The Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 regular season is rolling on. In Week 7, the Steelers defense did a nice job of keeping the Dolphins offense in check after the first quarter. One player who made some nice plays in both the run and pass game was Terrell Edmunds. What is that Edmunds brings to the table that makes him so valuable to the Steelers defense? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.
Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.
Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.
Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.
Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.
The Stats Line:
Since being drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, Terrell Edmunds has only missed two games in five seasons. The iron man on the defense, in 2022 Edmunds has 28 tackles and three passes defensed in six games. But of the three passes defensed, two of them occurred Week 7 in Miami.
Rather than looking at the stats from when Edmunds plays, seeing what happens when he’s not on the field may be much more telling. In 2022, the Steelers have given up four 40+ yard plays this year, 3 were from Buffalo when Edmunds was out. That game had eleven 20+ yard plays given up by the Steelers, as much their next two highest allowed combined. In the game and a half Edmunds has missed this season, the Steelers gave up 552 yards against the Bills (their highest output of the season) and 209 yards in the second half against the Jets compared to 139 in the first half.
Another issue with Terrell Edmunds was how he did not receive a lucrative contract this past offseason. It should be noted that Edmunds is makeing a lot more money than his salary cap hit this season. Here is an explanation of Edmunds contract I did when he signed:
The deal Terrell Edmunds signed with the Steelers ends up being a “Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract.” This is another type of contract defined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that allows teams to pay a player more money in one season than what will qualify against the salary cap. Rather than quote paragraph after paragraph about this provision from the CBA, the short of it is as long as the contract is laid out in the proper way, more than half of Edmunds salary, $1.35 million to be exact, does not count against the salary cap at all and is a “player benefit.” In order to qualify for this contract, the player must have spent every game on the team’s roster over the previous four seasons.
Being this type of contract, Terrell Edmunds will have a $2.385 million base salary and a $152,500 signing bonus with both amounts being the maximum allowed as a Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract. Therefore, Edmunds base salary only counts the minimum for a player with his experience on the salary cap which is $1.035 million. Along with his signing bonus, Edmunds ultimately has a cap hit of $1.1875 million.
So what is Terrell Edmunds bringing on the field that doesn’t allow teams to get these types of plays? Let’s check the film.
The Film Line:
We’ve talked before on the Vertex about how the Steelers use Terrell Edmunds in many different roles, and that showed up right away against the Miami Dolphins.
Steelers vs. Dolphins, 1st Quarter, 12:39
Terrell Edmunds (#34) is the safety to the right side of the screen.
The Dolphins ask Tyreek Hill to go slow down Edmunds on this play, but Edmunds picks up on something and is looking for a run play here, and since Hill can’t move before the snap, there’s no one to block Edmunds.
Frequently in this game the Dolphins would go in motion, shift an alignment, or give some kind of tell that triggered Edmunds coming up in the box like this. Early on he was almost perfect in predicting run plays like this. The Dolphins adapted, but it appears the game plan involved Edmunds having the freedom to come up when certain run tells occurred.
Steelers vs. Dolphins, 1st Quarter, 10:54
Terrell Edmunds (#34) is the farthest defender to the top of the screen, lined up like a cornerback.
Another thing we’ve talked about here is how teams defend plays when both receivers are on one side of the field and the widest player to the other side is a tight end. It’s a frequent move by offenses to get a linebacker on a receiver, with the alternative being one side much weaker in run support.
The Steelers solution here is to give a more nickel look with the DBs, putting both cornerbacks on the twin receiver side and using Terrell Edmunds as the outside corner to the side with no receivers. It keeps the Steelers strong in the box and on the receivers, with the weakness being Minkah Fitzpatrick in single high coverage (which isn’t a big weakness at all).
With both Devin Bush and Minkah Fitzpatrick cheating to the receiver side of the field, the best move here is the one-on-one matchup between Terrell Edmunds and Mike Gesicki, a good receiving tight end. Edmunds takes outside leverage to funnel Gesicki toward Minkah Fitzpatrick, and when Tua Tagovailoa puts the throw in the exact spot to split the safeties, Edmunds is able to close on the play and break it up.
Steelers vs. Dolphins, 1st Quarter, 2:45
Terrell Edmunds (#34) is the safety to the top of the screen, moving into the box right before the snap.
