The Pittsburgh Steelers are approaching training camp, and we provide some potential predictions for 2019.
In case you didn’t know, the Pittsburgh Steelers will return to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA in exactly 28 days of this article being published. With that, I decided to revive an old series we used to do as a lead up to training camp.
30 predictions in 30 days.
Myself and Simon Chester will alternate days giving a prediction for the upcoming season. Some will be team oriented, while others will be specific to individual players. Either way, you will be able to read the reason why we think this prediction will come to fruition, why it might not come true and you have your chance to give your thoughts in the comment section below the article!
Training camp is almost here! Here We Go!
Prediction: The Steelers’ offense will average 28 points per game in 2019.
Why it will happen: The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is a group who under former offensive coordinator Todd Haley would always aim to average 30 points per game. This was a lofty goal, and one not many offensive units achieve on a yearly basis, but the Steelers were always close.
Clearly, the offense has always hovered around the 25 to 27 points per game average in the past five seasons, and with a little more diligence by players like Ben Roethlisberger and Chris Boswell could easily have boosted that 26.8 to a higher number last season.
This isn’t a goal of 30 points per game. That goal seems to be too lofty for the vast majority of the NFL, but the goal of 28 points per game certainly seems attainable. Two factors remain for the Steelers to achieve this goal:
Continue their red-zone success
A defense that creates more turnovers to get more offensive possessions.
If those two factors can be intact, I see no reason why they Steelers offense, even without Antonio Brown, can reach that 28 points per game goal in 2019.
Why it won’t happen: It is easy to suggest the Steelers’ offense will stumble without Antonio Brown, and rightfully so. The offense was able to live without Le’Veon Bell under the success of James Conner, but replacing Brown’s on field production will be tough to replace.
Brown finished last season with over 1,200 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns.
Think about that last statistic for a second. 15 receiving touchdowns.
When you are talking about reaching a goal of 28 points per game, not only does every point count, but losing 90 total points by Brown is certainly something of note. Many have faith the Steelers will be able to find a way to make plays and score points without Brown in 2019, but it might be more realistic to say they will be closer to the 25 points per game mark than the 28 points per game.
What are your thoughts on this prediction? Do you think it will happen? Or are we crazy? Let us know by voting in the poll, and letting your voice be heard in the comment section below!
Obviously, when Steelers fans saw this, and saw where they were ranked, they were angry. But should they be higher? Is Steelers Nation the best, or are they a group of spoiled fans who do nothing but throw around their 6 Super Bowl titles?
Plenty has to be deciphered here, and I lay it all out there for the listeners in the latest show…
Check out the show below, and be sure to comment what you think in the comment section below!
If you missed the live show, be sure to check out the YouTube clip here, and be sure to subscribe to our channel by clicking HERE:
Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With all of the Steelers’ 2019 offseason workouts in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base has to suffer through the dog days of summer until the boys of fall return to the gridon. In the meantime, don’t think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over. As the team disperses for the summer, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until training camp!
Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Javon Hargrave, coming off a 6.5 sack 2018, very well could be the glue to hold the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 3-4 defensive front together in 2019 and beyond.
Let’s get to the news:
Javon Hargrave tallied 6.5 sacks in 2018, and this all while playing as a part-time player. If the Steelers can get him on the field more in 2019, he could be a difference maker.
Carter’s Classroom: Hargrave brings balance to D-line
When an offensive line prepares each week they take into account which pass rushers they’ll face and how to counter them. So when teams prepare for the Steelers in 2019 they’ll have to look at Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt as the mauling defensive linemen along with T.J. Watt as the emerging edge rushing star and Bud Dupree as a fast athlete off the ball.
Not to be lost in the shuffle is Javon Hargrave, who had a career high 6.5 sacks in 2018 and is another rising star for the defense. He’s still only 26 and causing problems for protection packages.
There are three Edmunds brothers currently in the NFL, with two on the Pittsburgh Steelers. All three talk about what it is like having all 3 in the NFL.
