2017 South Side Questions: Stafford’s Showing Cause For Concern?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: How concerned should the Steelers be about the yardage put up by the Lions’ passing offense?

The defense has not been tested significantly through the air very often this season. Games have frequently enough been close enough that the opposition was able to be balanced in their attack—that or they were succeeding so well on the ground that it made sense to stick with it.

And when teams had to start chucking the ball, it was under less than ideal circumstances. Until Sunday night, when the secondary went up against Matthew Stafford and the Lions, with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones at wide receiver.

It wasn’t only the secondary, of course, but also the linebackers who had their issues in coverage. There were missed assignments that led to big plays, missed tackles that led to bigger plays, and holes in zones too big to close in time.

Stafford was probably safely the most talented pure passer that the Steelers have faced, with respect to a player who is able to simply matriculate the ball down the field. It is less surprising that he struggled in the red zone.

But against better quarterbacks—Tom Brady will be lurking soon enough—this performance against the Lions I’m sure has been quite concerning for many fans after the team only allowed about 150 yards through the air on average prior to then.

Was this just a temporary lapse? Were they exposed? Is it somewhere in between? And is there time to fix the issues, or is talent too big of an issue to be able to plug every hole?

In my opinion, we don’t have enough information yet on hand. Besides, there is little to be done aside from waiting out the bye week. The next game will be against Jacoby Brissett and the Colts in Indianapolis, where they’ve found success in recent years, to say the least.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • will

    They were exposed. First decent QB to pass against them. Unfortunately Brady will pick them apart. IMO. Disappointing!

  • CP72

    Stafford played a great game. I know the narrative now is to throw those hole shots against the Steelers. You have to be a big armed QB to do that. Few in the league have the arm that Stafford does.

    One other thing to remember as well is that the pass rush sending 4 is much more effective with a healthy Tuitt.

    I hope teams think passing the ball is the way to beat this defense. That plays right into our hands.

  • CP72

    They gave up 15 points and zero touchdowns. What exactly did that expose?

  • Guillermo Garcia-Gomez

    I think the concern lies in the fact that we can’t count on giving up 400+ yards in the air without any tds. Odds are if someone is moving the ball that well on us, the td’s will come.

  • Nolrog

    423 yards of passing offense . . . . just because the Lions didn’t put the ball in the end zone doesn’t mean that they didn’t expose the defense.

  • Dorian James

    Personally, I feel the same. Are number one ranked pass defense was only by circumstance,a couple of teams rush for big yardage on the ground. Also it look more schematic than coverage ability. I think it can be corrected

  • Dorian James

    If exposed the very large holes in that zone and The Game Plan

  • CP72

    Points is what matters. The same defense you claimed was exposed held them out of the end zone twice from inside the 5 yard line.

  • CP72

    Ok how? Didn’t we play Alex Smith earlier and basically shut down their passing game? Stafford can beat you in zones because of his arm. Not to many can throw it to places he can.

  • Nolrog

    Point’s is what matters, but you cannot dismiss everything else. A team with a few good weapons, and that becomes a very different matter.

  • CP72

    Alex Smith isn’t a decent quarterback?

  • Jose F Bilbao

    As Tomlin would say “I am only concerned about winning”. Was the Steelers defence exposed? Indeed it was. Did they win? Yes they did. The sucessful teams find ways to win games, and the Steelers did that yesterday. They might or might not do so against New England. The offense might plays as it did against Cinci, taking the ball away from Brady, which is one of the few ways to beat him. Or the pass rush might come back on track; Brady hates being pressured on the pocket. Or the defence might not use a cover 2 against New England as Brady could tear it apart with short or intermediate passes (Stafford did it with long passes to the sidelines). Geez, this is a team that beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead after losing with the Jaguars. So no, there is not enough information at hand. Why don’t we step back and relax and enjoy the 6-2 and the bye week? =)

  • Jason

    The fans bitching about the D would be the same ones killing the offense if they kicked 5 fgs. They’d be saying yds don’t mean anything if u can’t score. Double standard?

  • will

    That the Steelers’ secondary is not the #1 rated secondary.

  • will

    @CP72……..are you predicting that Brady will not feast on the Steelers’ secondary?

  • will

    I will give you average.

  • steelburg

    Alex Smith is a play from ahead QB if you jump on him early there whole game plan goes to sh**. Giving up that many yards is a problem. We started last season giving up a lot of passing yards to QB’s and it caught up with us we started 4-1 and ended up falling to 4-5 until they fixed the problem. You can get away with doing it sometimes but you can’t bank on beating Brady that way IMO. I think we got lucky against the Lions.

