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Steelers Film Room: Jon Bostic leaves much to be desired in coverage

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Jon Bostic is a solid run-defender, but his coverage leaves much to be desired.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

When Jon Bostic signed with the Steelers in the offseason, we knew they were getting a solid defender who offered the run-support they needed up the middle. Bostic showed off those instincts in the first preseason game vs. the Eagles when he made lots of plays on ball carriers, but he had little or no impact in the pass game. Bostic has now had two rather sub-par games in coverage and that was somewhat expected from him.

He had a very up-and-down game against the Eagles, with good and bad moments. Against the Packers, he didn’t do much defending the run and had some terrible gaffes in pass defense. We knew pass coverage was his weak spot — it always has been — and it’s partly the reason why the Colts let him walk, what with their scheme change looming ahead. Much of that profile has remained constant during his short game experience with the Steelers. We see his instincts as a run-stopper, while also seeing his lack of coverage instincts. His awareness in coverage is very questionable and his depth is a big issue. Vince Williams is at least aware in coverage, but he fails to understand coverage depth.

First, I want to outline a common theme you see with Bostic throughout both preseason games in run-defense. You’ll see him avoid blockers all the time, but he’ll often wash himself out of the play. So he’s got the instincts to avoid blockers, but his field-vision and awareness are lacking.

You can see him avoid the second-level blocker with a really nice dip and rip through, which, if he was near the ball carrier, would be great. But doing that in the position where he was washed him straight out of the play. This is exactly what you don’t want to do as a linebacker. Bostic has to do this while maintaining the proper field-vision, and you saw him do that on his explosive tackles for losses against the Eagles. But it would be nice if he could do this much more consistently. What he needs to learn is to engage the blocker, drag the blocker with him towards the ball carrier, and then disengage to make the tackle. That technique will ensure he makes more stops for minimal gain in the run-defense.

In coverage, though, Bostic was lost.

Bostic needs to cut off the adjustment Goedert makes, not allowing him to get so open. But instead, he comes down with no support behind him for the coverage. Edmunds has to keep to the sideline for both the running back and the possibility of the modified route to the corner. Bostic thus needs to keep his depth and take away Goedert as an option until he gets support behind him — then he needs to take the launch towards Sudfeld. The lack of awareness of depth and responsibility in coverage is partially why Bostic worries me so much when he’s thrown into coverage. He has to learn his responsibility on these plays to avoid being a complete liability in coverage. Bostic looks lost on this play and he also did a few times against the Green Bay Packers. It includes both his lack of awareness of depth plus the lack of seeing the field as a whole for his assignment.

This look, by coverage standards would be called cover 2 man. That means that in the Steelers’ scheme, the two deep safeties are going to be using a coverage concept known as “palms”. That simply means they give safety support on both deep portions of the field. That is one of the concepts Keith Butler has kept from the Dick LeBeau days. Underneath the play is all man coverage, Bostic here is responsible for Ty Montogomery. Once he sees the motion out, Bostic should immediately start to slightly move towards that side to get to the potential out quicker. Instead of doing this, he takes the seam for no reason. It could have been miscommunication, but his job is never to take the seam. The reason he slightly should have moved over to cover that potential out, was so he would not potentially get tangled and can make a line to the receiver. Obviously, he either missed his assignment or gets tangled up in the routes, regardless both are inexcusable. Bostic can not be this lost in coverage.

This is a zone-coverage look by the Steelers. Aside from the depth gaffe by Vince Williams, who should have trailed the seam much further up, Bostic also has a depth issue. He has the middle of the field and must account for both the check-down and slot receiver to the left on the screen. But he seemingly falls way too far back into the zone for the slot man and he would have given up a much bigger gain on that check-down than what should happen. Depth discipline and awareness of your zone are keys to being a good coverage linebacker, and Bostic struggles on both accounts. To truly be the undisputed, best option next to Vince Williams, Bostic must improve in these areas if he aims to show why he should be the starter come Week 1.