the Steelers being unprepared to respond appropriately.

Mike Mitchell said at the start of training camp that he was happy with where the communication level was on defense. Now he knows there is still work to do. He admitted that there is a “sense of false security in practice” because you don’t see the same intensity and tempo as you might in-game.

“Communication needs to get better”, he concurred with Moats. And one way to help that would be for him to get back on the field, as he is one of the most important communicators on the unit, and he has missed both games so far.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Gregg

    translation….we have not yet found an effective way to disguise our obvious and on-going personnel deficiencies.

  • The Chin

    Is there a point where they should look beyond personnel?

  • Robert E Lil

    The klan had “communications issues” in Charlottesville

    Wow – what weasel word. The Steelers have a lousy, putrid secondary

  • Brenton deed

    Strangely comforting… better to find out now

  • Adam Pristas

    This buys them one extra week of my patience. They better show up on Saturday.

  • falconsaftey43

    While good that it can potentially be fix, disappointing that communication was an issue. They aren’t even running the full play book. No one in the starting lineup was new to the team. Frankly, I’m hoping most of the problems revolved around Golden, as he seemed to be a few steps late on most of the big plays, and he has a history of blown assignments. I’m not a member of the we must run man coverage club, but there is something to be said about simplicity and accountability. Cover-2 Man under. Everyone knows there job, and it’s painfully clear who is at fault for a positive play.

  • Jacob

    That dadgum communication problem keeps apoppin up b’cuz da coach aint athinkin ahead.

  • DirtDawg1964

    Over simplify and teams will pick you apart. Be too complex and you can’t get youngsters on the field. It’s a balancing act.

    Lack of communication is a leadership issue to me. It hurts that Mitchell and Shazier aren’t out there. But it also says some of the other guys aren’t stepping up to get everyone on the same page.

    Guys have to be constantly checking in with each other to ensure everyone understands coverages, blitz packages, assignments, etc.

  • SilverSteel

    I’m glad the issue happened now before it cost us a real game to figure it out.

  • SilverSteel

    Exactly. Don’t want to find out two months from now.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Awesome.

  • falconsaftey43

    agreed, and that’s what pre-season is for. But it just shouldn’t be happening still. It’s been an issue for awhile now. If you know you have communication issues, and a teams tempo is letting them drive the field on you, just scrap the calls and check to a simple cover-2-man or something so at least everyone knows what to do until you can get the issue fixed for the next drive.

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah, Shazier and Mitchel out hurts a lot, but it’s also on the coaching staff to make sure they put the proper emphasis on it. Don’t let communication issues in practice slide. Sounds like they need to run some tempo in practice and show the defense there problems so they can work on it more.

  • Robert E Lil

    Huh? Wha?

    Chris Hovan is laughing

  • Matthew points out how the problem seems quite solvable. I believe that was said multiple times. 2015 opener against the Patriots was real bad. They said it was a communication issue & they solved it. Agin last yr, same thing. Now this year, same thing. Might need a change somewhere. Scheme, player or 2, coordinator or assistant.. or just roll the same lame crap out there & win until we meet the patriots & roll over & suck our thumb. It’s like no one wants to lead on defense. Can’t count on mr glass aka shazier or his buddy bud “fragile” Dupree. The D will play good then loose to a team they have no business loosing to. Go on a win streak. Look great then roll over. Or….. they can man up, take control, be accountable, & want to win #7. As a fan I’m tired of all the excuses, injuries (I know is a part of the game), suspensions, holdouts, sputtering offense, & prevent style defense.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    of course YOU would bring up those rabble rousing idiots. you make wild accusations, you insult anything and everything this team does. get out you fair weather fan. i’m done listening to your nonsense. just gonna block you so i dont have to see your stupidity.

  • Uncle Rico.

    They’ve been saying this is quite solvable since losing Foote.

  • SeventhHeavan

    Communication problem or not, Falcons had their 3rd string QB torching them in the first quarter! Schaub played for like a series and then Simms came in and lit them up and he would have thrown a TD pass if it weren’t for an ATL WR dropping an easy TD pass in the endzone. I know Mitchell was out along with Shazier and Dupree but thank goodness it’s pre-season…

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    So, this preseason game did have some value.

  • Steve Johnson

    Steelers secondary, communication issues, I’m not surprised at all. How much longer will Art Rooney accept subpar coaching and drafting by Colbert, Tomlin and his staff?

  • NYCSteelCurtain

    Chill out man, it’s the preseason.