There have been a lot of families in the National Football League. There are the Pouncey Brothers, the Matthews family and of course the Watt family. But while the Watts have three current players in the NFL, there is one family that has two brothers on the same team.
That would be none other than the Edmunds family. Tremaine, the youngest of the three, was drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft to the Buffalo Bills, while Terrell, the middle of the trio, was also taken in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The oldest brother, Trey, went undrafted to the Buffalo Bills before finding his way to the Steelers last season. He remains in Pittsburgh in hopes of finding a spot on the 53-man roster as a running back.
So, what is it like having all three brothers in the NFL? What is it like having brothers on the same team? What was draft night like with both Tremaine and Terrell having their names called?
The three brothers were guests on the NFL Network show “Good Morning Football” and talked about this, as well as other things. Check out part of the interview:
For the Steelers, they are hoping for big things from Terrell in 2019, his sophomore season, but while Try has impressed so far in offseason workouts, he has an uphill climb to make the 53-man roster with a crowded backfield with the likes of James Conner, Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr. seemingly locks to make the team.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for training camp and the 2019 regular season.
Assisted by his childhood friend and trainer Jerome Howard, Shazier still has plans ‘to be the best linebacker in the NFL’
While there are many who doubt that Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier will ever return to the football field, he continues to work relentlessly towards that target. And given the remarkable progress that the Shazier already has made since that fateful day in Cincinnati, it would be foolish for anyone to bet against him.
Returning to his former high school this week for a football camp run by his childhood friend and trainer, Jerome Howard, Shazier once again highlighted how far along he was with his recovery when demonstrating to students the correct form to use on a variety of workout equipment.
Ryan Shazier yesterday instructing young football players through back exercises at his HS alma mater Plantation High.
He was helping trainer and childhood friend Jerome Howard at his camp. Story dropping soon on how their bond has pushed Shazier in his comeback from injury. pic.twitter.com/ALakHsAuCk
“I try to be appreciative of every day I get, because every day I’m beating the odds. Every day I’m getting better, proving people wrong that never thought I’d be where I am. I constantly am proud of where I’m at. There are some moments that people see that are a little bigger than others. I set goals, but every day that I take another step, take another breath, I’m truly thankful and praise God for that.
“I have a lot of little moments like that to myself and my family, but my goals may be different from a lot of people’s goals. People might see me walking on the stage and be thinking, ‘Man, that’s an amazing goal. I know he’s been trying to achieve that.’ But at the end of the day, I can be trying to achieve something entirely different.”
Revealing a focus for his return that goes beyond being able to suit up for a game; not only does Shazier want to be able to play, he wants to be as great as he ever was and more.
“I still want to make the Hall of Fame, still want to be the best linebacker in the NFL. I’m not giving up on my goals, and the doctors said don’t give up on my goals, so there’s no problem with me doing that. I’m just going to keep working, and hopefully I’m going to be back as soon as I can.”
Shazier will spend the year on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list while he continues his rehabilitation in Pittsburgh, as well as providing assistance to the coaching staff and acting as a mentor to the other linebackers on the roster. And while his presence may not be directly evident on the field this season, there can be little question that his continued involvement with the team will pay dividends in 2019.
What teams have the Steelers had the most success in their history and how will that effect 2019?
The Steelers have been in action since 1933 and have been a highly successful franchise in the league since the 1970s. The first 39 years, the Steelers were ridiculously bad. In that time frame, the team went 173-280-19 for a .366 clip and only six winning seasons. Since 1972, the Steelers have had 36 winning seasons, with only four .500 years and seven losing campaigns (1985, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1998, 1999, 2003). Their winning percentage over that span was .622 after a record of 455-274-3 since 1973. Overall, the Steelers are a .608 team with a 628-554-22 mark in their history.