  • Michael James

    They’ll be ok. Every defense, no matter how good they are, will eventually have such a game. Just look at the Seahawks against the Texans and Titans this year or even Denvers’ super-defense against the Steelers at Heinz Field back in 2015.
    I think it had a lot to do with Butler’s inexplicable fetish for 3-men rushes and Stafford simply playing a brillant game. When an elite QB is on fire and has his “special day”, there is nothing your defense can do, no matter how good you are (especially when the offense doesn’t rely on stellar OL play, because of their quick-pass game).
    Butler’s game-plan and some blown assignments from the LBs/secondary have to be talked about, but I’m sure they will.

  • J.

    Since his move to KC Smith’s numbers always are down vs the steelers compared to other teams. Just because they shut him down does not prove they are a good D. Yes they kept the lions from scoring kudos to them but allowing a team to move up and down the field as they did is a concern. When/if they shut down Brady we can be impressed.

  • CP72

    Don’t think I said they were.

  • BJ

    Were they really exposed? I mean, it’s pretty much the same MO that’s been used for years against the Steelers. Nothing new here. The big change is that our secondary is much more athletic and able to close in/cover up their mistakes.

  • CP72

    Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but this is a much better defense than he faced in the AFC championship.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    Artie Burns and Mike Mitchell for exposed. More so burns. Everybody in Pittsburgh already knew that Mitchell is not a great coverage safety. Burns, however, looked poor defending both the pass and the run. On the first big pass play to Marvin Jones, Burns was guilty of illegal contact, DPI, and still got beat for the long gainer. That wasn’t the only poor play he made, but it was the most egregious. He must play better if the Steelers are going to hang with the big boys in the playoffs.

    The Steelers, as usual, also failed to adjust. After watching Matthew Stafford repeatedly hit the hole shot in their cover-2 scheme in the first half, they did nothing to correct it in the second half. Joe haden did get beat once attempting to jump a route, but thats gonna happen when you’re a vet corner who takes a chance sometimes. Im okay with a guy like that being aggressive considering his history. That might be a pick-six next time. A couple other times it looked like Haden got beat, but he was playing his proper position in the cover-2 zone they kept insisting in playing.

    The lack of pressure applied by our outside backers was part of the problem as well. Bud Dupree was particularly bad(getting repeatedly run up the arc). Everybody knows that pass rush and coverage work in tandem and one hand washes the other. The pass rush on Sunday night wasn’t nearly as good as it has been for most of the year. Consequently, the coverage wasn’t eirher. I really would have liked to have seen Harrison get on there. I think he could have been a difference maker in that regard.

  • WreckIess

    I don’t think they were exposed. I say it was a bad day at the office, but exposed? No.

    If we had a game where Ben threw for 400+ yards and we still couldn’t put the ball in the endzone or put up more than 15 points would we really consider that exposing the opposing defense? I wouldn’t.

    There definitely should’ve been a scheme change from Butler because the announcers were even saying all night that Stafford has the arm strength and accuracy to make throws into the cover 2 window and he should’ve made some changes to close them, but that’s all x’s and o’s, not really a reflection of the team’s talent level.

  • francesco

    The middle of the field is our Achilles Heel. We still cannot cover a TE when running down the middle. Safeties playing too conservative. Safeties need to jump routes and not play far off.
    A few details. But if you can settle on field goals instead of td’s your ahead of this game.

  • ryan72384

    The defense goes as the passrush goes and it wasn’t consistent. Stafford is a really good QB with a cannon for an arm. He found spots in our zone and at times our linebackers looked clueless. Making Burns and Haden play zone is stupid against good QBs. Let them play man most of the time and hope the 4 man passrush gets there and please stop with the 3 man passrush. I know it worked on the last 4th down but more times than not it allows too much time and good QBs pick that 3 man rush with zone coverage apart. Yes I believe this game was cause for concern because the defense had their first real chance against a top level QB (Alex Smith doesn’t count) and they could not stop him from moving up and down the field. They stepped up in the redzone though and ultimately that won us the game. You can’t always count on redzone stops however unless you are playing the Steelers.

  • pittfan

    Define “feast” will. Let’s get you on the record.

  • pittfan

    By the same token token, teams should’ve count on passing for 400 yards on us. The sacks and picks will come

  • falconsaftey43

    I think part of the reason we saw a lot of 3 man rush is they were absolutely stone walling the blitz. Their RBs did a fantastic job of picking up the blitz. Logical adjustment to leave more in coverage if they aren’t getting there at all when you send them. Some things to work on, but nothing too concerning IMO (other than Burns has no idea how to tackle). How many of those throws barely made it over the underneath defender or needed a WR to make a catch diving to the ground? I think a lot of it was the QB just making perfect throws.

