Looking back over the Steelers' 31-19 loss at Denver in Week 1, it's obvious the Steelers struggled to stop quarterback Peyton Manning throughout the second half. While Manning is an outstanding passer, the biggest reason why the Steelers had difficulties is because the Broncos were rarely ever in 3rd-and-long situations.
There was one 3rd-and-long play, though, in which the Steelers showed flashes of the defense most are used to seeing.
One of the key plays in the Steelers' strong defensive first half was a five-yard sack of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. With a two-deep zone called in the secondary, the Steelers front seven executed an aggressive blitz to perfection, largely in part to the flawless technique and execution among the Steelers' defensive linemen, and linebacker Larry Foote.
Watch the GIF after the jump.
Technique is critically important to any NFL player, and that technique changes depending on the situation. A defensive player's technique on third down will differ from second down. In this case, it's 3rd-and-long, and the Steelers are looking to find a way to put some pressure on Manning.
This is a defense that outwits its opponents before it out-muscles them. The call is to disguise its pass rushers while having the others confuse and out-leverage the Broncos pass protectors.
From Manning's view point, the Steelers are lined up with OLB Chris Carter pretty much on the line of scrimmage. Foote inches in as well, with DE Brett Keisel to his left, standing up. DE Ziggy Hood is playing a 3-technique (over the guard) at the snap, and OLB LaMarr Woodley is outside shade of the right tackle.
At the snap, Carter bows outside LT Ryan Clady, which forces Clady to follow him. That opens a lane for Foote's delayed blitz, leaving him 1-on-1 with RB Knowshon Moreno.
At the same time, Hood fires immediately into the A gap, but then shifts down a gap, essentially occupying two blockers (C J.D. Walton and LG Zane Beadles). Keisel is standing up so he can flow off Hood, twisting into the opposite side A gap. RG Manny Ramirez is surprised, and Keisel drives him a good three yards into the backfield.
Hood also makes great use of his leverage, pushing both Walton and Beadles into the backfield.
Carter has occupied Clady, Hood took out the middle, and Keisel is collapsing the edge of the pocket. That turns the play into nothing more than who will reach Manning first, Foote or Woodley.
Foote wins out due to a beautiful side-step of Moreno, swiping past him with his right arm while maintaining his balance. It's truly an exceptional play for a linebacker north of 30 years of age, and because he's able to rip Moreno with his right arm while opening his hips, he gets past him and needs very little to turn the corner and hunt the passer down.
He jumps on Manning's back a second before Woodley arrives. The edge pressure was intense, but this play was made into a success because the penetration and push by Hood and Keisel eliminated any lane to which Manning could step up. Manning goes down after having barely a second after his drop to make a throw, and disappears into a pile of his offensive linemen on their backs.
Give credit to Hood for a great move and getting the sack, but outstanding individual efforts from Hood and Keisel really drove this play home.