Over time the Steelers have had teams that they’ve played well against and teams that they’ve fallen to more often than not on the field and in the record books. Of the current other 31 teams in the NFL, the Steelers have a winning record over. Against three others (New England 16-16, Seattle 9-9 and Minnesota 9-9), they carry identical wins and losses. That will change, as the Steelers play both the Pats and Seahawks in Weeks One and Two of 2019 respectively.
Here are the franchises that the Steelers fared best against in their 86 year history.
After losing a Week 17 contest in 1996 against the second-year Panthers, the Steelers have gone undefeated in regular season play and 3-0 in the Mike Tomlin era. The Steelers won’t see the Panthers again until 2022 in Charlotte.
It’s always nice to see the “Dirty Birds on the schedule”. The Steelers have owned Atlanta since their first meeting in 1966. It hasn’t been too easy in recent years though. In three straight games from 2002 to 2010, these two squads had to settle games in overtime. The 2002 shootout between Tommy Maddox and Michael Vick ended in a tie, Vick vanquished the Steelers in OT in 2006 and Rashard Mendenhall’s 50-yard run iced it in 2010’s extra frame. The Steelers are 3-0 against the ATL under Coach T. Pittsburgh visits Atlanta again in 2022.
Tampa Bay is another team the Steelers delight in seeing whether as creamsicles or in pewter. Since 1976, the Bucs only have defeated the Steelers twice, once in 1998 and also in 2014. The teams came close to meeting in Super Bowl XIV, but TB fell to the Rams in the NFC Championship. Mike Tomlin has a 2-1 tally against Tampa and isn’t expected to coach against Tampa until 2022 at home.
Whether in B-More or Indy, the “Men of Steel” have virtually owned the Colts. Two of the wins were epic playoff victories in the 1995 AFC Championship and the 2005 Divisional Round games. The Steelers have won five straight and Mike Tomlin is 5-1 vs. the Colts. Week 9 will feature Indy traveling to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh has always had the number of New York’s AFC franchise going 20-5 in their history. But the J-E-T-S…Jets,Jets,Jets have won three of their last seven during the Mike Tomlin years. These teams battle at Met Life on MNF in Week 16 with Le’Veon Bell sporting the green uni.
The Steelers and Chargers have had good teams and fantastic battles over the years, but Pittsburgh has had much better fortune in this series going 14-5 since 1989 and 4-2 in Tomlin’s tenure. The Steelers visit Los Angeles for the first time in 25 years in Week 6.
The Texans won the inaugural matchup between these two teams in 2002 by the score of 24-6, but the Steelers defense did not surrender any of the Texan’s three TDs. Since then, the Steelers have won four of five. Mike Tomlin has gone 3-1 vs this team. The Watt brothers are expected to square off again in 2020.
The Steelers seem to have frustrated the Chiefs as of late. Even though Pat Mahomes and KC have current bragging rights from their Week 2 win in 2018, the boys from “the Burgh” have captured six of the past eight from the Chiefs. Although they could play earlier, it looks like 2021 is the next turn in the rotation for these two.
While this was typically a game that Steeler Nation had been very apprehensive about because of thuggish behavior resulting in unnecessary injury at times, eight straight wins against a division rival is fantastic. Mike Tomlin’s record is an astounding 20-5 against his rival from the Queen City. As always, Pittsburgh will see Cincy twice this season on MNF during Week 4 and on the road in Week 12.
The Steelers have won five straight since 1999 against the team from Upstate New York and are 10-1 since a playoff loss following the 1992 season. Mike Tomlin has circled the wagons to a 4-0 record against Bills Mafia. They play again Week 15.
Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers are 3-1 and that includes a Super Bowl XLIII victory against the Cardinals. After dominating the Pittsburgh franchise while playing in Chicago and St. Louis, the Cards are a mere 3-8 against the Steelers since 1972. They go at it again Week 14 in the desert.
Dating back to their days as a Central Division foe known as the Houston Oilers, the Steelers are 46-32 vs. this franchise. However, even at 5-3 under the Tomlin administration, the Steelers are only 8-13 since this team moved to Tennessee.
