Steel City Underground

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What was an ugly game for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday could be an ugly film room depending on what we’d want to highlight. A 90-yard touchdown run by Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette to close the game is something I’ll chalk up as a defeated team already playing defeated.

The remainder of the game, however, wasn’t the worst display by the Steelers defense. It’s unfortunate because playing with such a deficit throughout the second half made Pittsburgh’s defense look rather one-dimensional, in much the same way we may remember last season when the New England Patriots ran the wheels off of their running back LeGarrette Blount to close out the game.

Jacksonville looked one-dimensional when they were clinging to a four-point lead before the end of the first half. Up 7-3, the Jaguars regained possession of the ball and attempted to put points on the board before the end of the second quarter. That’s when the Mike Hilton and Ryan Shazier show made another appearance this week. Last week we highlighted each player’s impact on the game, and both came to play again on Sunday. (I don’t have to use the word “mostly” here again, do I?)

2nd Quarter – 1:06 remaining

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has struggled through the start of the 2017 season. On this play, he attempts to find his receiver, Allen Hurns on a 1st-and-10 from the Steelers 48-yard line.

Mike Hilton initially lines up in coverage and begins to inch toward the line of scrimmage for a DB blitz.

Hilton provides pressure from Bortles the left side, as Artie Burns quickly reads the play and makes a stop for only a three-yard play.

This down may seem insignificant when taken out of context, but in the grand scheme of the game, the Steelers send Hilton blitzing from the opposite direction on the very next play.

2nd Quarter – 0:45 remaining

That very next play would be the Ryan Shazier portion of the “show” as the linebacker strips Jacksonville tight end James O’Shaughnessy.

We’re getting into some hypotheticals as to how the pressure affected the plays, but one thing is for certain: Bortles was rushed to make his decisions, and forcing him to quickly find O’Shaughnessy setup an opportunity for the turnover.

Second Quarter – Fournette touchdown

A play which really bothered me from Sunday is a subpackage which was used against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago. The package removes the Steelers corners for linebackers. It’s clearly designed to stack the goal line and prevent a rushing touchdown, however, it has now failed twice.

In this package, L.J. Fort and Tyler Matakevich enter the field, with Fort at the top of the screen, and Matakevich lined up with Vince Williams and Sean Davis in the center of the defense.

Bud Dupree, toward the bottom of the line of scrimmage, is lined up in a three-point stance; as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, Dupree usually does not play with his hand on the ground, rather, he is in a standing position when coming off of the edge.

I can’t say for certain, but this may have contributed to the offside call made on Dupree, which was declined following Fournette’s touchdown. Had the defense been successful on this play, it would’ve been for naught: the Jaguars would’ve received a first down and the ball would’ve been moved half the distance to the goal line.

Also troubling on this play is how the Jaguars were apparently ready for Vince Williams and company to stuff the middle. Williams was criticized for this same play two weeks ago when he incorrectly read which gap to shoot.

Here? The Jags running back simply jumps over him.

Needless to say, I’d be content with never seeing this experiment going forward.

Fourth Quarter running woes

Despite the big run at the end, the Steelers defense still, mostly contained Fournette and the Jaguars running game for the afternoon. With 90 of the back’s 181 yards coming on that one run, Fournette was only averaging roughly 3.3 yards-per-carry.

That’s only two-tenths of a yard more per average than Le’Veon Bell had on the afternoon.

I understand it was over 90 yards, but take into consideration that Blake Bortles only passed for 95 yards in this game, and you can see how one-dimensional Jacksonville’s offense really was.

Unfortunately, (that word again) even knowing what’s coming doesn’t always mean you can stop it.

A wounded Steelers team already found themselves down 20-9 and in need of a stop at the start of the fourth quarter. Fournette was stopped for only a one-yard gain on the Jacksonville’s first play of the quarter but would rip off two first down runs on back-to-back plays.

The series was reminiscent of the Chicago Bears game, where the Steelers struggled to stop Jordan Howard. On this play, Fournette runs behind his left guard tfor 13 yards, as T.J. Watt allows a hole to open.

Watt gets pulled following this play and replaced by Anthony Chickillo.

Q4 – 1-10-JAX 18 (13:25) L.Fournette up the middle to JAX 29 for 11 yards (M.Mitchell).

Chickillo and Cam Heyward seal the left side off from Fournette, but the shifty runner finds a hole as Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier run a crossfire blitz into the A gaps.

This play wasn’t the “Shazier show” as 50 misses his gap assignment, and recovers to only miss the tackle too. Fournette gains 11 on the play before being tackled by S Mike Mitchell.

Two more runs went for double digits on this series which ended in a field goal. Each was a stretch play run to the outside, one by Fournette and another by Chris Ivory. In all, this series was the major fail by the defense on Sunday, giving up 67 yards on a 13-play drive which was all running play. The series ate over eight minutes off of the drive and forced the Steelers offense into a hurry-up, pass-heavy mode when they received the ball back with 6:43 left in the game. (The Steelers offense would fail to run another rushing play the rest of the game, as Roethlisberger threw two more interceptions as well.)





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  • Steeler4l1f3

    Joe, great breakdown. I’ve been depressed by the Steelers performance. They have too much talent to be losing to bad teams. Redzone offense and run defense is killing this team.

    • Joe Kuzma

      Thanks! I think it’s more fatigue than anything. We’ve seen a pattern going back to last year, as noted. All late in the game, all when they’re trailing and a team is winding the clock, or close situations like Dallas. Not sure how that’s fixed or if it can be? Maybe more of the bend but don’t break. They were getting beat badly by deep passes for years and that appears to have been the focus along with creating pressure on the QB. IMO a shit from the stop the run first defenses of years passed.