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A dominant performance held back slightly by a few mistakes, but otherwise, some great football by the Steelers against the Eagles over the second half.
Yes, this one is pretty long, but there are lots of great plays to highlight, and some explanations of a few incorrectly diagnosed by many others who do the same thing as I'm doing here.
I'll leave it to you to guess which ones.
You all know Kurt Coleman throws shoes, I'll just get that one out of the way now. We get another massive shot by Heath Miller, and some of the finest examples of power running we've seen in a while.
Here are my second half thoughts on the Steelers 16-14 win over Philadelphia.
- Maybe the difference in the Steelers' running games in Weeks 1-3 compared to Week 5 isn't Rashard Mendenhall, as blasphemous as that seems to suggest. Maybe it's C Maurkice Pouncey. He's one bad ass, pissed off dude int his game. You see him firing off the ball early in the second half, and finishing blocks off like he's still in the SEC and he's got some redshirt freshman across from him.
- And with that, I'll throw some love to LG Willie Colon. The Eagles defense slanted and stunted around the defensive line, and Pouncey would release to reach the linebacker (in doing which he was successful a large amount of the time). Colon was able to to take the end or the tackle and move him out of the way, particularly early in the second half.
- It's 3rd-and-4, the Steelers are gaining momentum running as the rain is starting to really pour down. Wallace loses Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a long drag, Roethlisberger flips him a beautifully placed ball. All he's got to do is catch it, and he's going to run for another 20 yards easily. Maybe this is hyperbolic, but considering the way the game was just starting to unfold, that was a floodgates-opening kind of play. DRC is not going to catch him - if at all - for several yards. Wallace can get moving, maybe even make a move back inside, and pick up a huge chunk of yards. The way the offensive line was blocking, they could have run the rest of the drive, and gone up 17-0 early in the third.
- Do you like the Eagles' chances of coming back down 17-rip with a pissed off Maurkice Pouncey and a warm and awoken James Harrison? I don't either.
- Wallace is expecting to the pass to the end of his drag, more toward the sideline. Roethlisberger recognized no one was behind him, and lofted it a bit to give him a chance to make a play after the catch. Brown dropped a pass in a similar kind of situation during this game as well. Brown seemed to slow down a little bit, and Roethlisberger's pass was leading him, giving him a chance to run after the catch. Two blown opportunities to remember whenever Eagles fans bring up their secondary playing well in this game. These drops weren't five or six yard completions at the sideline. Wallace's had another 20 yards, Brown's had a few more as well, plus a touchdown.
- As it is, though, Roethlisberger walks off the field with that "Ah dammit we left that out there" smile. I hate that smile.
- Underappreciated stat: Drew Butler, four punts. Eagles, one punt return, 13 yards.
- Eagles C Dallas Reynolds and LG Evan Mathis must have been really sore Monday. The Steelers brought middle pressure on them the whole game, whether it was Superman Lawrence Timmons or Larry Foote, they banged them throughout four quarters. That's the characteristic of Dick LeBeau's defense we either haven't noticed, or haven't seen.
- The reason the Steelers were able to execute their blitzes so crisply is they timed the snap count well. That is the one thing that hasn't happened to this point this season. Whether it was Timmons or Foote, the pressure generated in this game was the result of two things: 1.) their ability to have momentum moving toward the line of scrimmage (as opposed to past games where they started creeping, and had to stop when they reached the line because the ball hadn't been snapped), and 2.) The fact LeBeau set them up for it. The ILBs were used as part of a more diverse blitz scheme, whereas often in the pass they were isolated and asked to bang through the guards without any presnap help or in-play stunt. More on this concept in a minute.
