Film Room: Breaking Down Pittsburgh’s Blown Coverages

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense put the clamps on the Indianapolis Colts’ second half offense Sunday. They kept the game close until the offense finally got in gear and came storming back. So on the whole, allowing 17 points, recording three sacks, picking off a pass, it all looks good.

Then again, there were a pair of 60 yard touchdown passes mixed in there. It’s the first time they’ve allowed two such plays in the same game since 1983, when James Lofton caught 71 and 73 yard touchdowns in a Green Bay Packers loss to the Steelers. So yeah, been awhile.

How did things go so wrong? We’ll take a look at both plays today and find out.

The first is easier to explain than the second. Donte Moncrief’s 60 yard score in the second quarter. Cover 3 with Artie Burns needing to carry Moncrief vertical. Jacoby Brissett executes a subtle but effective shoulder fake to get Burns to bite on a curl and Moncrief fakes breaking down to influence Burns even more. Burns is beat and he knows it. Tries to grab Moncrief to slow him down but can’t.

Not Mike Mitchell’s fault. Isn’t going to be able to make up that kind of ground. Good throw and Moncrief scoots in.

So that’s pretty clearly on Burns. He’s still young and can get influenced by an offense’s tricks. Joe Haden has had trouble with it too, so it’s not all “Artie being Artie” but those mistakes are clearly costly.

The second one is trickier to figure out but only slightly. Again, single high look and Cover 3. Colts are in a 2×2 look with the slot receiver to the top running down the right seam. The #1 receiver runs an out route, holding the corner, and no one carries the slot (#2).

It’s one of my biggest gripes with LeBeau and Butler’s defenses. They do a poor job of defending the vertical seam. 2015 against Seattle was the worst example of that but it’s shown up time and time again, even on plays where the QB didn’t look that way.

Here’s an example of it early in the year, Week One against Cleveland. Not as costly but a 30 yard completion late in the game.

And your GIF of what happened Sunday afternoon.

So I am guessing this falls on Mitchell to carry #2. He has to match it. But I don’t get why the team can’t consistently carry that seam receiver instead of forcing the safety to squeeze the throw at the catch point.

To cap it off, Hilton and Mitchell miss the tackle and Mitchell busts his ankle on the play while Chester Rogers waltzes into the end zone. U-G-L-Y.

Here’s one example of it working how it should. Carrying #2 downfield. Watch Hilton in the slot to the bottom. That’s not a straight man coverage. That’s just matching the vertical threat. Why don’t we see it more often?

There’s times where quarterbacks have thrown the seam, as the Colts did Sunday. There’s times it’s been opened and missed and times where the QB wanted to try a safer throw. The four verts concept is always a good way to beat Cover 3. The Steelers just haven’t quite figured out a way to consistently stop it. The answer, however, is there.

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.

  • The Chin

    And no qb pressure on either

  • Rye Stye

    Sorry, is Mitchell’s job as a safety to just stand in the middle of the field until the ball is thrown or is he allowed to read the play and move to where a receiver is breaking deep? I’m guessing he just has to stand there because that’s what he is doing in both clips. Wouldn’t matter anyway as he has no ball skills aside from slamming into the receiver hoping he will drop it. Please draft a safety in the first three rounds. Also, if you’re just going to stand 30 yards back maybe you can actually be a safety and make a tackle to prevent a long TD. If he’s not doing that, what is he doing back there?

  • Doug Andrews

    Good breakdown thank Alex.

  • Petherson Silveira

    If you want to play cover 3, its better you know how to play cover 3 rip/liz match, coz offenses will 4 verticals concept to you all day. Or send send seams from both slots, something is just wath is needed. Nick Saban run this on college level, so i am pretty easy thing to execute in the NFL. Give me a break Butler, you are not that stupid.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    But it is Artie being Artie. The only reason we’re not regularly talking about how weak he is, is because the times he’s been beat, like this, the ball has been fortunately overthrown – not every time, but 3-4 more in addition to the ones he’s already given up.

    This player should not currently be on the field for a Patriots game.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Yes.

  • Andrew

    who takes his place?

  • The Chin

    This should be good. I’m anxiously awaiting who you’d like to replace him

  • StrengthOfVictory

    When teams who aren’t the Pats and QBs who aren’t Brady can beat the Steelers using seam routes, you know you’ve got a problem.

  • Leek

    Patriots this! Patriots that! Patriots Patriots Patriots is all I here from people on here. This obsession over the Patriots is disturbing. Like are they the only team in the league?

  • 太阳三联

    Artie is just dumb AF IMO. Hopefully cam replaces him.

  • Leek

    But the Pats struggling to beat teams like the Jets and Chargers is not a problem?

  • EdJHJr

    As always great film. Is that Hilton who broke off. But why

  • StrengthOfVictory

    They’re 7-2, they’re the biggest threat in the AFC, and they’ve had the Steelers’ number for some time. Forgive me if I don’t take solace in what the Pats do against other teams.

  • Smitty 6788

    That’s ridiculous lmbo

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Because the weakness highlighted in this article (deep seam routes) is one the Pats exposed. That’s what makes it relevant.

