This Steelers team has an offense with a tendency to come to a slow boil throughout its games.
It was a pretty cold start against Philadelphia in Week 5, but by the end of the game, it was red hot. There was a sequence of five plays in the third quarter in which it performed perhaps the best it has all year, demonstrating execution at a high level across the entire 11-man formation.
Something unthinkable in their last game, this effort was led by an offensive line that was flat-out kicking the tar out of the Eagles up front.
Having a running back with outstanding vision helps this cause.
The Steelers have the ball 1st and 10 from their own 33-yard line. Lining up out of a standard power-I formation, it's a good indication the Steelers will run. The Eagles stack the box, putting their three linebackers within four yards of the line of scrimmage, all of them inside the offensive tackles.
At the snap, a run to Rashard Mendenhall, you see left guard Willie Colon pull to his right, aiming for the B gap on that side. Before he gets there, rookie fullback Will Johnson will widen the hole and look to hit linebacker Mychal Kendricks (95).
The Eagles had a good defense called. Defensive tackle Derek Landri slants into the space Colon was filling, but Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey recognizes it and gets enough of Landri to drive him out of the play. If Pouncey misses that block, this play goes for a six-yard loss.
Now, with Pouncey having stopped the defense's primary attack, Colon gets through the hole and turns middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans inward, and out of the play. Mendenhall runs past him without incident, heading off Johnson, his lead blocker.
Johnson accelerated impressively, and was able to meet Kendricks at the 35-yard line. Kendricks started the play with his heels on the 37, Johnson started on the 29.
For Johnson to get that far that fast is excellent, but Kendricks makes his job much easier by hitting Johnson's backside (right) shoulder. This allows Johnson to slide a shade to his left, sealing Kendricks off and out of the play. Had he hit Johnson's left shoulder - the one pointed down the field, Johnson may not have had the leverage he had, and Kendricks could have made a play on Mendenhall. Instead, Mendenhall spins out of a hand tackle attempt, and bursts up field for more yardage.
Add in outstanding blocks from tight end Heath Miller, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and right guard Ramon Foster, you have a beautifully executed seven yard gain on first down.
Facing an 8-man front does not guarantee the lack of running yards. Proper execution - and badasses like Heath Miller, Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey - wins out in the end.
The Steelers line up in power-I again, running a simple lead draw off Pouncey and Foster with Johnson leading the way. Ryans - one of the better mike (middle) linebackers in the game, sees this, and likely makes the decision to shoot the gap. He does that, and he stuffed by Johnson in the backfield.
Miller took Jason Babin head-on, and he stoned him where he stood. With no backside rush, even Ryans' presence in the backfield, and Pouncey falling to his knees, doesn't disrupt the run. Pouncey and Colon were double-teaming Landri when Pouncey fell forward and at the feet of LB Jamar Chaney (51). Pouncey simply gets up and in less than a step has Chaney off-balance and moving backward, unable to make a play.
Meanwhile, Foster released off his block at the line, got inside Kendricks, drove him back about seven yards and flattened up a little bit shy of where Mendenhall would be tackled.
The Steelers are now running downhill, and there's little reason to think Mendenhall won't get the ball again. The Eagles defense is collapsing, but you see some fatigue on both sides.
So why not keep it simple and do basically the same thing again?
It's not a carbon copy, but this time, the Steelers release Miller to punish Kendrick (a rough series for the rookie), and let Gilbert stop Babin - which he did.
Johnson leads through the hole, and Ryans didn't blitz this time. Johnson stopped and turned him outside the play.
The only negative comment I'll make on this drive...at the bottom you'll notice Steelers WR Mike Wallace release inside, and as this GIF is frozen, you'll notice he has Eagles safety Kurt Coleman in his crosshairs.
Coleman is the force on this play (meaning he's the free defender directly in the path of the play), and Wallace has a chance to get a body on him but reacts too late. Coleman stays inside and makes the tackle after a four-yard gain.
It's the moment of the season, outside the opener, I miss Hines Ward, who likely would have put Coleman somewhere along the banks of the Ohio.
This is technically the fifth play of the drive, a 13-yard run by Isaac Redman came the previous play.
Four consecutive power runs, all successful, sets up a brilliant playcall by offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Brilliant for the Steelers, incredibly unfortunate for two-time All Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
We've highlighted Miller lead-blocking on wide screens to Antonio Brown before, and the damage he inflicts upon opposing defenses. The fact this is the third Miller block to make Behind The Steel GIFs in four games is beyond impressive.
There's really not much to break down here except a very quick but effective draw fake by Roethlisberger to give Miller an extra second to get in front of Brown.
After that, he's magnetized on Asomugha, and there's nothing the cornerback can do about it.
Blockers in those situations are taught to mirror and stalk-block the defender (meaning you mimmick the defender and get in his way without sacrificing the spacial integrity advantage you have being between the tackler and the ball carrier).
Miller doesn't need that. He runs to, into and through Asomugha, slamming him to the ground so hard I honestly thought he broke his shoulder blade or collarbone or both.
To Asomugha's credit, he's done the second the ball is snapped, but he hangs in as best he can. Same thing with Ellis Lankster v. Miller in Week 2, he didn't bail out, he took his whipping like a football player should.
If anyone has any examples of a tight end in the NFL today who is responsible for three of these plays and so viciously destroyed his assignment each time, please forward them on. I want to hear all about the other tight ends in the league who are apparently better than Miller.