- You know who stood out? NT Steve McLendon. And you know why he stood out? Because the Eagles were terrified of James Harrison. My initial thought about this game was Harrison had an impact, sure, but Timmons' game was him reading and reacting moreso than LeBeau simply sending him after the quarterback more often. When they sent him after the quarterback, he was next to Harrison. McLendon? He was next to Harrison. Deebo was a stand-up outside and inside linebacker in obvious passing situations. on McLendon's sack, he stood right over Mathis, and stunted into Reynolds. McLendon shot the A gap, and Reynolds shifted to take Harrison, leaving RG Danny Watkins to take McLendon. Watkins didn't see him until McLendon was past his shoulder, leaving Vick exposed. McLendon gets credit for the sack and forced fumble. A well-designed blitz executed with intimidation.
- Before we bash Foote anymore for McCoy's touchdown reception, let's keep in mind Foote isn't exactly known for his speed and agility. Any time he's put in coverage on a running back in the open field, something broke down in the scheme, and judging by Foote's immediate reaction at the snap, it's obvious something was wrong in the design of their plan. Very few, if any, linebackers are going to be able to make that play with that much space around him against a running back like McCoy.
- Keep in mind, too, Foote went from the outside has all the way down to the offensive right side, so McCoy also had a head start on him. Asking Foote to cover the hash to sideline after starting outside that area is a tad much. Foote does the only thing he can do, which is force McCoy back inside, and there's still no Steelers defender anywhere near McCoy until he reaches the end zone.
- This play was the result of a single inside blitz, whether called, or a last-second decision by Timmons, Foote, Timmons and safety Ryan Clark communicate before the snap, and it appears Clark read the twin receivers on the offensive left and slid over to that side. Timmons read run, set up to blitz but he timed it poorly, showing his blitz too early, and having stopped forward momentum before the ball was snapped.
- Clark is in coverage on the wide side of the field, Timmons is at the line of scrimmage, and Foote immediately recognized the hole in the defense (Timmons was on the near side of the field before the snap, indicating he would have had McCoy on that play). Foote hauled ass to cut McCoy off, and Timmons never got past the offensive line. And again, he wasn't set up on the blitz. Sending a 230-pound linebacker with no momentum into the guard on his own without a stunt or an overload into that gap isn't going to produce much result.
- To Timmons' credit, he's able to break off the block by Reynolds and still deliver a hit on McCoy at the goal line.
- Yes, I'm beating this play to death, and I don't mean to detract from an otherwise impressive drive from the Eagles, but this play is a perfect example of the flaws of the scoring system used by Pro Football Focus. Considering Foote received a very poor grade for the game, I'm just assuming he was docked brutally on this play. This play was not the fault of Larry Foote. The fact McCoy cuts back and forces him into a wrong-turn recovery makes it look far worse. Foote wasn't "beaten" in coverage. He never had responsibility for McCoy. If he did, he wouldn't have started the play on the opposite hash. Foote was just the only one who read the play correctly immediately after the snap.
- Since they can't grade (and to an extent, shouldn't) grade intentions, Foote's going to take the heat, when in reality, this is probably more on an missed read by Clark and/or Timmons. Overall, it's either a great playcall, or a great read by Vick.
- Can we focus on this whole "teams key on Chris Rainey" thing for a minute? Why wouldn't they key on him? The only time outside of special teams he enters the game he's stationary. He doesn't motion at all, he's never in the slot. And in this game, they ran him between the tackles, which obviously isn't going to be his best situation. If they're doing that to give the defense something to think about, then ok, and I can't speak to whether they planned to get him the ball on a pass out of the same formation later, but if he only does one thing in each of the one-off opportunities he gets a game, we can expect the same results. Seems like they should either make his package a priority or just throw it out of the game plan. Just sayin'...
- After his decent kick return, the first play from scrimmage, a screen pass to Mendenhall. This is what I mean. If you're going to use Rainey, use him. Running him between the tackles and throwing screens to Mendenhall seems counterproductive.
- Before you savage me for that opinion, Mendenhall's touchdown was a swing pass (ruled a lateral), not a screen.
