Whomever's fault it is, it doesn't look good.
In what appears to be significant communication or comprehension issues, both Steelers left tackle Mike Adams and tight end David Paulson are significant liabilities as far as overall protection on this team is concerned.
In reviewing the Steelers' loss to Cincinnati, neither blocked particularly well, but the big misses for each of them are coming off what appears to be missed assignments.
It started on the first play of the game. Paulson motions from left to right, then back to the left, outside Adams. The play is a power run to the right with left guard Ramon Foster pulling ahead of RB Felix Jones.
Paulson follows Foster, but Adams seems to assume Paulson is blocking the backside defensive end Michael Johnson.
Johnson goes untouched into the backfield after Adams whiffs on a recovery attempt. Loss of a yard after Vontaze Burfict gets the credit for the play Johnson made.
There was, of course, Paulson's fumble. We'll just leave that alone for now. The Steelers next possession is nearly just as troubling.
Paulson got beat again on the edge on first down. Roethlisberger handed off to Jones out of shotgun, and Adams blocked down on Geno Atkins (Adams probably lost the battle, but Atkins wasn't in on the play). Paulson couldn't move Johnson off the edge, Johnson shed Paulson and forced Jones to run horizontally for a few steps. That allowed the linebackers to flow over and make the tackle. The play was blocked well enough to have gotten five or six yards, but these are the kinds of plays the dominant running team makes where the poor teams don't.
Adams failed to anchor on a bullrush by Johnson on second down, who pushed him back into Roethlisberger on an incompletion on the next play - a drop by Cotchery that should have gone for a first down.
The Bengals overloaded the Steelers' left side on the next play, as WR Antonio Brown was in close to Adams. Paulson motions down to that side before the snap. Roethlisberger got the ball out of shotgun. Adams again blocks down on Atkins and Paulson lets Johnson rush past him, electing to reach for James Harrison, who was spying Roethlisberger. Jones nearly has to dive across Roethlisberger's face to try to stop Johnson. It took all of Jones' body to somehow stop Johnson from teeing off on Roethlisberger in the pocket, but he delivers a poor deep throw to Cotchery on a corner route to the right sideline.
Third down on the next series, Johnson beats Adams with an outside move. Zoltan Mesko punts again.
The Steelers have some success out of the hurry-up on the next drive, but it seems more due to the fact Johnson is not on the field in these series. Paulson failed to block exposed defensive end Carlos Dunlap on Cotchery's ill-fated end-around attempt. If Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley expected Cotchery to be able to elude Dunlap in the open field, it would seem he has higher expectations for Cotchery than reality indicates.
Even worse, Paulson didn't manage to handle the guy he did block, safety Reggie Nelson, so even if Cotchery rewinds time and escapes the cat-like Dunlap, he wouldn't have gained a yard. Paulson, with about 10 yards of momentum behind him, ran into the much smaller Nelson, and got knocked square on his butt. Nelson arrived on Cotchery only a milisecond after Dunlap did.
It goes on like this for the remainder of the game.
Ultimately, the Steelers need both considerably better play from Adams, and an in-line tight end who can help protect the edge. Whether that's Heath Miller, who will practice this week, or just an improved performance from Paulson, the Steelers will not run the ball well with the level of play we saw from them in Week 2.
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- Bears vs. Steelers: Heath Miller to practice fully this week
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