The Pittsburgh Steelers' schedule was said to be the most difficult of any team in the 2015 season, and that may still ring true, but probably not because of the teams we expected. The Steelers have so far faced the top three scoring offenses in the 2015 season in the New England Patriots, the Arizona Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bengals. Those teams are collectively 20-2, and the Steelers defense was able to hold each of them to the lowest amount of points any of them have scored in a game this year.
Now Pittsburgh must face another offense ranked in the top ten in scoring, the Oakland Raiders, who average 25.4 points per game through seven games in 2015. While the offense will have to perform better than last week, the defense will be looking to slow down another offense that has played considerably well this season.
We take a look at the team's young leader, quarterback Derek Carr. Carr has 15 touchdowns and three interceptions so far on the season and is every bit responsible for the team's early success. Pittsburgh will need to tee off on Carr in this game and rattle the second year player to best limit this offense.
From Carr's 15 touchdown passes, nine of them come from him looking at his first read on the play. Here the play was designed for him to go to Andre Holmes immediately and he quickly attacked his target with a great strike to the end zone.
How do the Steelers take this away? Fortunately we covered this in our recent film room session on the Steelers' secondary that focused on the play of defensive backs in the red zone. Check the receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt quick timing patterns to the end zone just like this play. Force Carr to progress through his reads and give the defensive front time to get after him.
This play shows Carr not staring down his target, Michael Crabtree, but instead staring down the space he was going to attack all along. These series of routes are a great design to get a receiver open in the middle of a zone coverage scheme, which the Steelers often employ.
However this is still a primary read on the play for Carr and never really looks off any other direction. Look for more clearout plays like this on Sunday and for Steelers' linebackers and safeties to recognize them.
Also, while 9 of his 15 touchdown passes are from first read passes, at least three of them can be attributed to great plays/poor tackling after the reception. The Steelers need to have another game in which they limit their opponent's yards after the catch.
Carr also has a deadly deep ball. This pass is perfectly on the money to Holmes' outside shoulder against a tight cover one defense. Once again, Carr looks right at Holmes from the start of this play and makes him his for sure target. This is difficult to defend when Oakland has a solid group of wide receivers, but rest assured that Butler has plans to keep the Raiders in check.
When looking at these plays, it's not a bad thing to say that Carr is making throws on his first read. What he's doing is working, but good teams force their opponents to use something other than their strength to win games.
Mixing up the looks given to Carr would be a great way to rattle the young quarterback. On the third play, notice how he knows exactly where he's going from the start of the play and just waits for the chance to throw a perfect deep ball to Holmes. How do you stop that from that position?
The best way would be for Pittsburgh to come out in looks that can confuse Carr. Show tight cover one but at the snap, switch to cover two in order to confuse Carr and make him decide from forcing his initial read into tight coverage or progressing through his reads to find a better option. Those are the challenges which a young gun-slinger like Carr would be at more a disadvantage than just asking him to test his arm deep into single coverage. Even if he doesn't necessarily fall for those schemes and throw interceptions, doing so gives more time to the Steelers' pass rush to get after him and get sacks.