  • Smitty 6788

    I agree this little brother syndrome is pitiful. Steelers play Tennessee Thursday not NE

  • KiJana Haney

    Great job alex. I am surprised that teams don’t run more zone beater with 3 receivers on one side.

  • Av232

    Well, given that it’s cover 3, he’s covering the deep middle third of the field. In the first indy clip, he’s clearly not at fault. On the second, that’s a tough spot for the safety to be in. A vertical seam route runs at the edge of two defenders responsibilities. Perhaps he’s become used to Haden hanging deep, and it looked like both CBs got sucked into the out route. Perhaps he made a mistake. But he’s not just “standing there waiting” as you say.

    Regardless, between he and Hilton, that tackle needs to be made.

  • Av232

    lol

  • Av232

    You can drop the pats part outof the equation.

    Every coverage in the league makes mistakes, especially after losing their starting CB that plays 100% of their snaps.

  • Av232

    At least they’ve moved on from the fire Haley and Tomlin nonsense.

    Oops, nevermind. I’m just in the wrong thread

  • Av232

    Wtf dude? Did you grade his Wonderlic or something? Get outta tahn

  • EdJHJr

    I’m not Ho Chi Minh, reply to him

  • Av232

    Hahaha nice response. Yeah that got twisted

  • Av232

    Wtf dude? Did you grade his Wonderlic or something? Get outta tahn

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    And this is why NE continues to beat us because of the lack of consistent from our secondary. Gronk kills us on this route and it’s not surprising teams will continue to take advantage of this play. We definitely need to fix this. It will continue to be our kryptonite for the Steelers secondary

  • 太阳三联

    No and I don’t care about math or social studies.. I’m talking football. He doesn’t have it from the shoulders up.

  • Matt Rippin

    Big difference between the one that worked and ones that didn’t was that a defensive back was assigned to the “carry” rather than linebacker. I would say they don’t seem to have plan for what happens when an OLB gets paired up on a slot receiver.

  • Mark

    This is where it doesn’t make sense. We have 7 defenders covering 3 receivers and one gets wide open for a long TD. Has anyone heard of a match up zone, after the snap you take the closest player to you and it now becomes man to man. This is on the players though, because Mike Hilton has responsibility to carry the player up the seam.

    Last but not least, Mike Mitchell the QB is looking to your left his right go that away immediately, the lesser QBs can’t look you off and go somewhere else. Read the QB eyes and get to the spot on the field and save a long TD. Mike isn’t a FS and is horrible at making reads.

  • Mark

    The only way we beat the Patriots is through time of possession, scoring TDs, playing man to man on defense, and keeping the receivers out of the middle of the field.

  • Alex Kozora

    100% agree Petherson.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yeah Hilton broke it off. But i think that’s just part of the spot dropping zone. In my view, they have to carry that when 1 and 2 are vertical. But I don’t think it’s always coached that way.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Who knows, I didn’t build the roster. Was hoping to get a look at Sensabaugh in case he was just more consistent.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    You guys can laugh away if you want, doesn’t make any difference to me. But he’s clearly the weakest link and teams know it.

    I can’t see giving up a TD a game and being able to go very far into the playoffs once the good QBs start to play.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Well, I’d like to replace him with Rod Woodson in his prime, but the roster is the roster.

  • Zarbor

    I agree. Please draft a safety.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I would think that the decision to carry has something to with tendencies. By the time he can read if #1 is curling or going vertical, it’s too late at that point to run with #2. A big problem with that play is that Mitchell takes a step to the right because Davis bites on the run fake leaving the WR at the bottom of the screen open. I think normally Mitchell has to be the guy that gets to #2 when there is only 1 receiver on the other side of the field.

  • Andrew

    Well you’ll have a pretty good long look at him since he’s taking over for Haden while he’s out – likely through the Pats game. Your options are to start outside would be Burns, Gay, Sutton, or Allen…or street FA. Who are you picking?

  • Alex Kozora

    If you get eyes on #2, you’re going to have peripherals on #1. If you see him cut across, you let 2 go to the CB. But it’s pretty clear on this play he isn’t even being asked to read the routes. Total spot drop.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I know who’s on the roster and who the choices are. You’re looking for an answer so you can argue that that player won’t be as good as burns. But if you really pay attention you’ll see that burns has been horrible.

    Sometimes you sit a player so they can get on track. In the meantime, he’s a liability.

  • Andrew

    And yet you refuse to provide an answer, because you realize that there are no better options, no?

  • Matt Manzo

    I’ve been waiting for this one! Was suprised to see them go after Burns on Sensi’s first play in! Kinda pissed me off!

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Your focus is off – you want to be ‘right’. But there’s isn’t a ‘right’ here dude.

    Shades of grey. No, I don’t know who the Steelers would prefer, based on all variables, and if Haden hadn’t just gotten hurt it would be different still.

    None of this doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be helped by being pulled for a couple of games – and if you feel his play is currently above the line, you’re not paying attn.

  • Andrew

    I never suggested his play was above the line. My only assertion was that he is the best option the Steelers have.

