Film Room: One Downside To Man Coverage

Quick film room today. Lot of discussion this year,and this week after Carnell Lake’s comments, about man coverage. Numbers show the Pittsburgh Steelers are running it less than any other team in the league but as I wrote yesterday, it’s more about when they play it than just sheer frequency.

While yes, the Steelers have to be capable of playing man-to-man and I think it’s been successful, there are going to be downsides to every scheme. One play Sunday night against the Detroit Lions showcased one of those flaws.

Lack of vision on the football.

When you’re facing a statue of a QB, it’s not as much of an issue. But even a semi-athletic QB like Matthew Stafford can make you pay. Man coverage means your back is to the football so if the quarterback breaks contain, the secondary is always going to be late reacting.

That happened on 3rd and 10 in the third quarter of last week’s game. Stafford breaks contain (we’ll get to some of the rush lane issues next week, I promise) and with both receivers to the top running vertically, the corners carry and lose sight on the QB. Stafford has a huge lane to the left and scampers for a first down, an infuriating one at that.

That’s not to say all man coverage is bad or that it shouldn’t be used. It’s effective and we’ve shown that time and time again. But it’s important to recognize some of the flaws to the concept and why in some games the Steelers have played a ton of zone.

Kansas City is a great example. One of the league’s most mobile starters, Alex Smith, is not someone you want to play man coverage against. The Steelers played a ton of zone that game and shut down the Chiefs’ attack. Smith never beat them with his arm or his legs. You could see a similar story in a few weeks against Marcus Mariota.

Sure, against the Tom Brady’s of the world, you better be playing more man-to-man, but that’s for a discussion that’s still weeks away. Man coverage is not the cure all even if the Steelers are better equipped to use it with the secondary they’ve built.


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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.

  • CountryClub

    While this is true, it’s not something they need to worry about vs Brady. He’s not running anywhere. So far this year, the Steelers have played the least man D in the NFL. Not sure why they think they can just pull it out when they need it (Patriots). I hope they’re right, but I’m dubious.

  • capehouse

    A bit of a wild spin move by Watt. He’s gotta stay in more control. Lost contain a couple times that game.

  • dany

    Why you only beat Rodgers when he has a bad day or you’re truly elite, or when his defense blows it big

  • francesco

    That’s right. You just don’t all of sudden play man coverage when we meet the Patriots. You start now in certain situations to see what you got. When we do play the Pats…you can’t play man to man 100% of the time either. You have to disguise it and mix it up. Half play man and the other half zone perhaps. Never knowing which half plays when. Especially on 3rd down situations. But the defense should be working on it now if they haven”t.

  • Alex Kozora

    Sure, that’s why I said what I said. But man coverage isn’t the cure all for every QB and every gameplan. Just wanted to note it and provide a counterpoint.

  • cencalsteeler

    When in man coverage, someone, either a backer or a safety should be a “robber”. Instead of blitzing, he drops back into a soft zone and “spys” the QB for runs or looks to pick off a short pass underneath. It looks like Shazier was the “robber” in that GIF, but he went with the back and Stafford went the other way. It also looks like Hilton and Davis(?can’t see) doubled up on the same guy. Maybe Davis should have been down helping with the back out of the backfield to free up Shazier.

  • CountryClub

    Oh yeah, I get it and agree. It’s a solid post.

  • Mark

    TJ and Bud have to adjust their rush lanes once they get to QB. I love the Jet’s 5 man rush with 6 in cover, I’m hoping we can run that or put 6 on the line and drop 1, 2, or 3 into throwing lanes based on down and distance. We need to confuse the linemen and make them block one on ones.

  • PittShawnC

    Alex, any data (snap counts, etc) on how often Haden and Burns are in press coverage?

    That gif is a perfect example of what gives me nightmares thinking about TB…those big, juicy cushions at the line.

  • PittShawnC

    I couldn’t agree more Francesco and I’m hoping we take advantage of the QB’s we face in the 2nd half to get plenty of practice in

  • Dshoff

    Alex, I was so impressed earlier in the season when you did that article showing how well the Steelers rushed and did great contain at the same time. In the last two games, they haven’t done so well in that area.

  • Alex Kozora

    They absolutely have not. We’re going to talk about that next week.

  • Alex Kozora

    I couldn’t tell you. We don’t track that stuff.

  • PittShawnC

    Cool, just curious, thanks you

  • nutty32

    Romo was saying the same thing about the Steeler D. Zone allows defenders to play with their eyes & highlights team speed in reacting. Steelers have a very fast D & so he liked them in zone.

  • razaard2

    Downside to man coverage? Your DB needs to be better than the receiver, otherwise he will get burned. So unless you got great talent there, beware

  • nikki stephens

    I think the point many of us have or try to make is that we should keep opposing QB guessing. So for example, if we just played 30-40 % man (depending upon the qb) we could start tinkering w/ even disguising a zone look then kick it into man vs man….but as it as stood recently opposing qbs have minimal reads because 90% of the time the steelers are in some zone ….not to mention pregame planning.

    Lastly, I thought one of the reasons we keep drafting FAST athletic LB’s is because it would contain / catch these athletic running qbs. we should normally be able to minimize these scrambles.

  • JohnB

    People make more about those “cushions” than there really is. IF you play press and WR can over power you, or runs a rub route you’re instantly taken out of the play. Also press is great for the outside guys but really doesn’t help the inside guys which is Bradys bread and butter. Vertical and Shallow routes can hurt against press, which is also Bradys MO. So really that wont help you. And its not like Tom Brady has never seen M2M and/or Press. You gotta beat him with pressure.