  • Steve Johnson

    This has been an issue for years, this isn’t something new.

  • NYCSteelCurtain

    No place for you here. Get out!

  • Steve Johnson

    Absolutely

  • The Chin

    I feel pretty confident that communication wasn’t the issue for Cockrell. Unless there are voices in his head telling him to let his man run by him.

  • Steve Johnson

    Where is the moderator? C’Mon man, linking the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary with the KKK?

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Cockrell is still smoldering.

  • NYCSteelCurtain

    We play vanilla defense and we didn’t have the starters and key communicators in Shazier or Mitchell in. Reserving judgement for the regular season.

  • Steve Johnson

    The only starter in the secondary that didn’t play was Mitchell. And by the way, it’s not like he is all that great in coverage anyway. The only other starters that didn’t play was Bud Dupree and Ryan Shazier. So, they had three starters that were out and still looked pathetic in coverage. OTA’s, Mandatory Mini-Camp and Training Camp, yet they still look Pathetic. Wait until the regular season? No, it needs to be fixed now.

  • D.j. Reynolds

    This!!! I couldn’t agree more!

  • D.j. Reynolds

    It has cost us real games – that’s my concerns.

  • VaDave

    I’m inclined to agree with you.. keep in mind that’s a tenured top 2 or 3 offense we faced, and it was only a couple of drives. In the regular season, who is to say we don’t make in game adjustments
    ( yes we do that a lot, and contrary to popular opinion, for the most part, are pretty good at it), and pull the game out in the second half? How many times do you see the Steelers give up a lot of stuff early in the game, but afterwards, not much? This is not aimed at you FS43, but I see no reason to panic.

  • razaard2

    For me it’s bad coaching. We never see the Patriots caught off guard and giving away easy yards or TDs, doesn’t matter how many boneheaded bottom of the roster players they use. They trade away their defensive leaders and keep the boat afloat. that’s why Belichik is the best in business.

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah, he got torched on that go ball. Safety (Golden?) didn’t exactly get over top of it either. I do think part of that can be attributed to no game prep (having no idea how fast the guy your cover is has got to affect how you cover them). Haven’t seen him flat burned like that much before, so hopefully not a problem going forward.

  • falconsaftey43

    agreed. I’m not paniced, I’m just annoyed that they had communication issues, especially for what is presumably a pretty vanilla defense in pre-season.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    They also didn’t have Julio Jones or Devonta Freeman in. I’d say that makes it pretty even for the two sides. And we got embarrassed.

  • razaard2

    Problem is they don’t have personnel to be effective with a simple zone or man coverage. Disguising, blitzing and deploying the right matchups is fundamental for this defense, at least while the CBs are average at best (hopefully burns, Cockrell and in the future Sutton will develop into better than average players). Right now the safeties aren’t world beaters either, and Vince Williams is under probation, so execution will be solid at best. For this unit to be good or very good, scheming and matchups play a big role.

  • RickM

    I wonder if Golden still feels the team may go through undefeated. There was a “false sense of security in practice”. No kidding.

  • RickM

    That’s a good point. Usually the reality is it’s just a lack of talent.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    OK, so which NFL defenses are the best at on-field communication, and how can the Steelers learn from them? Because if you’re telling me that all a QB needs to do is audible to a different play in order to make the defense look lost, then some coach somewhere isn’t doing their job.

  • razaard2

    Or maybe someone beat the pats and then face us and we kick their asses. It’s possible. We can beat anyone in the AFC out of the pats on a regular basis. Ben is the anti Denver broncos D and I’m not scared of raiders, KC, Titans etc..

  • VaDave

    Oh, I hear you, but when you are running a plain Jane D up against a sophisticated high octane O, IMO you can communicate all you want, you’re going to come up with the short end of the stick as the required details you need to communicate are not likely going to be in the game plan. In fact, I’ll bet they didn’t even put a regular season type game plan against these guys. Annoying, absolutely, but like you said, they have time and should work on this out before the start of the regular season. Have a good one!

  • True, it sure would be nice to Beat the best on the way though

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    How is this something that isn’t covered every single day in practice? Here’s a thought coach: why don’t you go into the offensive meeting room and tell them (without the defense knowing) “we’re gonna do something a little different today.” Then come out firing at them in hurry up style. Ya know, test your defense to see if it actually HAS learned anything?

  • 太阳三联

    Nice way of saying some people need to do their fuxking job cough* 44 cough*21 . Plain and simple, it as easy as just doing your job.