This will always be a significant rivalry, no matter the state of the Browns. Since 1994, the Steelers hold a 40-6-1 mark and are 20-3-1 during the Tomlin regime. The Brownies have vastly improved on paper. If that translates to the gridiron, these grudge matches might get great again. They will happen on TNF during Week 11 and in Pittsburgh in Week 13,
The Ravens have been the Steelers’ top nemesis since coming into the league. When these two teams clash, it’s always nasty and close. Mike Tomlin is 14-13 against B-More and the Steelers have won four of the last five. Week 5 and Week 17, the carnage will continue in Heinz and M&T respectively.
When this series commenced in 1934, Detroit went 4-0 and owned the Steelers over the years. However, the Steelers are 13-2 since 1966 against Detroit. Those losses both occurred on Thanksgiving Day…a 45-3 shellacking in 1983 and the famous OT coin toss debacle in 1998. Mike Tomlin has a 3-0 record against the Motowners and the Steelers have won nine of the last ten. They will battle again in Pittsburgh in 2021.
The Steelers started off 3-8 against the Phins when they first started playing in 1971. That includes losses in the AFC Championship after 1972 and 1984. In 1988, the Steelers’ reversal of fortune began with an 11-5 stretch. Mike Tomlin has doubled-up Miami with a 4-2 record. Week 8, the Steelers will host Miami on MNF.
Because of the dreadful chasm that the Steelers found themselves mired in during the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s…The Steelers are stuck with losing records against older and more traditional teams. Against the Redskins, the Steelers are 33-42-3 since 1933. But in recent times, Steeler Nation enjoys seeing Washington on their schedule. They have won six-straight dating back to 1997 and are 8-3 since 1973. Against the Packers, it’s the same type of story. The Steelers couldn’t solve Green Bay in the early days losing the first nine games. But since 1947, the Steelers have had the upper hand by going 16-10 and winning nine of twelve since 1975. One of those three loses came in SB XLV. They won’t face Washington until 2020 at home and will leap towards Lambeau in 2021.
The 2019 schedule includes other teams that the Steelers don’t have great records against like Week 2 visiting Seattle Seahawks (9-9), at the San Francisco 49ers (9-10) in Week 3 and the Los Angeles Rams (9-15-2) at home in Week 10. However, Mike Tomlin is a combined 7-2 against the NFC West trio in his career.
The Steelers also have a .500 mark against the team that they play Week 1 in the opener, the New England Patriots. But that mark is deceiving as the “Black and Gold” have dropped 11 of 15 to NE in the Belichick/Brady era.
The rest of the schedule features teams that the Steelers have a winning record over. While this formula is not really valid, if you go by these specific trends (and account for their recent record against NE), the Steelers will go 12-3-1) in 2019. That would be great, but the games are played in a field of battle and not in a Pro Football database on my IPAD.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are approaching training camp, and we provide some potential predictions for 2019.
With 29 days to go until the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers we continue our 30 prediction in 30 days series with my first bold claim of the offseason.
Alternating daily between myself and BTSC Editor Jeff Hartman, we will offer our predictions for the upcoming season. Some will be team oriented, while others will be specific to individual players. But either way, you will be able to read the reason why we think this prediction will come to fruition, why it might not come true and you have your chance to give your thoughts in the comment section below the article!
Prediction:Javon Hargrave will lead the defensive line in sacks in 2019.
Why it will happen: Entering a contract year with the Steelers, this is likely to be the last fans will see of Javon Hargrave in the Black and Gold if he is not re-signed this offseason. Poised for a breakout year that will see him lead the defensive line in sacks, the former South Carolina State product could price himself out of contention for a return to Pittsburgh if the year goes as well as projected here.
Hargrave has come a long way from the raw MEAC prospect he once was in 2016 and was third on the team in sacks in 2018 with 6.5 quarterback takedowns. And while Hargrave’s development has been clear for all to see, the progress he made in the second half of last season was particularly noticeable.