  • Carl Mendelius

    Sorry to break the news but the Steelers secondary still cannot stop good QBs. Heck even Kizer of the Browns looked good against them. Burns and Davis are overrated and are not future stars quit yet. I cannot help to wonder if Carnell Lake is a good coordinator for the secondary.

  • Dorian James

    I agree about Stafford’s arm.
    But we were unable to adjust to it, other teams will look at that tape and start trying to throw it into that area. You have to admit the Lions probably could have had more yards if a few of those passes weren’t dropped/fumbled

  • pittfan

    If “exposed” means that they are a crappy secondary and their previous successes were a mirage then I’d say no, they were not “exposed”. I dont know if we know that Butler’s game plan was to allow yardage but not explosive long TDs. Do you really want your safties playing tight, jumping routes, and giving up 60 yrd TDs? Or are you okay with 70 yrd drives that end in 3s or goose eggs?
    This is a young secondary with burns and davis and hilton meshing with vets like haden, gay, mitchell. Yes they gave up big chunks of yardage and that will be looked at during the bye and worked on…communication.
    This game will be a learning experience and the second half it will be stronger.
    BTW, in the last 4 games, Brady, the greatest to ever play the game and the yardstick by which Ben is being measured has scored an average of 21 points…is he being “exposed”?

  • Stairway7

    I have a new found respect for Stafford after this game. We have to realize that there are going to be games the defense gives up alot. The offense needs to get cranking so they can contribute during those games.

  • Sam Clonch

    150 yards isn’t real life either. Lot of bad QBs made up that number (although Alex Smith also did, and he’s having a pretty great year). Stafford is a really good QB, despite what his teams record is normally. He’s used to having to solely rely on the passing game, so he really knows how to move the offense that way(Announcers said that in his 116 career starts, he’s had a 100 yard rusher 7 times! That’s incredible to a Steeler fans mind!!!). Think the Steelers real ranking is going to be somewhere in the middle.

  • Sam Clonch

    Haha, correct! Happened as recently as last years POs!

  • pittfan

    I’ve long considered Stafford a great thrower of the football. A VERY dangerous guy with any time left on the clock. A bend dont break approach with him may well be the most prudent. Consider those throws against our cover 2. How many went for TDs? Zero.

  • pittfan

    Name 1 quarterback we’ll face going forward that has the arm strength of Stafford.

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah I agree. very few (if any) defenses can completely shut out a good offense. They could have done better (mostly missed a few tackles at times). But most of their yards were on high degree of difficulty throws. It wasn’t the “easy” stuff from years past where it was constant 5-10 yard passes that went for 25 yards. Or 40-60 yard bombs going for a TD. They forced difficult throws and Stafford made them perfectly, it’s going to happen.

    Right now the offense is the much more worriesome side of the ball. If we’re talking about a show down with the Patriots, I’m more worried that the offense won’t be able to score 24 points than I am the defense will get blown out. Need the whole team to play well. We’ve yet to see the offense really play well. Just think how much easier it gets for the defense if they’re able to play with a 7-10 point lead at some point?

  • Jason Vancil

    A couple of things:
    1. The lions had their Bye to prepare for our D.
    2. Stafford has a lot of experience playing against Cover 2 (especially during Lovie Smith years vs Bears)
    It seemed to me he was hitting those open areas in that coverage.

  • AndyR34

    But…our defense is really a combination of scheme and talent. As such it got exposed over pretty much 90+ yards of the field. Inside the 10, both scheme and talent changed. Not saying that the talent or scheme used inside the 10 should have been used all over the field. Just pointing out that scheme and talent both contribute…can’t focus on one or the other.

  • AndyR34

    That is a lazy and incorrect narrative. Lions TE’s caught 3 balls

  • Guest12

    Tuitt didn’t play and he is one of the best pass rushers in the game. It was the first legit passing QB we faced all year (Alex Smith is good but he isn’t a gunslinger) so it was expected that some bad defensive play was going to happen, not to mention we all can admit so far the defense is doing much better than we thought they would, so a “bad” game was coming sooner or later. I think it’s a good thing how it played out. The timing couldn’t be better with a bye coming up and a chance to focus on what holes were exposed. I actually didn’t see anything different from last year, the middle of the field was wide open all day and our corners weren’t going deep enough in their zones when we ran cover 2 so everything was going right over their heads. The pass rush was weak but again that’s without Tuitt. Hindsight, it took 8 weeks for us to have our first “bad” game on defense.

  • Dorian James

    No one. But it sound like your saying he’s the only QB that can. I hope that’s the case

  • Guest12

    I would like to see some sub packages where they have Deebo/Bud on the edge and TJ/Shay lined up inside.

