The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense was aggressive against the 49ers in Week 2. After recording just two sacks of Tom Brady in Week 1, the Steelers cranked up the pass rush, dropping Colin Kaepernick in the backfield five times at Heinz field on Sunday.
The Steelers' front seven confused the 49ers' offensive line with a variety of looks, but they were also stout against the run, limiting the San Francisco rushing attack to 3.6 YPC. This put the 49ers' offense in a lot of obvious-passing situations, and allowed Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler to get creative with his blitz packages and alignments.
The Steelers have the 49ers' offense facing a third down and seven backed up deep in its own territory. Pittsburgh shows an amoeba front, consisting of Arthur Moats, Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier from left to right. Notice that Tuitt is the only down lineman, and to his right, Heyward is standing up. This is the signature look of an amoeba defense, and is designed to create confusion for the quarterback and the offensive line.
At the snap, Heyward shuffles to his left and penetrates through a hole left by right guard Jordan Devey, who thinks he's responsible for blocking Tuitt. Devey doesn't anticipate Moats dropping into coverage, and ends up in no man's land, allowing Heyward to rush free up the middle.
Jones is double teamed by the center and left guard, creating space for blitzing cornerback Antwon Blake. Blake is picked up by Hyde, but Shazier also blitzes off the right edge, and uses his 4.3 40-yard dash speed to blow past All-Pro left tackle Joe Staley and hunt down Kaepernick.
The amoeba front created confusion for Kaepernick in assigning his protections, while the overload blitz from right side created a mismatch for Shazier in space against the tackle. If the defense can continue to create third-and-long situations for opposing offenses, we will continue to see these types of looks from Butler.
Here, with the 49ers' offense facing a second and 18 from its own 21-yard line, the Steelers' defense shows another amoeba front, consisting of Moats, Jones, Cam Thomas and Tuitt from left to right.
At the snap, Jones and Moats execute a perfect stunt, and Thomas is double teamed by the center and left guard, allowing Moats to rush up the middle unblocked. Tuitt flashes his athleticism and beats Staley with a speed rush, while Shazier blitzes from the left. All three meet in the backfield and drop Kaepernick for a six-yard loss.
The amoeba front combined with the stunt by Moats created confusion for the San Francisco offensive line, while Shazier and Tuitt won their individual matchups. Here was saw a great play call by the coaches and great execution from the players.
Overall, the defense showed improvement in Week 2, but the secondary gave up some big plays late in the game, including this 75-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Torrey Smith.
With the Steelers up 36-10 in the fourth quarter, Smith lines up in the slot left and gets a free release. He runs a skinny post and catches a beautifully thrown pass in the soft part of the zone between Shazier and safety Will Allen.
Jones is left on an island in zone coverage in the slot, and fails to jam Smith. Allen is responsible for the deep zone on the right side of the field. The 12-year veteran doesn't bite on the play action and appears to be in a great position to make a play, but he's late breaking on the ball, and is no match for the blazing receiver.
This play was typical of what we've seen from the secondary throughout the preseason and the first two games of the regular season. Even with a 26-point lead in the fourth quarter, giving up a 75-yard touchdown pass is unacceptable.
It's amazing how much better the Steelers' defense looks when it's playing with a lead and is able to make the opposing offense one-dimensional.
Butler is willing to be more aggressive with the lead, and that was evident in his play calling last Sunday. We saw great examples of this in the plays above, with Shazier rushing off the edge from different sides of the formation, and the combination of stunts with various amoeba fronts when the 49ers were facing obvious-passing situations.
Certainly execution has been an issue, especially for a banged up and inexperienced secondary that continues to give up big plays. But the blueprint for success is simple: get out to an early lead, stop the run, and good things will start to happen.