Notable second-half improvements in overall grade on the #Steelers defense:
While Heyward would lead the defensive line with eight sacks in 2018, the second highest total of his career, he also saw significantly more snaps than Hargrave – 841 vs. 455. With a more equitable rotation between Stephon Tuitt (693 snaps in 2018), Heyward and Hargraves, it does not take much imagination to see the young defender pushing his sack total as high as eight or maybe 10 sacks for the group lead. Given the opportunity to play more, moments like these could become a weekly occurrence for Hargrave.
Javon Hargrave gets to the QB for his 4th sack of the 2018 season
Why it won’t happen: The obvious roadblock that could doom this prediction from the outset was touched on above. If Hargrave does not get enough time in the rotation, it will hardly matter how effective he is at bringing down the quarterback.
Standing in his way are two talented veteran players on high contracts and putting Hargrave on the field on passing downs will require one of his more highly paid teammates to be watching from the sidelines. As a team captain and the leader in sacks on the defensive line for most of his eight years in Pittsburgh, sidelining Heyward is not really an option. And as the Steelers’ third highest graded defender in 2018 by PFF with 81.8, Tuitt is hardly in need of replacement either. He recorded 5.5 sacks last year from the 14 games he played in.
If Hargrave continues to improve and gets the reps on gameday, this prediction could easily come true. But if the rotation upfront fails to materialise again this year, the Steelers might have a left a lot of wasted potential on the bench.
What are your thoughts on this prediction? Do you think it will happen? Or are we crazy? Let us know by voting in the poll, and letting your voice be heard in the comment section below!
Offensively many people want the Steelers to be balanced, but is that even possible in today’s NFL?
Welcome to the BTSC Pittsburgh Steelers ‘Think Tank’. Here is where there will be a general question asked, and the answer will be hashed out in the comment section below the article. Unlike in the Friday Night Six Pack, and other articles which are banking on fan responses, this is just one topic to discuss.
In this second edition of the Think Tank, I ask you about offensive balance.
When I started to do the BTSC flagship podcast, the “Standard is the Standard” with Lance Williams (you can hear our latest podcast in the player below this article), I always spoke about offensive balance. I hated pass-heavy plans, but also hated run-heavy game plans. Rather, I always prefer a more balanced approach when talking about the difference between the run and pass.
As the years have progressed, the numbers for balance have definitely changed. At one time the balance numbers were a 50:50 ratio between the run and pass, but now myself, and others, would be content with a 60:40 pass-to-run ratio.
As the numbers continue to become skewed more towards the passing attack, and rightfully so considering the current rules, it makes me wonder if any type of balance is even possible in the modern day NFL. Or do we just have to adjust our view of balance?
I realize the days of Jerome Bettis getting the ball 35 times in a game are likely long gone, but are 25 rushing attempts too much to ask? Last season the Steelers finished the season with 345 rushing attempts. Some simple math shows this ends up at roughly 21.5 attempts per game. Compare this to the 689 passing attempts, which ends up at 43 attempts a game over a 16 game season.
When you have a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, and weapons like the Steelers have deployed the past few seasons, it makes sense to air the ball out, but being able to keep a defense guessing is also a very important aspect of offensive success. With that said, it makes you wonder if true run-to-pass ratio balance is even a possibility?
What do you think? Is it still a possibility? Should the Steelers strive for this without Antonio Brown on the roster? Join the Steelers Think Tank by joining the discussion in the comment section below!
Will the way opposing defenses defend the Steelers change without Antonio Brown in the lineup?
Recently, we compiled a pair of glossaries that should be useful for fans when discussing the Steelersoffense and defense. Throughout the summer, we will pull terms and concepts from those glossaries and give them a closer look. Today we break down the Cover-1 scheme with the following questions in mind: now that Antonio Brown is gone, will opposing defenses play more man coverage against the Steelers? And if so, how might we attack it? Let’s take a look.
WHAT IS COVER-1?