- Expect to see Tennessee's defensive ends crashing hard and aiming for Roethlisberger's back foot. It's the second game in a row Roethlisberger has been forced to step up and make a somewhat off-balance throw moving forward, and he missed it.
- Roethlisberger was let down a bit by the players around him (drops, bad reads, etc.), and he made far more good throws than his stats indicate. This one, however, is on him. He has Brown over the top but he Newtons it toward his feet.
- In a week chock-full of absolutely abysmal quarterback play (Cam Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez), Roethlisberger did alright.
- For the first time this year, the Steelers start really using that fullback we heard so much about this offseason. Mendenhall is starting to run in a rhythm, and the offensive line has done a great job of pounding the Eagles front seven into, as running backs coach Kirby Wilson said, "little Eagles meatballs."
- Mendenhall for seven on a power run led by Will Johnson and a pulling Willie Colon. Mendenhall for nine yards on a lead draw. Mendenhall for four yards on another lead draw. Redman for 13 off a Colon block and a beautiful cutback.
- This feels more like Steelers football.
- And what does that do? A slight playfake by Roethlisberger freezes the defensive backs on the offensive right side, allowing tight end Heath Miller just enough time to get ahead of Antonio Brown on a receiver screen. It's executed perfectly.
- Miller has a head of steam, and as we've demonstrated previously, that's bad news for a defensive back. Nnamdi Asomugha is the target of all 260 pounds of momentum-driven Miller, who all but lifts him off the ground and slams him shoulder-first into the grass. I honestly thought he might have broken his collarbone. Brown ran for 14 yards, but at this point, the Eagles are being completely dominated physically.
- Had Roethlisberger been able to make what needed to be a perfect throw to Miller inside the 5-yard line on an out and up, and the Steelers scored a touchdown on that drive, it would go down as the best this season, and probably one of the best they've had in quite a while.
- If you doubt this Steelers team, watch this drive, play-by-play, then even try to think something negative. It's not possible.
- In response, the Eagles really quickened their offense. Vick's dropbacks are very shallow, and he's making quality, decisive reads. His release is quick, and he's looking like the passer this offense needs him to be.
- Back to back huge runs by McCoy on third and fourth down. Steelers defenders had chances to make plays on both of them, but McCoy's a tough sucker to bring down. Ike Taylor whiffed on the 3rd-and-4, and if he had managed to bring him down, the Steelers could have won this game by two touchdowns.
- Instead, McCoy brings them down to set up a touchdown pass to Brent Celek, who's going to destroy Ryan Mundy in tight coverage every time. Just a very tough goal line offense.
- What I love about the Steelers' nine-play, 51-yard drive for the game-winning field goal is how calm Roethlisberger appears. As most Steelers drives with the game on the line begin, they lose 10 yards on the first play due to a penalty. It's Colon's fourth of the game - three were enforced - marring what was otherwise the best game of Colon's short tenure at left guard.
- Eagles fans on Bleeding Green Nation were all up-in-arms that Brown, apparently a nobody in the NFL, would dare disrespect Brandon Boykin. The Candy Bar was hit up for two huge Steelers first downs on the drive, one to Brown for 20 yards and one to Emmanuel Sanders for seven yards on 3rd-and-4.
- The last one set up the game-winning field goal. Add Boykins' losses on the last drive with Heath Miller's piss-pound of Asomugha and score the win for the Steelers' offense. Just imagine if Brown had caught that touchdown, on a play he completely burned Asomugha.
- We may not like the brashness of the Steelers offense, or feel comfortable with them talking smack about their opponent in the week leading up to the game, but there's a reason why they're talking, and it's not just to have fun. They have an advantage over anyone they play, and they showed it - even with multiple mistakes - in Week 5.
- Suisham bangs it home, and the Steelers take back the win they should have probably had without needing a game-winning drive. Lots of outstanding aspects to this game, and some adjustments that need to be made. Gotta grade them well overall, and this game was a few missed opportunities away from a savage beating.