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Steelers Film Room: How the Steelers stalled Leonard Fournette in the 2nd half

The Steelers made some impressive adjustments to stop the Jaguars run game in the second half.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers were gashed in the first half on the ground against the Jaguars in Week 11. They gave up over 100 yards of rushing offense, and Leonard Fournette was driving the team right down the field with ease. Luckily, the Steelers bent but never broke, as they held the Jags to only nine points. Their big adjustments in the second half, which led 4 straight three and outs to end the game, is the key adjustment of this game.

Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin knew play action was going to come eventually, and they sold out for it in the first half. They ran nickel a lot with cover 2 and not nearly as many blitzes or man-based concepts. Against Blake Bortles, that isn’t a bad idea as long as you can slow down Leonard Fournette, but that wasn’t happening. The small-ball based packages that have worked over the past few weeks didn’t work here, at all. So, the Steelers went to the well of someone I never thought they would — Jordan Dangerfield.

It is interesting how they aligned themselves after the first half. The Steelers actually went into a 5-3 defense. It is 2018, and I am talking about a 5-3 defense, which is so incredibly rare nowadays because how many power running teams do you see? Not many. But the Jaguars certainly are one of those teams.

The main goal of a 5-3 defense is to keep gap discipline and penetrate the line to dilute the running holes. In a 5-3, we call the OLBs “wides” and the other terminology inside sticks as per usual, but they want to attack the area between the wides (T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree) and the ends (Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu).

More on the “attack point” up front later, but Jordan Dangerfield is only in here on the base defense with one receiver in the game, while Sean Davis plays the over the top zone to guard against the Play Action. Dangerfield’s purpose is not just outside contain, but his run stopping presence in the box allows the “wides” to play incredibly aggressive. Both can now play that way due to Terrell Edmunds on one side, and Dangerfield on the other.

With that in mind, look at Watt crash down here. He doesn’t have to worry because Edmunds has to come and fill the lane and hold contain. This is a great job by Watt to fight through a block, but even more so, Edmunds block shedding and holding his gap is what makes this happen. This is purely sound run defense. Also, Dangerfield’s presence is felt, not because he is in on the tackle, but because Dupree can scream off the edge just like he did.

Another example of why Dangerfield being there is important. There is no way Chick would have been able to fly up the field otherwise. Dangerfield does a great job of holding the contain, and Chickillo throwing Ereck Flowers to the ground is a big result of that. Another key factor in the 3 IDL, look at how they keep their gap discipline. This is a pitch perfect run defense play by the Steelers up front, and Butler’s scheming is a huge testament to that.

Remember when I mentioned that they wanted to attack that between the IDL and wides? That is what they do here. However, the key is that Keith Butler knew this, and disrupted it. The Steelers blitzed significantly more in the second half, and it wasn’t for pass rush purposes. You can see Vince Williams shoot the B gap and just blow up this run. What a play call from Keith Butler, without Dangerfield, blitzing was a way he derailed these runs.

It forces Fournette inside and the MVP of this game Javon Hargrave is there to completely stall and any attempts. That penetration he gets into the backfield completely stops any hope of Fournette finding a hole. The unsung hero of the play is Joe Haden, who comes in on an excellent fill. Something people won’t understand about Hargrave here is that he is just doing his job. If this was broken for a big run, a lot of people would have blamed him, but you have to have a member of your secondary fill here. So, great job by Haden to fly downhill.

I can’t say I expected Butler to call a delayed blitz, but boy did it ever work. Bostic crashing down confused the Tackle and TE and allowed Hilton to fly in. This play doesn’t work if Hilton doesn’t process this well enough. Something to also note is that he blitzed to the weak and strong side on two different plays. Butler can easily tell Vinny to audible out of a blitz to the weak side simply based on the alignment of the TE. His positioning is all that matters. If he is outside of the RT with his shoulder facing outward, it is going to the strong side, and vice versa. This is a great job of installing not just adjustments, but flexibility into a 5-3 defense. That is modernizing an old-time package.

Beautiful, textbook run defense on all accounts here. Dangerfield has outside contain to the strong side always and look at TJ Watt work inside. Watt is part of the reason why Fournette cannot go anywhere with this really. Cam Heyward comes in on the penetration of Hargrave, which clogs up the middle lane and forces Fournette outside. Honestly, the biggest play here is Sean Davis. He realized there was no one filling that backside and he just shot downhill for a fantastic fill. That wasn’t his job, but with Haden getting driven upfield (even though he ended up block shedding) Davis makes one heck of a play. This is just another example of his fantastic play this year.

I don’t know what happened to Bud Dupree, but man he is playing really well this year. This guy trips and maybe gets his ankles broken and still makes this high-effort, game-saving play. Fantastic play, this isn’t scheming, it is just a great play by Bud to keep outside and for Vince to fill. Fournette could’ve bounced this outside, but Dupree’s positioning causes him to bounce inside. Fantastic play to honestly save the game there, even with all the adjustments that Butler deserves all the credit for.