The Steelers won not because of their offense this week, but largely because their defense played a fantastic game. Sure, they had a bit of help with some drops and penalties, but to be fair, that is not the biggest reason why the Patriots were thwarted offensively. It is because of the scheme Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler employed.
We all know how critical we have all been of the those two, last week, I called out Mike Tomlin for not putting Ben Roethlisberger into the game, going as far to say it is a “fireable offense”. That is not to say that he should be fired, but that this coach certainly has his lapses in his coaching ability.
However, Sunday was a sneak peak into one of the great aspects of Mike Tomlin, and Keith Butler for that matter. I think it is not a coincidence once this team started combining Butler’s blitz concepts with Tomlin’s coverage concepts, they had magical success. So, this game plan was fantastic, let us take a look at Joe Haden’s interception.
Vince Williams did not blitz
I love what the Steelers did here.....in a miracle, they disguised their coverage!
The Steelers typically use this look here with Davis at single-high to have him drop back and the two corners to follow him into Cover 3. With second and goal at the 17, they obviously have to worry about the seam from the Patriots perspective. Tom Brady slices and dices through Steelers’ zone coverage all day, but the way to beat Brady has always been to create pressure and disguise your coverages.
So, with the formation being set, and Brady seeing that and sending everyone but Rob Gronkowski, who runs a little hook curl here over the middle of the field, one of them is going to be wide open.
They have the perfect play call here to completely beat the Steelers in coverage, and the assignments would go as such for the Steelers if they were in Cover 3:
Joe Haden: Drop into his third of the field and follow Julian Edelman into the end zone, and if the play breaks down, Edelman now becomes Haden’s man.
Coty Sensabaugh: Follow James White up the sideline and into the end zone, and he is your man if the play breaks down.
Sean Davis: Stay where he is at single-high and filter his positioning through Brady’s eyes. He then would have to make a play if it is a seam, and decide if he wants to pick on Josh Gordon or Chris Hogan.
Terrell Edmunds and Morgan Burnett: Run down to the flats and bump the seam routes in the slots in Gordon and Hogan, filter them up to where Davis can make a play on the ball.
Mike Hilton: Essentially in zone coverage underneath almost as a LB here, but since Vince is “blitzing”, he is essentially in a psuedo-man coverage against Gronkowski here.”
Vince Williams: Theoretically, Williams would drop and cover the other side of the middle underneath area to take the pressure off of Hilton, meaning this would only be a 4 man rush.
So, they counter the Brady-look by doing something I really haven’t seen them do all year. Haden and Sensabaugh filter down and chip White and Edelman and let them go up, as they actually have the flats here. So, they turn this into a Tampa 2 look instead. Note, that is a Tomlin coverage concept. They drop Burnett and Edmunds both off into palms to cover the sideline streak and thus inside slot seams as well, and run the middle “Tampa” inverted, as no LB drops back, instead Sean Davis stays there and takes away which ever seam is not covered by Edmunds or Burnett.
Up front, Butler runs an inside twist with Cam Heyward and Anthony Chickillo, which allows Cam Heyward to push the off-balance Trent Brown back into Brady and thus causes him to make an off-balance throw.
This can be simply called as a “weak exchange” which implies a stunt to the weak side of the field, and it works perfectly. They run it to the weak side to avoid chips, and it is a great call by Butler.
Thus, once the play breaks down, all they need to do is make a play on the ball, since everyone is blanketed, and sure enough, Joe Haden comes off of Julian Edelman and makes a fantastic play. This is great schematic stuff from a guy in Keith Butler who has been anything but that.
How did Gronk only have two catches for 21 yards? Pretty easy, the Steelers were doubling him all day. Smart adjustments by Tomlin and Butler to double him and it literally took Gronk away from the entire game. They did the same to Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon on and off. On this play, it is Gordon, and once Edelman dropped a pass, they switched to Gordon. The Steelers dared someone else from New England to beat them and they simply did not.
Also, look at all that man coverage. Fantastic coverage across the board and great discipline by Hilton and Sensabaugh on this switch route concept to see how Edelman was going inside and releasing off of each other.
Somehow, some way, this was easily the best game plan the Steelers have had all season. I hope Butler and Tomlin do this as well against the New Orleans Saints in Week 16, and double Michael Thomas. If they can effectively take away the top producers of any team, and disguise coverages like they did against Brady, this team can go far.