    Your suggestion that he not “currently” be on the field for the Pats game would leave them with Gay, Sensabaugh, and Hilton as the three top CB’s with two rookies (Allen/Sutton) as the top reserves. A few games off isn’t going to turn him into Rod F Woodson.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Neither Gay nor Sensabaugh have allowed receivers to run right past them.
    And Gay can actually tackle. That’s an upgrade in the short term.

    Yes, if the Pats game was today and Burns plays, I believe he gets toasted and the Steelers lose. He’s the weakest link right now. And being removed for a game or so has helped players in the past.

  • Aj Gentile

    So you rather Mitchell leave his zone and leave it open?

  • Aj Gentile

    So if Hilton carries the #2 does that mean there is no one covering the curl/flat then?

  • Alex Kozora

    No. But the LB can expand. Better to throw it underneath than let it over the top.

  • David Shoff

    Petherson, could you explain that so a simple guy like me can understand it? Thanks

  • David Shoff

    Me too. We have been beaten when teams flood a zone with 2 wrs. In fact, I’ve seen many times where the Steelers have one guy trying to cover two wrs because of that zone and there is always somebody wide open.

  • Kevin Reich

    Artie was awful. He started his break after the receiver was already running past him.

  • LAD

    Hi Alex,
    Thanks for the work… One question, a few days ago, the website was using some GIFs that could be paused. Now, with these ones is not possible. Any chance you go back to the other ones, I used it to check where some players were at specific moments of the plays and was very helpful. Thanks again

  • Jason Dock Dudley

    looks to me like blown coverage by the CBs . Against cinci it was covered correctly. Mitchells job is to cover the deepest route and make the stop as he did in the Browns game. Also the issue the corners are releasing to soon underneath getting into the trail position and they have to stick with the wrs deeper than they are.

  • Taylor Williams

    None of which the Steelers like to do.

    We barely score any TDs. We have man coverage CBs, but still like to play prevent D.
    Running game has been meh. Can’t tackle well enough to keep receivers from running across the field. We’re 7-2 because the amount of talent we have. Seriously the Jets, browns, Ravens, 49ers would LOVE to have a top 5 receiver, oline, and our front 7.

  • HiVul

    It’s kind of a two horse race between us and the Patriots, that’s a big part of why people are so focused on them Imo

  • Jason Dock Dudley

    I think it looks confusing because the DBs are not playing the same coverage. I think sensi is playing man and hilton playing zone, who is wrong is hard to say but in the bengals replay they are playing man with a single high safety. Against the browns it is a single high safety but they are playing zone.

  • Jason Dock Dudley

    mithcell did his job coverage wise, he did not make the tackle on the Pass over hilton and either Hilton or sensi blew coverage. On the Burns play Mitchell cannot cheat and leave his zone so soon. He had coverage on hilton who was coming into his zone. Bottom line is Burns has to cover his man.

  • Mark

    After reviewing, I agree

  • pittfan

    Right! When you have 2 WRs both running vertical routes, who gives a crap about curl/flat? This is what frustrates me about zone coverage and blind adherence to “responsibilities”. Somewhere in there needs to be football sense that it’s better for both CBs to carry then let 1 CB carry 2 WRs and just say, “well, I did MY job and covered flat/curl”. Grass does not catch balls, players do.

  • pittfan

    Right, Burns has help underneath. Biting on the curl doomed him.

  • Alex Kozora

    Hey, sorry man. I switched the uploader b/c the old one was making GIFs look weird on mobile.

  • disqus_6VWOvIAZzr

    In the early Cowher years, I recall seeing Woodson playing in the slot often. Why not use the better DBs in those positions, at least often enough to throw off the other team’s game planning? I wouldn’t mind seeing Haden there when he gets healthy. It will be interesting to see what the coaches can get from these young DBs the rest of the season.

  • WreckIess

    This type of insecurity has been going on for literally 11 months now. Guys have been referencing NE in every single thing the team has done all year. That inferiority complex isn’t going to die anytime soon.

  • Petherson Silveira

    Yeap. On Cover 3 we have 3 players covering 3 deep zones of the defense. The Nickelback and a LB or Dime are responsible fo covering the Curl/Flat Zones. But when you Call Cover 3 with Match Pattern, that Curl/Flat defender must carry Wr#2 (slot receiver) on any vertical Route, specially the Seam, because that is the most dangerous route. Combination of routes are importants to be read by the CB and the curl/flat defender, for exemple: wr#1 and wr#2 vertical routes is a must Match by the Curl/flat defender carrying #2, the same can be applied with a seam+deep In, seam+hitch, seam+curl. I think Alex can explain better than me. Also, if u searching here on Depot about Rip/Liz Match, you will find an Article.

  • kdubs412

    Artie’s blown coverages would be a lot more tolerable if he, like, ever successfully jumped a route and got a pick. Right now it’s all risk no reward.

  • kdubs412

    This is basically a high school cover 3 defense schematically, all spot dropping, no pattern matching. I think it’s improved a ton with Haden at corner and Watt frequently dropping into coverage, but that’s all a product of their skills and instincts, not anything schematic.