  • VaDave

    Yeah, our coaches suck….really, almost losing a game in the “No Count” season… no excuse for that. 11 years without a losing season, a complete rebuild job, only 2 Super Bowl appearances, and a championship. Yep, it’s pretty obvious they don’t know what in the heck they are doing. Good grief!

  • razaard2

    Agreed, but at this point I just want Brady and Belichik to retire already. At least before Ben does

  • hdogg48

    Against elite accurate QBs with well coached skill players
    neither Cockrell or Golden could pour p iss from
    a boot if the directions were written on the heel.

    Communication isn’t the problem…talent is.
    They are and will continue to be overmatched in
    those situations.

    That along with Vince Williams inability in pass coverage
    gives new meaning to the term “Achilles heel.”

    Look for the Brady’s and Rogers’ of the league
    to exploit that again….ad nauseum…unless we get
    a pass rush or a Cam Chancelor hitter to make
    them “hear footsteps” when they go over the middle.

    I’m looking forward to see if Mitchell’s new weight
    and body can keep him healthy enough to be that guy.

    I also think they should have drafted Cunningham out
    of Vanderbilt an ILB that can cover and what’s his name (Obi)
    the CB freak that tore up the combine from Connecticut, BOTH
    were there in the 2nd round, with a trade for the extra 3rd rounder.

  • Charles Mullins

    Shazier and Mitchell were out. I think vince has been calling the defense, but it really looked to me like TM was last game. Getting them back should help alot with communication.

  • razaard2

    You can be as sarcastic as you want, I won’t shy away to criticize repeated communication issues season in and season out, despite the results. It’s a known issue and I’m saying this specific aspect of football is a coaching issue. It’s, for me, not lack of leadership or personnel, because others do just fine with communication even when playing bottom of the roster.
    I’m not a hater of the coaching staff, quite the opposite, but that has been a consistent team flaw in the past few years

  • Charles Mullins

    Translation… I like to be mean spirited and negative.

  • VaDave

    My thought on Golden ( #21) is he is a liability in the vertical passing game. I could be wrong about that, but it seems to me that when he is on the field, we have problems with “communications”. What say ye?

  • Uncle Rico.

    Foote was never very talented either. But he understood the defense inside and out and could get everyone lined up and on the same page. I could spend a half hour railing on all the front 7 mistakes just on the opening drive. From setting the strength to the wrong side to lining up totally out flanked. For as football smart as Williams and Matakevich are purported to be, I’m seeing more evidence to the contrary right now. And neither has the talent to afford a miss first step or two, or lingering interminably on playaction. Yet we’re seeing that too, belying those instincts we also keep hearing about. I wasn’t concerned about losing Timmons because I thought whatever VW or Matakevich lacked in speed compared to Timmons they could easily make up by being quick and correct with their reads and first step. Something Timmons always struggled with. And either would be an upgrade over Timmons in helping Shazier set and communicate the defense. But after these first two games, I’m starting to think I might’ve been wrong about that. Shazier better stay healthy.

  • AGREED!!!

  • Mark

    Stop it, communication problems, these are the same players that have been in this defense under Butler for at least 3 or 4 years. How are we still having communication problems. The only problem we have is our front 4 getting to the passer and our DBs being close enough to make a play on the ball.

  • RickM

    It’s a concern. Always has been this off-season. I too hope that instincts will help them cover well enough. The only problem is that a little misdirection can often be used to throw off those instincts, as we saw in one particularly ugly play at the end of the 1st quarter. We just have to hope Ryan stays healthy and that VW and TM play as well as they can when on the field.

  • RickM

    Scott Tolzien and his back-ups come to town on Saturday. My guess is after the game that we’ll hear how the communication was so much better. The reality is that it’s usually more than poor communication or poor execution. Until these guys prove they can limit a quality quarterback, lack of talent will always remain the most logical answer.

  • Boots

    I’m sure there is an element of truth in that. The problem I have is there weren’t people running completely uncovered. Post snap the problem really seemed to be poor execution and slow reactions.

  • Zarbor

    Sorry, I’m not buying “communication” or lack of it as the issue with why the defense looked so bad. People, use common sense. That’s the same crap they stated when the Patsies lit us up in the playoffs.

    The Falcons just took a page from that game and did the same thing. What is even worse is that when the backup QB came in, he did the exact same thing. The number one issue is Butler and his defensive scheme/play calling. The middle still is wide open for business. Guys are running open and the better QBs are picking us apart.

