As the Pittsburgh Steelers gear up for the opening Monday Night game against the Washington Redskins, it's important to know just what kind of team the Steelers could be facing on the defensive side of the ball.
To figure out that, we will be diving in and taking a look what type of coverages they employ along the defensive side of the ball, how are they defending the run and how the Steelers could exploit both the passing game and run game.
Just what are the Redskins strengths on defense? Well it would have to be the two guys that will have pleasure of going up against the Steelers high flying passing offense. When I mean two I mean Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland, two CB's that could form a top tandem in 2016.
Right from the get-go the moment I turned on the film, I could tell Breeland was a CB that the Redskins trust in man coverage situations even though the Redskins, according to the washington post, ran zone coverage about 67%, while they ran man coverage about 29% last season.
Right here you can see Breeland is in a one-on-one man to man situation with Odell Beckham Jr. Breeland does an excellent job getting a good jam off the line and re routing Odell to the sideline.
The Redskins show here exactly how much they trust him in one on one's considering they are playing cover 1 with just one safety over the top, essentially leaving Breeland on an island.
The reason they are able to do this is because Breeland is a fluid hipped corner with quick feet that is adept at mirroring a WR one on one while staying in phase with the receiver. His almost 32 inch arms make him ideal to be the type of CB who can play press man coverage without having to worry to much about him getting beat over the top.
He's a CB with scheme versatility, you can play him in man and you can play him zone.
On the contrast they also have Josh Norman:
Josh Norman by many was regarded as the best CB in the league last year and for good reason, he's disciplined to his assignment, has great recognition ability and can get in a receiver's head.
Unlike Breeland though, Norman was predominately used in zone coverage and according to PFF, Norman was used in zone coverage about 78% of the time while only being used in man about 18% last year.
When looking at film of Norman, I specifically was looking for moments where he was in a one on one situation. Just for comparison sakes, I used his game against Odell who is similar type WR to Brown.
(Just going to clarify, I found a different angle and Odell did not push off Norman. Norman actually tries to grab him after he knew he was beat and Odell counters that).
I don't know how good Josh Norman is in man coverage I'll be honest and neither should the Steelers. This play though stood out to me because this was one of the few plays he was lined up on Odell man to man. These are the kind of moves AB can make on Norman and if Norman's man coverage is anything like it was on this play, Norman will struggle with AB.
That brings me to his struggles with Desean Jackson in training camp:
I understand this is in an environment where there is no scheming what so ever and he doesn't have safety help over the top, I get it. This gives us though a bigger picture on how Norman could fare if put into one on one situations against AB.
AB is faster and quicker in short spaces than Norman so it could prove difficult for Norman to recover if he bites on any of his double moves. Granted there wasn't much film of Norman in man and there wasn't much film of him in the preseason either.
Don't get me wrong, Norman is an excellent CB and when he's in zone, his play recognition and instincts are downright deadly.
Here the Panthers are showing an obvious cover 3 look. Norman is supposed to covering his deep 3rd of the field. Like all great DB's do though, he obviously saw something that he had seen on film or from the QB's eyes that told him that Yeldon was going out for a short out route. He did and Norman made them pay as he stayed underneath and jumped the route.
These are the problems the Steelers face testing Norman. On one hand if Norman is in man coverage, I almost feel like the Steelers should be inclined to test him when in man coverage considering how unknown he is in man coverage. In zone it's a bit of a different story as he understands his assignments and he can recognize plays like the great ones and isn't very likely to be caught out of position.
I wouldn't very much be surprised to see both Breeland and Norman take turns covering AB depending on what coverage they are in.
This is an area of their team that is filled with some question marks and for good reason. Last season the Redskins were 7th worst in run defense and gave up almost 2000 yards on the ground.
The Redskins are a base 3-4 defense with their interior consisting of Ziggy Hood, Kedric Golston and Chris Baker. Not exactly the most intimidating group up front and who would think that with those names along the defensive line?
The guys who will have the luxury of clogging those holes, will be Mason Foster, Will Compton and rookie Su'a Cravens who will mostly likely be playing in nickel situations. In terms of size, Cravens only weighs 222 LB's, Compton weighing 238 LB's, while Foster comes in at 250 LB's. Size doesn't mean everything but they could struggle to shed blocks if the offensive line gets to the second level.
In terms of their OLB's it could arguably be better than their Cornerbacks. 2nd year player Preston Smith could see a considerable jump this season after finishing the season on a tear as he ended the season with 8 sacks. The veteran Ryan Kerrigan is definitely among the most underrated OLB's in the league and he also had a strong year last season finishing with 9.5 sacks.
Those two represent a problem on the outside for Pittsburgh's offensive tackles as they definitely are among the lankier tandems I've seen with Preston Smith boasting 34 inch arms, with Kerrigan having a little bit over 33 inch arms. That is a lot of length on the outside but they are also among the bigger tandems too with Kerrigan coming in at 265 LB's and Smith at 268 LB's.
That size and length shows up on film and man does Preston Smith use it his advantage.
You see that offensive tackle he's going up against? Yeah, that's what I was thinking. To think this was a rookie and he was able to counter Tyron Smith with that length. He's using the principal philosophy, "one arm is longer than two." He know's how to use his length properly and that's scary.
For those who don't know, then "one arm is longer than two" philosophy is something that is taught by almost every defensive line coach in the league. To quote one of my favorite film evaluators, Brett Kollmann "If you reach with one arm in your punch you get a length advantage over the tackle compared to if you're punching with both hands because you're not square, you're just kind of getting skinny presenting one side of your body and you get an extra couple inches from rolling your torso and shoulder into that punch."
Personally out of all the players that I listed, Smith to me represents the biggest problem. When you have the type of athleticism he has, combined that with good bend when using the dip and rip along with his size and length, he may be the biggest obstacle facing the Steelers in this game.
It's unsure whether or not Norman will play man on AB, but all I know is if he does, the Steelers need to absolutely test his ability to stay with AB one on one because honestly if I'm the Redskins, unless I feel super comfortable letting Norman play in man, I would try to avoid putting Norman on AB in man coverage.
Breeland could easily see some time guarding AB as well and it's important to remember they don't just have one good CB, they have two.
If I'm the Steelers, I'm going to attack up the gut in the run game. I feel much more confident that the Steelers O line will hold much better against the Redskins group of defensive lineman. Attack and get to the 2nd level.
Finally, the Steelers should definitely gameplan for both Smith and Kerrigan accordingly as they are both devastating pass rushers who can use their length to harass offensive tackles. Preston Smith especially could need to be doubled if he proves to be too much for Villanueva to handle.
This could be a much closer game than people realize. Overall, I believe the Redskins are a better team than people think and they could definitely win this game if the Steelers do not contain both Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan. If they cause havoc in the backfield, turnovers could play a big part in this game.The Steelers need to keep Big Ben upright and establish the run.
Can't wait for Monday Night!