Hey BTSC, I'm a Giants fan over at BBV, posted this there and NYSteelersFan4 told me to put it up here too. I doubt it will be anyone's favorite play here, but if anybody likes the x's and o's stuff you might get a kick out of it. Please excuse any inaccuracies about your team, we all know our own roster better than outsiders. Congratulations on another great season, even if it didn't end up perfect.
Leading up to Super Bowl 45, there was plenty of talk about the Steelers and Packers and their plethora of blitzes from their 3-4 fronts. Dick Lebeau and Dom Capers, between them, must have a stake in nearly every zone blitz or firezone that we see in today’s odd schemes. The Packers really play something closer to a 4-2-5… but that’s a different fanpost, different argument.
The factor that put the Packers ahead (in my opinion) was their protection. They picked up the vast majority of the stunts and blitzes Lebeau threw at them. It’s hard to recall a single pass rusher coming unblocked into the Packer’s backfield, and that’s what amazed me- getting guys unblocked to the passer is the whole idea behind the Steeler’s defense.
There was one play in particular that demonstrates both Mike McCarthy’s excellent game-planning and how vulnerable the soft blitz leaves you in the 3-4 scheme. 13 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Packers have the ball on the Steelers 40 yard line, 3rd and 10. Most people will remember this play because it was so exciting. Jordy Nelson catches a first down pass, cuts across field, out of bounds near the 5.
The more impressive part of this play though, is the blitz pickup. The blitz and coverage combo run by the Steelers is pictured below. Dotted lines represent pre-snap motion, gold lines are man-to-man coverage responsibility.
NOTE- The video from NFL.com of this play was looking pretty blurry. I’m pretty certain on most of these players, but excuse me if I got any wrong. Some were too blurry to be sure, so I left them as positions- Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden were the Corners for the Steelers, but I left them as C’s because I couldn’t be 100% sure. Same with the Packers Z and Slot receivers, probably James Jones and whoever else but I left them Z and S. Click pictures for slightly clearer version.
You can see the Steelers are showing a Cover 2 Shell. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark look like they will play halves. They are also showing pressure to Aaron Rodgers left side with James Harrison, Brett Keisel, and James Farrior lined up stacked in C and B gaps. To the other side, Ziggy Hood and Lamar Woodley look like they will provide the contain rush to compliment the onslaught from the left.
Before the snap, a bunch of movement occurs for confusion’s sake. Harrison jumps out to play inside the slot. Farrior steps out of the gap and moves to play the wide Tight End (in this formation, Greg Jennings) in man coverage. The weakside Corner and Nickel (William Gay) move towards the LOS C gap together, and to compensate the safeties break the illusion of a Cov-2 shell. Polamalu flies to centerfield 20 yards off the ball, and Ryan Clark buzzes out to play over Jordy Nelson man-to-man in place of the blitzing DB’s. Rodgers sees it, points it out with some assistance from Nelson, and snaps the ball.
On the snap Hood jumps to the A gap and really spies Rodgers without rushing hard, but he occupies the center all the same. Woodley rips in to the B gap. The Corner and Nickel execute a spin blitz: the corner goes C gap after the Nickel rushes with contain upfield. Opposite all this movement, Keisel rushes alone from B to C gap as the base side to the pressure, hoping Rodgers will be flushed to his side. The whole thing results in showing a heavy rush left with zone, but playing a heavy rush right with man cover 1. It’s extremely tricky, well hidden to the last second, and one of Dick Lebeau’s go to blitzes. The Steelers’ D is always good, and this usually works.
But it doesn’t.
This is the Packers’ pickup. Blitz-side Tackle flies out to pick up the Nickel, the outermost rusher. The running back jumps underneath and walls the Corner. The Guard easily runs with Woodley. Lamar is a 3-4 OLB and therefore (unlike say… Justin Tuck) is not going to rush inside successfully often. The Center has little to do as Hood is spying, and the LG and LT have only to bar Keisel between them.
Now the Steelers are in trouble. One of Lebeau’s best shots just missed, and they are playing Cover 1 Man against a great set of receivers. What’s worse, they have some semblance of 3-4 personnel on the field, which means they’re not that athletic to start with, and 2 of their best coverage players are busy getting blocked. Luckily they are in Dime, so this leaves 2 DB’s and Harrison covering the in routes by the Z and Slot. Troy is in the middle. Greg Jennings runs right by Farrior on a 12 yard corner route, but Rodgers already knows where he’s going. He throws over the blitz, where Ryan Clark has been asked to run from 15+ yards deep to Jordy Nelson alone in space and man him up. When the ball is snapped Clark is still more than 7 yards off and has no hope of getting into optimal position- inside shoulder. So when Nelson breaks in on a quick skinny post, he makes the catch in space.
He makes a bunch of moves to get to the other side of the field and inside the 10 yard line, but it really looks like if the ball had gone to Jennings it would have been six. Jennings throws a great block, and I doubt he complained afterward. Nor did any of the Packers’ fans, for that matter.