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Film Breakdown: Pittsburgh’s Offense

What Miami’s Defense Should Expect On Sunday

New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Hello Phinsiders. This is the first in a weekly series where I’m going to highlight a couple of plays from Miami’s upcoming opponent that week. What I hoping to accomplish with these posts is to give fans a few things too look for while watching the game. It could be a match-up or a formation or a personnel grouping or a simple play. Week to week, when the opponent changes, what to look for will change.

The Pittsburgh Steelers is Miami’s opponent this week. This post will discuss the Steelers offense and a few things Miami’s defense should be on the lookout for seeing on Sunday. Full disclosure, I LOVE Pittsburgh’s offense. They use a lot of personnel groupings and formations and exploit matchups with defenders about as well as any team in the league. The Steelers offense might be the best offense Miami’s defense will see all season.

One of the things I noticed immediately when watching film on the Steelers offense is how much they use bunch formations in the passing game. They have speedy receivers in Sammie Coates, Darius Heyward-Bey, Marcus Wheaton, and Antonio Brown. To get them off the LOS, they bunch them a lot so defenses can’t press them.

Here is a 3rd & 7 play last week against the New York Jets that highlights a lot of what the Steelers do in the passing game and the difficulty defenses have in defending them. Pittsburgh lined up with 2 Receivers to the right and 2 Receivers to the left of the formation. They shifted to Trips right and left Antonio Brown as the lone WR to the left. When the shift occurred, a defender followed the shifting WR. This told Ben Roethlisberger that the Jets are in a man defense.

Knowing that the coverage pre-snap is man coverage, Roethlisberger now must determine what type of man coverage this could be. Is it Cover 0, true man to man? Is it Cover 1, man to man with a single high safety? Is it Cover 2 Man, man to man with 2 deep safeties? At first glance, this looks like Cover 2 Man because there are 2 deep safeties. But if you look at the alignment of the safeties, you will notice that the safeties are shifted to the defensive right, offensive left with on safety in the middle of the field and one safety almost over the CB covering Antonio Brown. Seeing this safety alignment, Roethlisberger knows that it is Cover 1, single high safety, with the other safety doubling with the CB on Antonio Brown. Here are the man to man coverages.

At this point, Roethlisberger knows the coverage and the route combination. The receiver in Blue is going to run a wheel route (deep fly along the sideline). The receiver in Yellow is going to run a crossing route (by the way, against man coverage out of a bunch formation, the Steelers run a TON of crossing routes). The receiver in Green is running an arrow route to the sideline. What this route combination is doing is trying to isolate the single high safety. Ben has a simple read. He is reading the single high safety. If he stays in the middle of the field, throw the wheel route. If he moves outside toward the sideline to cover the wheel, throw the crossing route. Here are the routes after the snap of the ball.

After the snap, with the receivers 7-10 yards into their routes, the single high safety is still in the middle of the field, basically covering the crossing route. Roethlisberger now knows that he is throwing deep to the wheel route because the single high safety can’t get there in time. If the receiver running the wheel route can create separation and Ben can hit him in stride, this is a TD.

And that is exactly what happened. The wheel route got separation and the single high safety couldn’t get over there in time. This play ended up in a 72 yard TD.

How should this play be defended by Miami’s defense? It starts with the single high safety. He shouldn’t be in the middle of the field. Prior to the snap of the ball, instead of being in the middle of the field, he should be outside the hash toward the bunch formation. Being in the middle of the field, against the speed of Pittsburgh’s receivers, basically eliminates his ability to cover the deep 3rd where the wheel route was run, essentially leaving the CB one on one with a very fast WR. Miami is going to use this coverage and see this formation (I would expect several times) on Sunday. How this formation is defended will be key to Miami containing the Pittsburgh passing game.