Here’s a quick refresher: in Cover-1, defenders man up against the receiver in front of them while a single-high safety patrols the sky. Man defenders stay attached to their receiver no matter the route, meaning there is no switching or pattern-matching. The safety, meanwhile, looks to either double the offense’s most dangerous threat or anticipate where the quarterback is throwing the football and provide help there.
Cover-1 is best used with pressure since it’s unrealistic to expect DBs to stay in coverage for an extended period of time. Often, teams try to disguise their cover-1 looks so an offense can’t check into their man-beaters (more on that momentarily). The combination of pressure with single coverage makes Cover-1 a high-risk, high-reward defense. It can yield sacks and turnovers when it works. When it doesn’t, it is susceptible to big plays.
The Steelers have become increasingly Cover-1 oriented on defense in recent years. In 2017, they allowed the league’s lowest completion percentage when running Cover-1. In 2018, they ran some form of man on 52.2% of defensive snaps, which ranked third in the league for man coverage usage. After decades of zone-heavy schemes, it appears the Steelers are transitioning to more of a man-to-man philosophy.
WILL THE STEELERS SEE MORE COVER-1 FROM OPPOSING DEFENSES IN 2019?
Looking to 2019, one of the interesting questions involving Cover-1 centers on our opponents. With Brown now in Oakland, will teams be tempted to play more Cover-1 against the Steelers offense?
There are several ways to attack man coverage. The simplest is to match a superior receiver against an inferior coverage player. With Brown in the lineup, the Steelers had a built-in coverage beater against most defenses. Few teams could single up on AB. This forced them to commit their free safety to help on him, thereby leaving other receivers in pure one-on-one situations.
In the image below, we see Kansas City in a one-high look against a 3×1 formation from the Steelers with Brown alone at the bottom of the screen. Normally, a defense would single-up on the solo receiver and cheat their safety to the three-receiver side. But Kansas City elects to align the safety towards Brown and to play pure man coverage to the trips.
The result of this play was a touchdown pass to Jesse James, who was the inside-most receiver to the trips. James came open on a deep crossing route, one of the hardest routes to cover in man due to the distance the defender has to cover and the clutter he must avoid while traversing the middle of the field. The safety, meanwhile, followed Brown on a post route to the opposite side of the field.
With Brown in the lineup, defenses had to pick their poison when playing Cover-1. They could either risk playing single coverage on Brown or double him with the free safety and single everyone else. It’s a scenario that often favored the Steelers.
The only team the Steelers have seen in recent years who had the personnel to throw heavy doses of Cover-1 at them was Jacksonville. The Jags locked Jalen Ramsey on AB or played bracket coverage on him while going solo against everyone else. Even New England and Kansas City, the only two teams to use man more frequently than the Steelers in 2018, went zone-heavy when they played here. The difficulty of trying to man-cover Brown combined with Ben Roethlisberger’s veteran savvy and the Steelers experienced offensive line made playing Cover-1 a risk.
Now what? With no AB in the lineup and with OL guru Mike Munchak off to Denver, might teams decide to change that philosophy?
There’s no doubt defensive coordinators would like to play as much Cover-1 as they can get away with. The simplicity of the scheme makes it attractive. “I Got This Guy” is the most popular coverage on just about any playground on the planet for a reason. It requires no communication among defenders, no understanding of zones or areas, no trading off or matching of routes. In football, man coverage allows defensive coordinators to dial up an array of pressures and blitzes without having to worry about voided zones or holes in the coverage. If a DC can play heavy doses of man because his defenders are able to lock down an opponent’s receivers one-on-one, he will gladly do so.
I, for one, hope those DC’s see Brown’s departure as an invitation to play more Cover-1 against the Steelers. Juju Smith Schuster and Vance McDonald are both big and strong and can body up on smaller defenders. Donte Moncrief is a burner with a knack for catching contested throws. James Washington is a physical receiver with great body control. Rookie Diontae Johnson is said to be a precise route-runner, which should make him difficult to cover on short and intermediate throws. And running backs James Conner and Jaylen Samuels are polished receivers capable of beating linebackers and safeties in space. The sum of all of that is an offense which retains plenty of answers for man coverage.
