The Steelers traveled to the West Coast with a rookie who was cut and cleared waivers before the season starting and came away with a huge win. This weeks film room is going to look at the offensive gameplan that allowed the offense to move the ball reliably, score points and control the game enough to seize a much needed victory.
Step 1: Show you aren’t afraid to throw deep
JuJu Smith-Schuster is at the top of the screen.
Great job on the route by JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Devlin Hodges gets rid of the ball at exactly the right time. He just throws it 5 yards short of where he should have. If that ball is between the 47 and 50 yard line JuJu Smith-Schuster likely makes that catch and a big gain.
This is the downside of Devlin Hodges, he doesn’t have a strong arm, and he has almost no chemistry built up with his WRs. His accuracy wasn’t great across the board, but on his deep throws it was terrible. Hodges threw 5 deep balls against the Chargers, with 3 incompletions, a penalty for unnecessary roughness negating one incompletion and an interception. So far this season Hodges has thrown deep 8 times, with one completion for 18 yards, 2 recorded incompletions and a recorded interception to go with an interception and 3 more incompletions negated by penalties.
This was the first offensive play for the Steelers, and the message was clear, the Steelers would not hesitate to attack the Chargers banged up secondary, even if Hodges couldn’t get it there, the Chargers knew the Steelers weren’t afraid to throw deep. You can blame the Chargers defense for respecting the threat, but the Steelers still committed to showing the risk, and the CBs were giving cushions, and that was important.
Step 2: Stretch the defense to the sidelines
Donte Moncrief is at the bottom of the screen.
This play shows Devlin Hodges’ anticipation, one of his best attributes. He sees the CB playing off, and leads Moncrief to the sideline where the defense had no chance to stop the play. Moncrief made a great play on the low throw, but look at when Hodges releases the ball. I know last week’s film room covered this as well, but it is worth talking about because it continued in this game, and it backed the defense off the line of scrimmage.
Here’s a zoomed in slow-motion clip of the throw, the GIF goes until Moncrief gets his eyes to the QB, the point where Rudolph has been starting his throws. The ball is already on it’s way by then with Hodges, and the defender has no chance to make a difference because of it.
If Mason Rudolph is the starter week 8 at Miami we’ll be talking about this again in that film room, hopefully showing how Rudolph improved.
Step 3: Exploiting the Chargers LBs
Conner gets the ball, but watch JuJu Smith-Schuster at the top of the screen.
If you notice No. 58 pointing at JuJu Smith-Schuster it’s because JuJu set a beautiful pick on this play. The Steelers run Smith-Schuster right at the zone defender that should be on Conner, JuJu gets away with it here, most likely because the defender was stepping towards him into the contact. With Smith-Schuster clearing out the safety Conner has a first down before dealing with contact. Again the CB is giving JuJu a lot of ground, and even without anyone blocking him that CB is in no position to challenge the first down.
You can see how slow the LBs are in getting to the sideline, the Steelers consistently attacked the Chargers LBs in coverage and forced them to run horizontally. With the LBs slow to recover and help the passing game and CBs far off the line, a big part of the offensive design has succeeded.
Cliff harris is still a punk!, in his filmroom, discussed the Steelers use of heavy sets (check it out if you missed it) and it was a big part of the game plan, not just for the run execution that chisap showed so well, but also in forcing the Chargers to rely on bigger slower players while the Steelers used Conner’s strengths as a receiver out of the backfield to attack their lack of speed.
Step 4: The payoff
Benny Snell Jr. picks up the first down and more.
A couple things to notice here, Devlin Hodges under center, the OL in 3-point stances, but mostly look at the depth of the LBs, and watch both David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva start with double team blocks and then peel off those blocks and find other defenders. Benny Snell here gets 7 yards because the LBs aren’t attacking the line of scrimmage, and that gives the OL time to make double team blocks and still get bodies on the LBs.
The Steelers did a better job run blocking in week 6, but it wasn’t because the players on the offensive line suddenly remembered they were talented, they still had to win their blocks (and they did a great job of it), but they were in a much better position to succeed because the offense had the Chargers LBs worried about other threats.
On the other side of the ball...
Watch Devin Bush, he starts out on the right side of the logo.
The Chargers could not get their run game going, and this play is a good example of why. You can see Devin Bush coming up to the line right before the snap, the Steelers are attacking the line of scrimmage on this play, like they did on a high percentage of plays in this game. Because Devin Bush comes up the center has to block Bush. If the center is free to double team Javon Hargrave there the LG can pass Hargrave off to the center and peel off to find a LB, which would have been Williams. Because Bush hits that gap the guard is stuck on Hargrave.
Also notice Cameron Heyward eating a double team and not letting the LT or TE get away from him. That’s Heyward dominating a run play. And notice Bud Dupree holding the edge and hitting Derek Watt to make sure the run can’t bounce outside his way.
All of that effort leaves Vince Williams alone to do what he does best, fill the lane and squash the opposing runner’s momentum.
This not only shows the value of backing up LBs so that they can’t dictate blocking and keep the OL from peeling off into the run lane, but it also shows Devin Bush playing a key part in the play by filling that space and keeping the Chargers line behind the line of scrimmage. That’s not something Bush was doing well earlier this season. I’ve been commenting on his growth and weaknesses almost every week, and this is a key step in his growth I haven’t had a chance to cover yet. Earlier in the game he had an opportunity to finish a play when the backwards pass was bouncing around and no one seemed interested in touching it, and unlike the safety last week where he took himself out of the play before the whistle blew, this week he jumped on that opportunity and turned it into a TD.
Before his injury Devin Bush looked like he was putting it all together and on his way to being exactly what the Steelers hoped he would be. He was still good afterwards, but he missed some tackles and seemed to be lacking in some quickness and power, which would make sense with an ankle injury. With an extra week to heal it will be exciting to see what the rest of this season has in store for the Steelers rookie phenom.