Let’s now take a look at a play that Pittsburgh runs with LeVeon Bell in the rushing game. Like I say in the beginning, Pittsburgh is very formation and personnel diverse. In this 1st & 10 play, they are in 12 personnel (2 TE’s). Initially, both TE’s are lined up offensive left with one TE on the LOS and the other as a wing. The 2 WR’s are in twins right. The Steelers then shift the TE to an offset right I-Formation with the 2nd TE assuming a FB position.

The Jets have 7 defenders in the box with the unblocked defender, a CB, approximately 9 yards from the LOS. Pittsburgh has 7 blockers for 7 defenders. The play call is an isolation or FB lead play where the TE in the FB position is isolated on the LB (number 6). The Yellow lines represent where the running lane is designed to be with the play call. Here is the blocking assignments for this play.

The RT is blocking the DE. The RG is blocking the DT. The FB is climbing to the OLB. The C and LG are doubling the DT and climbing to the MLB. The LT and TE are doubling the DE and climbing to the OLB that is right now outside the TE to the right. Again, the running lane is essentially up the hash mark. After the snap of the ball, look at the blocks taking place focusing on the FB lead block on the OLB and the C / LG double team climbing to the MLB.

From this picture, it looks like the running lane is going to be created up the hash. But if we let the play develop just a little longer, we see that the OLB on the isolation block with the FB stuffs the blocker in the hole. The MLB gets over the top of the double team and the DT collapses the hole and fights through the double team. These 3 defenders do their job perfectly.

This is a coaching clinic on how to beat a double team by the DT / MLB combination and how as a LB you are supposed to take on an isolation block. Notice that the OLB meets the FB at or slightly behind the LOS, taking on the blocker with his inside shoulder protecting his outside gap, he run lane responsibility. That is perfect technique and is really well done.

But this is LeVeon Bell at RB for Pittsburgh. In my opinion, one of the top 2 or 3 RB’s (if not the best) in the league and he has great vision. Bell sees that the primary running lane is blocked, but the backside double team in Red is opening up a hole. He hop steps to his left and explodes through the hole created by this double team and forces the unblocked defender to make a tackle

The unblocked defender, while I would want him a little closer to the LOS, makes the tackle for a 6 yard gain.

This is a pretty good representative play in Pittsburgh’s rushing attack. It is a simple play that is run at all levels of football and has been around forever. What Pittsburgh is relying on is simple execution and the unreal ability of LeVeon Bell to use his vision, patience, and quickness to find a hole and gain positive yards.

From a defensive perspective, the Jets defended this play very well. The Front 7 of the Jets defense did just about everything right at the point of attack. This should have been a 1-2 yard gain at most. But not too many RB’s are able to do what LeVeon Bell can do and he turned this into a 6 yard gain by getting to the unblocked defender.

What Miami’s defense needs to do is make sure they maintain their run gaps and run fits. Against a guy like Bell, as a defender you can’t abandon your gap because he will find the opening and exploit it like he did in this play. This is something that Miami’s defense has struggled with so far this year. If they don’t clean it up against Pittsburgh, it could be another long day on defense.

Well, that was the first installment. I’ve shortened this to 1 pass play and 1 running play because of the length. I could have kept going and talked about how Pittsburgh does a really good job of isolating Bell on a LB in the passing game. Or how they manage to get Antonio Brown so wide open on certain plays. But I didn’t want to turn these posts into War & Peace.

Hopefully, this will give you something to look for with Miami’s defense when they play the Steelers on Sunday. Look for Pittsburgh to run a lot of bunch formations. Also look at personnel groupings in the running game and see if Miami brings that extra defender (Jones) in the box. With Antonio Brown at WR, Miami bringing that extra defender into the box would be extremely risky.

I hope you enjoyed the post. I certainly enjoyed writing it. It took me back to my youth when I was breaking down opponent’s film. I like to think I’m still pretty good at it. LOL.

One more thing before I finish. If there is something about an upcoming opponent that you want to see broken down, let me know. If I can fit it into the bigger narrative, I will.