    Communication may be an issue but it is not the issue. Granted all of our starters were not in. So Mitchell was out and I no longer have any faith in “not so Golden.” William Gay is a good dude and has been good for us but he is not any longer. Time to move on. I wish we had taken a safety in the draft instead of Dobbs, needless to say we will see what Dangermouse can do.

  • ryan72384

    I miss the days of Farrior Clark Troy Ike and Deshea

  • francesco

    Last time i checked the working language was coach Butler’s southern slang.

  • SilverSteel

    Oh, I get that but this year was supposed to be improved and I assumed communications would be low hanging fruit and possible to fix in practice.

  • Dshoff

    So how come the Falcons could easily move the ball with their 3rd string qb, and we couldn’t even get past 3 and outs?

  • Dshoff

    AMEN!!! There were no blown coverages, just mediocre coverages. Always one step behind. That’s not a communication issue, that’s a COVERAGE issue.

  • Dshoff

    BINGO. Wrong “C” word. Not Communication problems, COVERAGE problems.

  • colingrant

    Sounds like it’s up to the offense to simulate tempo to provide practice opportunities for the defense as much as anything.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Coaching. Teaching. Motivating. Adjusting.

    When people criticize our staff, I always assume they are harping on “Adjusting.” Which is fair game, since I believe our staff does a fine job on the other 3 aspects. But clearly between coaches and the responsible players, we are having a “communication breakdown” and well… it’s driving me insane.

    Some teams are so vanilla, we get by just fine. But when we come up against the creams of the crop, our deficiencies in the department are laid open. I think the mental and chess aspect of football is extremely underrated. Maybe we need to hire a Grandmaster to supplement. The lack of Mitchell AND Shazier out there — is apparent and hideous.

  • VaDave

    The consistent flaw in this defense is not having adequate pressure on the pocket, which is a personnel issue with roots in draft placement. Communication you can fix, and it just maybe Lower priority as the team works its way through camp, More so than poor coaching. Frankly, the only thing I agreed with in your post was I agree Bill B is the best in the business. There is nobody on the horizon to supplant him either, so until he retires, you’d better get used to it. As for being sarcastic,Tomlin takes way too much crap, and way too few accolades from Steeler nation. When I see a thread’s opening salvo comment on lousy coaching I’m going to take umbarage. The truth is, he is a very good coach, also one of the best in the business, warts in all.

  • VaDave

    In case you didn’t notice, this is preseason, and an early preseason game at that. Keep it in perspective. You are not seeing what this team eventually be. For the record the starting safety, starting middle linebacker, the best defensive player on the team did not play. Starting NG went down on the first drive
    Against one of the best offenses in the league? And you are expecting a shutout?

    D
    L

  • razaard2

    3rd in sacks in 2015 and top 10 last year… That’s a consistent flaw? Miscommunication problems, though, are repeatedly evident, and even the players and coaches admit it. Just read the article. I agree it’s easily fixable, but that just makes it even worse that it wasn’t fixed yet by the coaching staff. It could be low priority of it hadn’t hindered us repeatedly in the past. Hopefully it will be fixed before the season starts.
    And I have argued before with Tomlin haters, but I do understand that the coaching staff has flaws and people are allowed to talk about them. You should learn that

  • SilverSteel

    Hey Darth. Looked for your insights during the open game thread. Where you been?

  • SilverSteel

    I don’t think yinzers get to make fun of anyone’s accent. 🤔

  • SilverSteel

    Preach!

  • VaDave

    That is a team total of sacks. When you break it down by unit, the DL relatively speaking, not so much. If it was so great, why are we seeing a lot of Sean Davis in the back field? Of which, don’t you think pass coverage might be better with all of your defensive backs covering pass patterns as opposed to dropping linemen and linebackers?
    .
    This lack of interior defensive line pressure IS an inherent flaw and has been for a long time. We’ve been getting by by sending odd personnel on blitzes hoping to cause confusion in the blocking schemes as opposed to beating men off the ball. When you go back and look at the tape from the heydays of the Lloyd/Greene era and the Harrison/Woodley era, there was a Joel Steed/ Casey Hampton type that demanded a double team which allowed it all to work. There is nobody, nobody on this team that can do that game in game out, play by play.

  • VaDave

    That I can agree with. Have a good one razaard.

  • Gregg

    At this stage (based on results) I think it’s personnel. You could look at the defensive scheme….but that is usually dictated by the level of talent available. If your guys are good enough, play man-to-man and dominate the opposing receivers forcing the quarterback to make perfect throws to get completions.