  • AndyR34

    True this ^! And as important…if the s playing well, the D is on the field less…staying fresher and giving the other team fewer opportunities to score.

  • cencalsteeler

    This. Andy Reid had the wrong game plan against us. Romo said it the whole game. You need to take what the Steelers are giving you and dink and dunk your way down the field. They finally did in the 4th and were successfull. Stafford took what the Steelers gave him and had success moving the ball. Thankfully, they stalled in the red zone or the outcome could have been different. Now, you replace Stafford with Brady and Ebron with Gronk and we have the same problem as last years title game. I admire that you think it can be corrected, but thats where I’m uneasy. We’ve plugged in some pass rushers and added Haden, but basically we’re playing the same scheme. Remember this article because if we don’t make it to the SB, I have a hunch it’s because of this subject.

  • Guest12

    Matt has one of, if not the strongest arms in the league.

  • pittfan

    With the exception of Brady, Stafford is the best QB we’ll see during the regular season. In terms of arm strength alone, I think you could compare Rogers but he’s out. Everyone’s drooling over Watson but he threw 3 picks over the weekend so there’s that.

  • Steeler Nation!

    We need to force Brady to throw it deep and outside the #s! Take away his dink and dunk game. He can’t make the throws that Stafford and A-A Ron can.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    And Don’t forget Tate fumbling the ball away with no contact while the Lions were driving again. The lack of pressure from the olb position surely had a lot to do with them being picked apart.

  • WreckIess

    Sure just like every defense, but in this instance it was a lot more on the scheme than the players. They played cover 2 against a QB with the skill set to excel against that coverage. Only so much that the players can do with that Butler has to alter the game plan if what he’s calling isn’t working.

    That’s not getting exposed in my mind because what was really found out that any team didn’t already know?

  • cencalsteeler

    Our secondary coverage outside the hash marks is really strong. It’s the inside stuff that is and has been a lingering concern.

  • Dorian James

    I agree, and I’m “Hopeful” that they get it corrected.

  • Dorian James

    You have a point, but it won’t stop me from being concerned LOL.
    I am a Steelers fan after all

  • Steeler Nation!

    Holding out hope for Cam Sutton to appear. I think he could help us in there.

  • AndyR34

    Hm-m-m…hard to argue (for me, at least) whether it was more scheme than talent, or vice versa. However, what was exposed, IMO, was the Steelers inability to shutdown a very good QB…be it players and/or scheme. Fortunately, that is not how games are scored, nor the most important statistic.

  • #beatthepats

    I really believe it was more of a tired team, 5 road games and the distractions vs a fresh team home on national tv.

  • Intense Camel

    I said the exact same thing during the game.

  • Intense Camel

    Thank you. Been saying this all year. The defense has been playing under tremendous pressure. For these young guys to play this well with their backs constantly against the wall is impressive, but they’re too young to be leaned on week in and week out. The offense needs to help them out.

  • colingrant

    It was premature to declare them as an elite pass defense after just one or two games early in the season. That same line of thinking should be applied after one sub-par pass defense game. On a slightly different note, championship seasons include lethargic performances that still end in a win.The Steelers aren’t anywhere close to performing efficiently, but I prefer that start happening the week after Thanksgiving. Momentum is a real thing. Early season momentum (Colts/Peyton Manning) often fizzles by mid-December. The longer the Steelers play impressively, the more likely they will begin playing impressively later in the season. With that said, Ben’s concerning me big time. His brashness (key quality that made him great) seems to have diminished.

  • renoir

    Tate did not look at all right for the game…

  • Steel Realist PAul

    The conversation went something like this..
    “This Steelers D just seems suspect, or lucky, or something.”
    “Yeah but they’re ranked #1”

    I know but..

    We were waiting for this game to happen. We all saw the holes and players wide open deep who were overthrown, so as not to make official the lack of coverage on a specific play.

    And for the many who stated after this Lions game that the Patriots would cause an even worse showing, I can’t say I disagree.

    But they did need this to see where the holes are and to verify it isn’t always as good as stats make things appear.

  • cencalsteeler

    Good point!

  • will

    Feast= sit in the pocket for as long as needed; complete passes at will to his choice of receivers; have over 300 yards passing; throw for 3 touchdowns

  • pittfan

    no way is that going to happen. maybe 300 yards, less than 250 more likely, afterall he is the greatest ever to play at that position. but he will pay a price and lose the game.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    stafford is an underrated qb. burns on the other hand is cause for concern.

  • will

    Ok we are both on record here…..and I hope that you are correct!

  • pittfan

    +100