Life in the NFL is like a roller coaster. You are up one week, and down the next. It comes with the territory, but as much as we at BTSC try to avoid singling out a specific player throughout any of our Film Room articles, the play of Pittsburgh Steelers CB Antwon Blake has become difficult to avoid.
Yes, Blake made a game-changing interception returned for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football in Week 5, but there are some growing trends developing with one of Mike Tomlin's favorite players.
In today's film room, we analyze some of Blake's short comings, which has nothing to do with his height, and what might be done to help at least mask some of these issues in the future to prevent them from completely altering the outcome of games.
When Tomlin speaks of Blake he often talks about Blake's physicality and his presence in the back end. Blake does like to lay the wood on more than one occasion, but even his tackling has become suspect in recent weeks. This could be due to his injured thumb, and having to wear a small cast, but if such an injury is going to hinder a player to the point of his performance hurting the team, then that falls on the coaching staff for putting him on the field.
On this play there isn't much analysis needed, but has become a trend not just with Blake, but the entire Steelers' secondary. Blake approaches the ball carrier with his head down. He does approach the wide receiver's outside shoulder to force him back into help, which is approaching in the form of Jarvis Jones, but not only does Blake whiff on the tackle, but his help does too. Not to be left out, Lawrence Timmons is also there to make the tackle after Jones' miscue, and he makes it a hat trick of missed tackles on one play.
This play should have been stopped for a short gain, but due to poor tackling, starting with Blake, the play went for a first down and continued a Kansas City Chiefs drive.
When breaking down coverage it get a little sketchy considering the assignments can vary depending on what defense the team finds themselves in, as well as any pre-snap changes are made by a player like Mike Mitchell. On this play, the Steelers are in a traditional two-deep safety look. Notice when the play freezes Blake has help over the top in Mitchell, and help underneath in Timmons.
With the coverage called, and executed as expected, it is increasingly frustrating to see Blake fall behind in coverage so easy off the line of scrimmage. Blake is playing tight coverage off the snap, but fails to get his hands on the receiver to disrupt any timing created on the offensive side of the ball. To make matters worse, with help over the top Blake fails to get his head turned to make a play on the ball and in turn gives up a big pass play along the boundary which equates to another first down and extends the Chiefs' drive.
These plays have become an issue with the Steelers the entire season, and it makes someone wonder if it is the scheme, or the player who is ultimately responsible for the breakdown.
Mistakes in the red-zone can't happen. When they do they equate to points, which is exactly what happens on this third play. You often hear fans yell and scream about the cushion defensive backs give receivers off the line of scrimmage, and in certain situations their complaints are justified.
This play would be one of those situations. On this play you can see Blake has the outside zone coverage. When the players cross at the line of scrimmage he follows to the outside. Blake's inability to read the route and break on the ball is what makes this an easy touchdown. Blake's eyes are on the defender the entire play, but fails to glance into the backfield to see the ball being delivered. This delays his break and equates to an easy score for the Chiefs.
Playing defensive back in the NFL isn't easy. If it were, everyone would do it, but with the current rules of what players can, and can't, do to offensive players beyond 5 yards makes it even more challenging. Before fans get out their pitchforks and torches ready to storm the Steelers' South Side practice facility requesting Antwon Blake be handed over, realize these are just three plays. Have some of the issues seen above become a trend with Blake? Yes, but he has also made plays which could be highlighted in a positive light.
The Steelers make mistakes, just like every team in the NFL, but the great teams don't make the same mistakes repeatedly. The Steelers secondary, especially Blake, have some work to do to help the team's secondary not be such a liability moving forward.