  • JohnB

    My thing is..If we’re running a top 5 defense, who cares what scheme it is?

  • walter

    Because we need to beat the Patriots and the only 1 time we beat them was utilizing man coverage with Ike, Keenan Lewis and a young Cortez Allen. We havent had a group like them until now.

  • PittShawnC

    So you don’t think mixing it up and jamming guys at the line from time to time disrupting routes can allow more time for the pass rush to get home?

    Brady typically gets the ball out pretty quick (2.11 secs snap to throw avg in Oct 2016 meeting, 1.88 in Sept 2015) and I don’t see how a consistent 5-7yd cushion helps a pass rush (which is a must, as you said).

  • JohnB

    so why are you so scared?

  • JohnB

    True but if you jam a guy at the line and he gets by you, that’s a big play most of the time. Brady didn’t put it out that quick in the AFCC game. He had plenty of time to wait out the routes. Again I don’t see how press coverage is somehow going to surprise and beat TB and BB. a cushion allows the play to happen in front of the corner so he can make the play on the ball and/or minimize the gain. if he is pressured the CBs can react for easy picks or breakups. In man your eyes are only on the player youre covering. We wernt playing press man or man exclusively when we had the best defense in 2008. it was the front seven that took care of business. I’m all for mixing it up but thinking that playing man or press man exclusively is going to be the end all be all isn’t really going to work.

  • PittShawnC

    “Brady didn’t put it out that quick in the AFCC game.”
    -What time did you find for that game that supports that statement?

    I just don’t understand how anyone can be against employing schemes that have actually beat TB. Why would we ever use press coverage like the Ravens, Chiefs, Broncos and others have done to win? Yeah,makes no sense.

  • JohnB

    why would we change to press coverage when we’re 6-2? makes no sense.

  • PittShawnC

    No one is implying a complete change in philosophy or scheme.

    What makes no sense is not practicing a Plan B for Brady. What makes no sense is not taking opportunities to practice different techniques against the Kizer, Glennon, Keenum, Bortles, Hundley, Savage and Brissett’s of the NFL should they be needed in January vs TB.

    What makes no sense is doing the same thing that has allowed TB to complete 76% of his passes for almost 900yds, 9TD’s and 0INT’s in our 3 meetings

  • Steeler Nation!

    There is no one scheme that you can can say this is what we’re going to do, nothing else, and win a championship. What works against Alex Smith may not work vs Brady. That has been part of our problem vs Brady over the years. We do what we do. And even when we were the best D in the league, we still struggled vs Brady. Remember that we have not had to beat the Pats to reach any of the 3 SBs in recent memory. We need to be able to play man and zone, get there with 4 but also with blitzes. We will not be able to beat them by following our standard recipe.

  • JohnB

    The funny thing is that they do play man and zone and they have done so in the past but they arnt going to just change up to all of a sudden be a press man team enough where its every other play. And we’ve changed it up on Brady. Sometimes it works most times it doesn’t. Panthers beat them this year. they’re a tampa 2 zone team. of course they’re 4-3 so maybe we should go at him with more 4-3.

  • JohnB

    If you think the steelers don’t have plan b,c,x (ie adjustments) then you’re crazy. They play man, they have … its just not all the time. as I said to the other guy, Panthers ran a tampa 2 zone on them. that’s not press man to man. you don’t have to play one way to beat him. Dude is the best to play the game, he’s seen it all. you gotta pressure him, the rest will fall into place.

  • Uncle Rico.

    Shazier had the RB on that play, who leaked out late. In man coverage, if an eligible receiver stays in to help block, the defender responsible for man coverage on that player may/will look like he’s playing zone.

    Against a 2×2 look the Steelers used some C2-Man, like above. The FS plays deeper and the SS shallower. The FS would split the difference between the 2 receivers while the underneath guys manned up. Kind of a triangle coverage. On the SS side, the SS would bracket the #2, while the outside corner had straight up solo man coverage.

    But the Steelers did use Watt some as a robber versus the Lions. If you have a robber, you have to have 7 players for coverage if C1. 5 for each eligible receiver, one deep safety, and one robber. But the Steelers didn’t use much C1 Sunday, opting to play more C2-man when in man coverage. So, 8 with 3 rushers, if using a robber. Usually when you see just 3 rushers the Steelers are playing C4 behind it. But if you look at that 44 yarder to Ebron late, the Steelers were in C2-Man with Watt as a robber. Unfortunately a confused VW messed the bed and decided to play zone instead. But yeah, using a robber is kind of a new look for them, and likely at least a partial counter/reaction to that above scramble. And just as likely due to Watt’s accelerated ability to take on more.

  • Steeler Nation!

    I know we have. But we have been off and soft too often vs them.

  • PittShawnC

    If they did indeed have those adjustments ready, it sure would’ve been nice to see one or two of them Sunday night. This article wouldn’t have been written and you and I wouldn’t be having this discussion if they did.

    And again, no one is implying a complete change in philosophy or scheme.

  • #beatthepats

    Tom Brady would not have gone 0 for in the red zone, that same defense would have given up 35 to NE. press man and blitz and hit him is the only way to stop him. If they don’t change their defensive approach against Ne it will yield the same result. Your not ever going to confuse him, you have to knock him on his ass!

  • walter

    Because we will not beat Brady with this zone scheme and almost everybody agrees. We have the players to play man if we start now.