HOW WILL THE STEELERS ATTACK COVER-1?
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner demonstrated that he was an adept play-caller versus man schemes in his rookie campaign. Fichtner’s 2018 offense featured an array of horizontal and vertical concepts designed to defeat Cover-1.
The GIF below is from the season-opener in Cleveland. The Browns have seven defenders at the line of scrimmage and are pressing the Steelers receivers. This is a classic Cover-1 pressure look. The blitz is coming and the Cleveland defenders will only have to cover for a few seconds before it gets to Roethlisberger. Fortunately, Fichtner recognizes the matchup advantage he has in the right slot with the 6’2-215 pound Smith-Schuster against 5’9 corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Calhoun tries to jam Juju upon his release but Juju gets one of his long arms inside on Calhoun and creates separation. Notice where Calhoun’s right arm is here – outside Juju’s body. In any battle at the line of scrimmage, the player whose hands are inside usually wins. Here, that player is Juju.
The rest is easy. Once he has created separation, Juju drifts away from the free safety as he progresses up the seam to provide Roethlisberger a safe target outside the numbers. The offensive line handles Cleveland’s stunt and Big Ben puts his throw on the money. This is a great play call against Cover-1 and the execution is flawless.
The fade route in the red zone is another vertical concept used to combat Cover-1. Defenses utilize Cover-1 in this area of the field because there’s less ground to cover, thereby reducing the burden on the defender. Offenses with big receivers who can jump and get the football at its highest point will counter by throwing fade, which exploits defenders aligned to take away the inside slant (a much easier throw).
On fade, the quarterback will try to throw over top of the defender by placing the ball on the receiver’s upfield shoulder. When executed well, it looks like this:
That’s Steelers’ free agent signee Donte Moncrief as a member of the Colts catching a perfect fade ball from Andrew Luck. Moncrief has shown the ability to use his 6’2 frame and 4.4 speed to separate from man coverage throughout his career. You can bet Fichtner will find ways to get him matched up against smaller defenders should opponents play Cover-1 in the red zone.
Another way to attack Cover-1 is with horizontal concepts. These generally involve flat or crossing routes that make defenders chase a receiver across the field. Sometimes two receivers will cross from opposite sides of the field within close proximity of one another and attempt to “rub” opposing defenders off by forcing them to go around the mesh point. Horizontal concepts require receivers either strong or shifty enough to escape a defender at the line of scrimmage and fast enough to run away from him once they do. With players like Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer and Diontae Johnson on the roster, the Steelers appear to have them.
Another effective horizontal concept the Steelers often use is the option route. An option route is predominantly run against loose man where the defender is providing a cushion. On an option route, the receiver reads the defender’s positioning and breaks away from it. A typical option route might involve a three-way read. If the defender is sitting inside, the receiver will break outside. If the defender is outside, the receiver will break inside. And if the defender anticipates the break and jumps up to impede it, the receiver will go vertical and run past him.
Below we see an option route by Jaylen Samuels against San Diego. When Samuels releases from the backfield, he recognizes that strong safety Derwin James has come down into the box to defend him. James does not square up on Samuels (likely, he is anticipating some sort of swing or flat route) and maintains outside leverage. Samuels gives James a stutter-step to freeze him before breaking inside where Roethlisberger drops him the football. He picks up a nice chip block from Juju that frees him from the closing James and then scoots into the end zone. This is a nice read by Samuels and good execution by the offense.
The key to making an option route work is the receiver and quarterback must both read the adjustment correctly. When you hear people talk about QB’s and receivers being “on the same page,” this is one of the points they reference. If the QB reads inside leverage and anticipates an out cut but the receiver goes vertical instead, it can end with the quarterback throwing the ball to no one. Or worse, as anyone who remembers Super Bowl XXX can attest, to the guys on defense. This is one of the reasons it’s been nice to hear reports about Roethlisberger and Moncrief being in sync throughout OTAs and Mini-Camp. The quicker those two get on the same page, the more effective Moncrief will be.