    If your talent is not up for that, play zone. It gives your guys a leg up in keeping the plays in front of them and not getting torched. This Allows them to be in a general area and tackle the receiver after the catch. To succeed, you have to hope that the opposition will make mistakes (inaccurate throws, drops, fumbles, interceptions). This defensive scheme, against a good quarterback and receiver(s), is also known as slow death.

    There are also various combinations of both. Anything beyond pure man-to-man is usually a concession to cover up a deficiency in defensive personnel.

    If you’re not good enough to play either man-to-man or zone against an opponent (reference Steeler playoff loss to Patriots) you have to resort to a crossing defense (as in….cross your fingers and hope for the best).

    p.s. If you think it might be possible to take players of limited talent or experience and coach them up to be better performers by passing on better technique and trade secrets, it works best at the pee wee level.

    ……all of this leads us back to personnel (see above)

  • #beatthepats

    Communication is not the issue, soft zone playing 12 yards off the recievers. It should have been changed after Larry fitzgerald went untouched at the end of the superbowl on a 5 yard slant.
    Bud Dupreeclaining the pats” caught us off guard” and yet so did the falcons ? Time to move on from mitchell gay and cockrell. If there on the field in january- same result.

  • razaard2

    I see your point, and understand that getting lots of pressure with 4 man rushes is ideal, but very few teams can do it nowadays. Other than the Seahawks no one has done it year in and year out. Even the broncos with vin Miller and Ware used a lot of blitzes (I would too if I had those CBs). The Ravens do a lot of blitzing, especially double a gap blitzes with ilbs. And they have genuine old school NT studs.
    To be honest, even in the days of Hampton (when base defense was still used), it was a zone blitz defense. That was Lebeau thing. And the star, other than the star pass rush duo, was Polamalu, the best in the box safety I’ve ever seen. He wasn’t exactly only covering. He Was wreaking havoc everywhere, and doing everything. Hopefully Sean Davis can remind us of the hair once in a while.
    I think we are just fine with linemen pass rush. Heyward/tuitt is an above average interior duo. Outside we struggle and that forces us to blitz. But look at the raiders. They have Khalil Mack and still finished dead last in sacks. And they are supposed to be our AFC rivals at the playoffs. So we could do much worse on the pressure department.
    Don’t get me started on tackling and broken coverages though…

  • SilverSteel

    I like the way you think

  • NYCSteelCurtain

    It’s one game. That’s all I’m saying. I have faith that our defense will be much better than last.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Ha ha, thanks, Silver! Scheduling conflicts on my end have forced me to have to DVR both of them. Luckily, the 3rd one is the most important anyway and I hope to watch it live. However, Mayweather/McGregor is later that night and my brother has it ordered. So we shall see. But I appreciate the shout-out. 🙂

  • AndyR34

    Did too!

  • AndyR34

    Oh Dave…stop being so logical! LOL!

  • Matthew Marczi

    Maybe it will be without Timmons. But it would be nice if all the starters could actually get on the field together and start building up the line of communications.

  • TJ Judson

    Like we weren’t aware that every great passing team will destroy our secondary? We needed to see it again to understand it? Unfortunately, I think 95% of the “figuring it out” would’ve taken place in the off-season with new players or scheme. All we can do now is polish the turd a bit.

  • Steeler-Drew

    Communications or not three points come to mind regarding their last performance. A 3rd string QB marching down the field against our first string defense. Granted without Mitchell, Dupree, and Shazier but there absence can’t used as a total excuse for playing that poorly. The second was the GiF from yesterday that showed one lone receiver in the pattern running free through the secondary. From what I remember there was 4 defenders in space but nobody close to 1 receiver in the pattern. That’s just ridiculous and there is no excuse for that one. And lastly the dropped touchdown against Cockrell on a simple slant route which is typically run down by the goal line. How he was that far from the receiver is beyond me. Only the preseason game without 3 I know but we have seen this movie one too many times.

  • SilverSteel

    Well if you wanna put it THAT way… I do understand though, we need some new blood in the secondary. And some better schemes…agreed. Saw that ugly ugly soft zone again from Cockrell and just couldn’t believe it. Let’s practice as much man press as we can in the pre season when we can get away with mistakes. We need to practice it to master it. We already know what the soft zone look produces. It’s a little ridiculous.

  • Dshoff

    Actually, on another board, I am called Mr. Optimist!! I guess I can go both ways!!