The Pittsburgh Steelers showed their youth and inexperience in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5. The Steelers now have 3 losses by a combined 9 points, and again there are numerous plays that can be pointed to as opportunities missed.
In today’s 5 play film session, I’m going to look at plays that show the flaws of inexperience, but also a few that show that there is hope for improvement.
For Steelers QBs, it’s all a matter of timing
3rd and 6, James Washington is at the bottom of the screen.
This play gets James Washington underneath, covered only by the Earl Thomas III coming from a deep zone. On first glance this looks like a play where Alejandro Villanueva and Ramon Foster getting split by Pernell McPhee caused the play to fail. It’s clear that Foster and Villanueva need to do better here, but Rudolph had a window to throw in. Let’s look at a different angle in slow motion.
You see the moment James Washington is open, and if you watch, when Rudolph puts his weight on his back foot to start the clip is the moment he should have started to throw the ball. Instead he takes a hop, looks and then has to protect the ball before he gets hit. Even if the pressure hadn’t come, Rudolph has missed the team’s best chance of converting this third down, because Earl Thomas would be there to tackle Washington right after the catch. Rudolph is slow to commit to the throw, waiting until James is clearly open, and he doesn’t have that much time. Instead of James Washington having time to turn and try to beat Thomas to get the ~4 remaining yards for a first down, the Steelers lose 11 yards and settle for a longer FG.
But that’s one play, and it has a DE crashing his pocket. So let’s look at another good example, this time from shortly before Rudolph would leave the game.
1st and 10, Washington is closest to the bottom of the screen.
You can see Washington is wide open the entire time he is crossing between the hash marks. Rudolph hits him almost at the numbers, and the DB is there to make a play.
Here’s the point where Rudolph’s arm starts to come back to make the throw.
Washington is already open, and Rudolph is starting to pull his arm back to throw. It’s already too late. Even if he is going to make this throw at this point, he needs to put it on the hash mark to his left (closer to the top of the screen), and let James stop and catch it in open space. Rudolph tries to lead him, but puts the ball right where the defenders can get to it.
Here’s when Rudolph should have started throwing the ball.
At this point James is about to make his cut, the defender he has just run past is committing to the TE underneath and a ball thrown straight down the middle of the field will hit James when he is wide open and able to gain yards after the catch.
Rudolph is almost half a second late on the throw, and yes, half a second isn’t much time, but that’s the difference in the NFL. This is a hard adjustment to make for a QB that was very successful in the Big 12, where he could throw to WRs after they were open, but that is a habit he is going to have to break if he’s going to start in the NFL. He needs to be able to anticipate the WR getting open and throw it before they are past the defenders.
For contrast, here’s Devlin Hodges’ first throw of the game. James Washington is again the WR to the bottom of the screen.
This play results in a pass interference call as Brandon Carr steps up and knees James Washington off his route. But look at when Devlin Hodges starts to throw the football:
That’s how you throw a WR open. That’s how you make life hard on a CB, because as the WR makes their cut the ball is already on its way, and the defense gets far less time to recover. Instead of having a chance to undercut the route and play the ball, Carr has to try and go through James Washington, and he gets flagged for it.
Mason Rudolph is a more physically gifted Quarterback than Devlin Hodges. That was visible in the short time Hodges was on the field, but Hodges anticipated the play better than Rudolph has this season. It will be interesting to see if Hodges can have more success with downfield passes against San Diego with his inferior arm but better timing.
Devin Bush is getting closer to greatness
Devin Bush starts the play in-between the hashes.
Early this season Devin Bush had two big weaknesses, biting on play action and having his height taken advantage of in coverage. He showed a lot of improvement in play action last week, and again this week. I’ve been on the record saying teams are going to keep getting tall TE’s on Bush and going over top of him until he makes them pay for it. And he finally did. Here’s a good view of the break-up in slow motion.
Lamar Jackson has Bush on Nick Boyle and puts it up high for Boyle to get. This kind of pass is in every game this season, Bush in tight coverage, QB throws the ball over his head and the TE jumps to make the catch. This time Bush is able to get his hands inside Boyle’s hands and break up the catch. Whether you think Bush secured the interception or not, he finally took away this play that has been haunting him all season. He’s given teams something to think about before they draw up this play against him.
But he’s not there yet. . .
For the last play let’s look at a missed opportunity that could have been the play we all remember as the moment the defense got the Steelers a big win.
3rd and 10, Bush is again right in the middle of the field to start the play.
Right before the gif restarts you can see the moment Orlando Brown Jr. pulls Gus Edwards out of the endzone to avoid the safety. Look where Devin Bush is at that point. Bush, like most of the defenders and people watching, thought the Steelers had secured the safety and started to celebrate. Bush has a clear chance to go join the push and stop the ball from crossing the line, and he doesn’t. If he makes that play we’d have a legitimate hero on our defense, instead we have a young LB approaching greatness and a fourth loss. In a game that the defense lived up to the hype I’ve been heaping on them, this is one big play that they failed to finish.
It stands out to me that Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kameron Kelly, Devin Bush and Terrell Edmunds are all celebrating while you can see Joe Haden coming in to try and help at the end. All the young guys stopped, while the old veteran was playing to the whistle.
Hopefully this is a lesson they only need to learn once.