Cover-1 can also be attacked by formation. Bunch sets, for example, are an effective way to neutralize man defenders. In Bunch, an offense aligns its receivers close to one another in a compressed alignment, thereby denying the defense the ability to jam them at the line of scrimmage. If all three defenders walk up to the line they will run into one another as the receivers release. By forcing the defenders to stagger, the offense can create clear-outs from early-releasing receivers who provide natural picks that void areas for other receivers to occupy.
This is precisely what the Steelers do in the GIF below against a Cover-1 look from Tampa Bay. To the Bunch side, Juju Smith-Schuster is the tightest receiver, James Washington is in the middle and Antonio Brown is outside. Washington releases inside, forcing the defender covering Juju to go over top of his release. Meanwhile, Brown’s vertical route clears space in the flat for Juju, who is open should Roethlisberger chose to throw him the football.
Roethlisberger has a better option. To the short side of the field, the corner assigned to cover tight end Vance McDonald is aligned about twelve yards off of the ball, providing an easy pitch-and-catch between Roethlisberger and McDonald. The rest is the stuff of legend.
Bunch concepts are especially effective against Cover-1 in the red zone because they create picks like the one above that free receivers from man defenders in tight spaces. They can also be used to throw perimeter screens where the quarterback whips the ball to one receiver in the bunch while the others block. This puts the ball in the receiver’s hands quickly and forces the defender assigned to cover him to navigate a mess of bodies to make the tackle.
Here’s one such Bunch screen from the rematch with the Browns in week seven. The Steelers start out in a spread trips look before motioning Brown into the formation to create a Bunch set. This is a great wrinkle by Fichtner because it forces the corner covering Brown, Denzel Ward, to go behind his fellow perimeter defenders when following the motion. The timing of the snap is perfect as Roethlisberger calls for the ball precisely as Ward is shielded from Brown by the bodies in the bunch. Juju and Justin Hunter, two big receivers, simply get position on their defenders and Brown scoots into the end zone virtually untouched.
With the rest of the defense packed inside the box, there’s practically no way to defend this if the offense executes properly. Insert a quick player like Diontae Johnson or Ryan Switzer in Brown’s place and this should remain a staple of the Steelers playbook against Cover-1.
Defenses may be tempted to load up on Cover-1 looks now that both Brown and Munchak are gone. They should do so at their own peril. The Steelers return their offensive line predominantly in tact, which means their ability to diagnose and neutralize blitzes should not suffer much. At quarterback, Roethlisberger remains an elite talent and is coming off of a season where he finished in the top five in the league in QB rating versus the blitz. Roethlisberger’s stable of receivers includes a host of players who, via their combination of size, speed and strength, present problems for man coverage units. Throw in the fact that Randy Fichtner proved adept at combating Cover-1 in his rookie campaign as play-caller and opposing DC’s might want to think twice before dialing it up.
No Brown, no problem. The 2019 Steelers remain well-positioned to attack anyone who decides to man them up.
After all, 15 receiving touchdowns is a monster number.
But when approaching the 2019 season, maybe, just maybe, the Steelers wide receiver training camp “battle” won’t be about replacing Brown’s production. Instead, what if it is more about the best receivers to play with certain personnel packages?
This is where the newest BTSC podcast “Yeah, I Said It” comes in. My co-host on ‘The Standard is the Standard’, Lance Williams, talks about some of the Steelers favorite personnel groupings, who fits best with what group and how that might actually provide an answer for who will be trying their best to fill Brown’s shoes this upcoming season.
Lance is the perfect man for the job, and delivers the goods in the latest show.
Check out the audio below:
Feel free to give us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow us on all our audio platforms by following the links below: