Carnell Lake Comfortable With Steelers Man-Coverage Ability Should It Be Needed

Despite all the offseason talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers defense possibly playing more man-coverage this year, we really haven’t seen very much of it all in the team’s first eight games of 2017. Because of that lack of usage of man-coverage so far this season, Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was asked on Tuesday to discuss why the defense hasn’t used it very much during the first half of the season.

“I think starting back when we were talking about playing more man was just in the event that we would play man, we would at least practice it and have the ability to dial it up when we needed to,” Lake said. “And I think that’s still the plan.”

Lake was then asked what his current comfort level with man-coverage is should he need to use it later in the season against a team such as the New England Patriots.

“You know, I’m comfortable with it,” Lake said. “I really am and we’ll continually evolve in that area. The thing about it is, we have a full playbook at our disposal now and it helps to have Joe [Haden], someone that has man-to-man coverage ability and really, that’s what it’s all about. If you’ve got guys that can cover man-to-man, you feel more comfortable about playing it.”

The Steelers mostly played zone coverage in their Sunday night win over the Detroit Lions and their quarterback Matthew Stafford attacked it with relative ease on his way to throwing for 423 yards on 27 total completions. Thankfully, the Steelers defense tightened up inside the red zone as the Lions failed to convert any of their five trips in that area of the field into touchdowns.

Moving into the second half of the season, the Steelers defense isn’t likely to use much man-coverage against most of the teams they’ll play because of the quality of quarterbacks they’ll likely go against. However, when the Steelers face the Patriots in Week 15, one would think and hope that’s when we’re sure to see a high usage of man-coverage as their quarterback Tom Brady will likely just pick their zone defense right apart if they don’t.

After their bye week, the Steelers will play the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers. The seemingly toughest quarterback they’ll face in those three games is Titans signal-caller Marcus Mariota. After those first three second half games the Steelers will then face the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and the Patriots and all three of those offenses feature experienced quarterbacks who have faced the Steelers zone coverages several times during their careers.

While the Steelers pass rush has improved quite a bit this season, head coach Mike Tomlin can’t expect to constantly run zone coverages behind it the remainder of the season. In short, it sounds like we’ll see more man-coverage at some point during the final eight regular season games, we just don’t know exactly when that will be.

“We have to be able to mix it up. Man-to-man is going to be a part of that. It just is,” Lake said.


  • Darth Blount 47

    Someone should tell Carnell, it’s Halloween and not April Fools. I told all of you guys back in the off-season, that if you think this team is going to become Man-heavy, you are gonna be sorely disappointed. It’s not who we are. And not who we have been for decades. Our scheme is NOT the issue. And never was. We’ve won multiple Super Bowls playing our scheme and Lord willing, we’ll win a few more.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx


  • Evan Eremita

    Only time we’ve beaten Brady remotely recently was playing tight man coverage. Sure we can win another Super Bowl with our current scheme, as long as we don’t have to play New England in the playoffs.

  • walter

    Didnt Ike play man to man on the opposing teams best receiver? We had no choice with McFadden. If we need to play man to beat New England we shouldnt wait til that game to try it.

  • Darth Blount 47

    It’s a common misconception, that in LeBeau’s 3-4 Fire Zone scheme, there is never any Man coverage. There is. But many people wanted us to ditch the scheme we have been for years and years, to become a primarily Man-Heavy scheme.

  • Darth Blount 47

    It’s a common misconception, that in LeBeau’s 3-4 Fire Zone scheme, there is never any Man coverage. There is. But many people wanted us to ditch the scheme we have been for years and years, to become a primarily Man-Heavy scheme..

    I don’t buy that New England is unbeatable by us. We just need to get them in Pittsburgh, with Bell, and play our style of football.

  • Dshoff

    I think we need to add a little more man to our arsenal to beat the Bradys of the world. Stafford showed how to dissect the cover 2. I wish that they would practice it a little more in game situations before we meet them in the playoffs.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    said the same thing was insulted over and over.

  • Guillermo Garcia-Gomez

    They don’t have to become a primarily man-to-man defense, but they’d better get comfortable being able to play it real soon. Sure, against Kizer, Keenum, Glennon, and Bortles, a zone scheme should be plenty tough enough to do the job. Against Stafford, Rodgers (if he wasn’t hurt), Brady, and probably whoever comes out of the NFC should we reach the super bowl, some man coverage will absolutely be necessary. If we watch another playoff loss while Brady’s jersey is clean and he has 450 yards and 5 tds, I might puke.

  • Dee Evolution

    A potent pass rush would have made Stafford’s night average, at best. That part of the equation can’t be forgotten. The Giants beat the Pats because their front 4 were ferocious and relentless.


    If there was ever a time to play some man coverage, since they can swap into it so easily, would have been at some point during the Lions game. No?

  • David Shoff

    I agree completely. Our pass rush was pretty bad against the lions. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Harrison a little bit. It had to be insulting to see chick AND moats get time and not him.


    “Should or be needed”?
    We saw all we needed to on Sunday night. Almost exclusively zone and 400+ yards for the opponents passing game.
    We drafted Burns because of his man coverage ability. We signed Haden for his man coverage ability.
    Yet in an important game, one that allows us to maintain our #1 seeding going into the game, we almost completely ignore man coverage.


    Death, help me understand this because we drafted one guy (Burns) and signed another (Haden) largely due to their man coverage abilities right?
    What do you think the teams logic was in doing that if NOT to use man coverage more?
    I am not disagreeing with your comment that we will continue to be predominantly zone, just trying to understand the juxtaposition of those two player acquisitions in light of the predominance of zone.


    Xactly. Stafford is a good, strong armed QB, but he is no Brady! Yet time and again Gruden (I believe he was announcing our game) indicated that, as fast as Mitchell is, NO SAFETY could make up the ground to prevent completions in the Cover 2 zone ‘hole’.
    I am NOT suggesting we play Man exclusively but having the ability to do BOTH coverage schemes makes us more flexible vs the leagues better QBs.


    True. ANY coverage scheme will fail if no pressure is exerted on the opposing QB!

  • Dan

    Im not the biggest fan of Keith Butler, but I don’t blame him for going with a zone-blitz heavy scheme in Detroit. A weakened OL and no reliable running game? Who wouldn’t? But Stafford is very good, the Lions schemed for the overload blitz and their tackles played extremely well. But Pittsburgh took care of business in the red zone. Flexibility isn’t a bad thing though, and keeping some man coverage looks in the cards for those teams reliant on quick passes is probably a good idea. Mainly the Patriots, as Brady is probably the only serious threat at QB that we are guaranteed to face, and he eats the zone blitz for breakfast. But we will cross that bridge when we get there. For now, let’s give credit to the young talent on this defense…and give props for the Haden signing. That’s one shrewd move that saved this team many headaches.



  • Dan

    Most years I’d disagree, as Pittsburgh has rarely gotten the best of that team. However, this year, New England’s front 7 is pretty dreadful. Keep Bell healthy and pound that rock. Pull those guards, and have Nix erase LBs from existence. And no turnovers. Looking at you #7.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I think you are looking at it a bit simplistically. I firmly believe we drafted Artie Burns, because William Jackson III was taken 1 pick before us. I’m 99% sure he was our guy. So that said, we got Burns because he had a good story that Tomlin liked and latched onto, he was young, good size, came from a big program, and we figured we could take a Man guy and make him a Zone player, way easier than taking a Zone guy and making him some sort of Man player.

    We acquired Haden, because we needed an AJ Green stopper. We knew him well from playing him a bunch over the years. It was the perfect excuse to move on and then trade Ross Cockrell and get an asset back. Haden spurned other offers because he ONLY wanted to come to Pittsburgh. I’m sure we liked that. I know I did. He’s a Florida kid who had friends on the team already (Pouncey/Gilbert). He also claims he is friends with AB and Tomlin. As a former two-time Pro Bowler, I think once again, Pittsburgh felt they could mold him into a Zone guy pretty easily. Haden talked about how Pittsburgh hardly misses the playoffs, and that was a big bonus for him. Lastly, don’t forget, the Browns have played different defensive styles over the years. They had former Steelers Secondary coach Ray Horton, as D Coordinator, twice (’13/’16) while Haden was there.

  • Darth Blount 47

    The off-season is a time for those who don’t watch the game ultra-closely, to come out and puff their chests. But really, much of it was just a reaction to us getting blown up in the AFC title game. It lingered for a long time, with people desperately searching for answers/excuses.

  • RSteelerz

    I think that some of you are missing some things here. I will start off with the Detroit game.

    Some here need to realize that we just faced an offense with a dangerous strong armed QB that has been scoring a good deal of points.

    This was a very desperate team that was at home coming off of 3 straight losses hosting a nationally televised night game. They were going to bring it.

    Also add in these factors. Detroit came off of a bye with 2 weeks to prepare. When you look into those factors as well as not having Tuitt playing a Steeler team that primarily plays zone, you can understand how the pass rush had struggles.

    Tuitt isn’t the whole difference for the defense, but their is a significant drop from him to Alalu. In a game like this, having Tuitt as well as playing some man could have caused more sacks.

    As far as the man defense goes, Tomlin strictly got Burns, Sutton, Allen and Haden for their man coverage capabilities. He stated after the AFCCG that it was bothersome in their inability to play man.

    He stated that they won’t ditch the zone, but you need to have the personnel to play both man and zone to be flexible. This is why Cockrell was cut after the Haden signing.

    We also know that Gay is a zone corner and has lost some speed. As they attempted to run man with Gay and Cockrell in the AFCCG, they were torched. This was mainly made evident with Edelman abusing Gay in man coverage.

    As a result, we now have Hilton manning the slot. The one thing that bothers me is not that we still run zone because I believe that we should. What bothers me is not using some man in the Lions game when the zone is clearly not working.

    I believe that part of the lack in not running much man to this point is due to the Steelers not wanting the Patriots to see it on film before our week 15 matchup.

    The thing is though, if the Steelers are a playoff contender going into week 15, how much would they show the Patrots? It would be very likely that they would see them in the playoffs again.

    The big question would be if how Tomlin would chose to gameplan for week 15. Would he go all ou on the Patriots or would he hold some back thinking we may see them again.

    Based on what Tomlin stated after the AFCCG, as well as his offseason moves, I believe that the Steelers will run man at least once vs the Patriots if we happen to see them twice.

  • Evan Eremita

    Brady routinely picks apart our coverage zones when we “play our style of football.” I don’t think they are unbeatable by us, I think they are unbeatable when we play our zone schemes especially when we start 10-20 yards off the defenders, and Brady throws it 5-10 yards under our coverage all the way down the field, or he just consistently finds the soft spots. I don’t want us to become a primarily man-heavy scheme. I want us to be flexible in our coverage schemes, so that when a quarterback like statford is throwing over 400 yards on us, we can try something new, or when Brady is having his usual day against us, we can not be so stubborn in trying to force something that is obviously not working. Not every quarterback can pick apart the zone. Brady and stafford can, Rodgers can, russel Wilson can, flacco can heave and pray, etc. Therefore we should know our opponents, and have the ability to play to their weaknesses, not refuse to be flexible and expect different results. We need our defense to win against New England this year, because Ben is not going to beat Brady on his arm the way he’s been playing.

    Other than consistently cheating, New England’s coaching staff consistently wins because they know their opponents and attack their weaknesses, even with subpar units on the field, like their last place defense this year.

  • SilverSteel

    No one wants a man heavy scheme all the time. Using it against Stafford would have been ideal though. He was gashing our zone. And it is the super squishy soft zones we run when Brady has 3rd and 2 that needs to go, not zone altogether.

    I thought you made the argument that we do need to disrupt Brady’s timing with tight press. Are you saying our soft zone tendencies are the better scheme now for our team? If we played any farther off man, we might as well just give them the first down.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Do a bit of research into our defense. You’ll find that in certain situations, our outside CB’s DO play Man. In the 3-4, LeBeau, Fire Zone, it’s not a 100% Zone all the time. There are variations mixed in. And Butler has taken that and then added his own wrinkles as well. Point is, it isn’t an all or nothing philosophy like a Cover 2 basically is.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Do a bit of research into our scheme. It isn’t a 100% Zone all the time type of proposition. There are variations. Look up LeBeau’s Fire Zone concept, and you will see some Man played by the outside CB’s. We mix in different coverages and always have. And now Butler has added his own wrinkles. Also, it is amazing what pressure can do. Our D-Line is playing at a different level right now. And when you have that, combined with a better Secondary, it all tends to lead to good things. And the hope is of course, that combined with that, we actually have an Offense that can outscore the Pats. I know, laugh if you will, but that potential exists. Just wait till Bryant gets going and this time we have Bell for the whole game. They have a rude awakening coming.

  • FATCAT716

    We need a clean bill of health


    Thanks for that! Don’t disagree with the logic.
    So let me ask you this….. when we face Brady next time (either Week 15 or in the POs) what do you feel we do differently from the AFCCG to change the outcome?
    More pressure, a cocktail that consists of more man mixed with zone or better execution? Or all of the above?
    Granted they don’t have that little s**t Edelman available (and he really was the guy that killed us IMO) but Gronk is healthy plus they have the new WR, forgot his name.

  • JohnB

    I know you didn’t ask me but to answer your concerns I think we have gotten a lot better in defending TEs. We can get to the QB. And while I do agree that Man isn’t who we are, I believe we have gotten better in that area. also Haden > Cockrell and Hilton > Gay..

  • Roblisberger

    Funny how everyone talks about man coverage like it’s the only way to stop Brady. PFF did a study on how QB’s fare against each coverage and Brady was the best in the NFL against man by far. Don’t get me wrong, having man coverage as an option to keep Brady guessing is a huge asset that’s very important, but let’s not act like Brady isn’t good against man, he’s the best. Our team plays best in zone coverage and I’m willing to wager even against the Pats we’ll play about 65% of the game in zone

  • walter

    Butler pretty much said he wasnt changing much and I caught a lot of heat for my comprehension. And now Lake makes what I call an odd comment.

  • walter

    lol everyone knows its true

  • walter

    They are going to wait til they are dissected apart by New England to try it. Heck Lake says he is comfortable in his teams ability to play man because Hayden played it in the past. Why am I worried lol?.


    You hit it on the head – the PERCEPTION of ability to play Man coverage at a minimum necessitates Brady to ponder one more possibility. Let’s face it, he is great vs ANY coverage!!
    Best way to beat him is to get in his face and constantly hit him (legally of course).
    Yes, I know – ‘Thanks, Captain Obvious’!!


    NP, John. Personally I think the ability to pressure Brady trumps any coverage scheme but was curious as to Darth’s (not DEATH’s 😩!) thoughts on that one.

  • JohnB

    Yeah pressure is the only way.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I think ball control on Offense with Bell is the key. Keep Brady off the field. TD’s instead of FG’s, will always keep the pressure on them to match. And yes, the D-Line needs to get pressure, so that when Brady tries to scan, he has to be hurried. A few timely blitzes to hit him hard and rattle him. And that should allow the Secondary a bit of an easier time chasing the little munchkins all around the field. Brady is NOT scrambler. So the defensive key is pressure. Make him have to move around and then hit him when we get through. Pound his O-Line into submission. Make it personal. And let him know he is in our house. That means the crowd MUST stay in it from the beginning to the end. Make things completely loud and uncomfortable.

  • SilverSteel

    Got it. My only beef is that really soft zone when short yardage is needed. It drives me crazy to see the CB 15 yds off man. That I could do without.
    I just want to see man when it makes sense like the Detroit game. What are we waiting on? Use it when zone is getting gashed. Thanks for the input though. I knew we would never go man heavy but do want to see it when applicable. Have a great day.


    Again agreed. Particularly on the point about ball control.
    When Bell went down injured I just hung my head and told my buddies we were done. He hadn’t been lighting it up to that point but you know how pounding a RB works…..
    Best way to beat a QB is keep him on the sidelines.

  • Evan Eremita

    Everyone thinks the only way the Steelers can beat Brady is the only way we have beaten him before, by playing tight man coverage, and because we see what he does to our zone schemes every year, every game since then. He’s good against man, but he’s good against everything. We beat him with man before, let’s try it again please.