At the motion Edmunds moves up closer to the line of scrimmage, and you can see Alex Highsmith (edge defender to the top of the screen) shift inside a bit. Edmunds again covers the tight end and it shuts down this play entirely. This looks like an RPO-style play based on reading man or zone defense. The receiver to the top of the screen runs a route designed to get in the path of either Highsmith or Myles Jack (inside line backer to that side) trying to cover the tight end. With Edmunds picking up the tight end he slips through easily and neither Jack nor Highsmith are forced into coverage.
Highsmith rushing means Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t have time to make other reads and if he had tried to escape and run, Myles Jack is reading him. Edmunds has coverage on the tight end and Tagovailoa takes the best option he has and overthrows his man.
Steelers vs. Dolphins, 3rd Quarter, 2:57
Terrell Edmunds (#34) is the safety to the left side of the screen.
The Dolphins run Tyreek Hill in motion on this play, knowing it’s hard for any defender to run with him. When Devin Bush runs to keep outside of Hill the Dolphins run the ball, having moved a linebacker out of the box. Terrell Edmunds fills that gap though, taking the place of a linebacker in the box and making the tackle to hold this run to a very small gain.
Terrell Edmunds ability to fill a linebacker role in the box, or shut down a good receiving tight end in man coverage has been an incredible value to the Steelers the last year and a half when their run defense has struggled. The biggest beneficiary this season has been Myles Jack, who is almost never forced into man coverage on a wide receiver or a high end receiving tight end or running back. With Jack almost always in the box reading the play he leads the team in tackles by a large margin and ranks 8th in the NFL.
But Edmunds has value outside of the box too. While early in his career he was a liability in deep coverage, as the stats show, he’s a big part of the Steelers limiting big gains and taking away deep passes. That showed up in a big way in Week 7.
Steelers vs. Dolphins, 4th Quarter, 8:10
Terrell Edmunds (#34) is the safety to the bottom of the screen.
I love this play. Edmunds comes up in the box and the Dolphins see Edmunds up and Levi Wallace on Tyreek Hill and are immediately thinking touchdown. The problem is that while Wallace can’t keep up with Hill’s speed, Edmunds can run with him step for step, and doesn’t need to be lined up deep to avoid getting burned. Edmunds does a great job in coverage on this play, and even turns to look for the ball as Hill is forced to initiate contact so he doesn’t get called for anything. The ball hits Edmunds and falls incomplete, and while some people will call this a dropped interception chance, this is a fantastic job by Edmunds. The number of players who can run with Tyreek Hill and do a solid job filling in as a linebacker against the run is very small.
But while his failure to create a turnover here isn’t nearly as important as the job he does shutting down Tyreek Hill, creating turnovers is definitely a weakness of Terrell Edmunds.
Steelers vs. Dolphins, 3rd Quarter, 5:40
Terrell Edmunds (#34) is the deep safety closer to the bottom of the screen.
The Steelers put Minkah Fitzpatrick closer to the box on this play, letting him attack the routes from the Dolphins trio of receivers to that side. Edmunds has only two receivers to worry about on his side, and is in a deeper alignment. A bad pass gives him a chance for a big play, but Edmunds can’t convert.
Gotta get those elbows together and make a nice basket for the ball there.
At this point in his career Terrell Edmunds has addressed his penchant for taking bad angles, he reads the play much faster and has gone from a liability to a strength in deep coverage.
The one problem with his game that he hasn’t been able to fix is his lack of creating turnovers. At this point it’s not likely to change. But that’s okay, the Steelers had Ike Taylor for years. He was one of the best cover men in all of football but was never regarded highly or paid highly because he couldn’t catch the ball.
Edmunds has incredible value to a defense outside of creating turnovers. And that lack of turnover creation has him as one of the lowest paid defenders on the Steelers. Special teams players at his same position make more than he does, and he consistently plays some of the highest snap counts of any Steelers defender, and when you compare the Steelers defensive performance against two of the most dangerous downfield passing teams in the NFL, the Bills and Dolphins, you can see how much Edmunds means to this defense.
In fact, I’d argue that the Steelers game against the Dolphins was a very Terrell Edmunds game. Not only did he play a lot of key roles in the Steelers defense, but as a team the Steelers limited the Dolphins offense, but weren’t able to generate any splash plays. That is Terrell Edmunds football.