The Steelers are arguably the most dominant defense over the last 10 years. The key to the Steelers' defense is the ability of its outside linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback as well as being able to disguise their intentions and drop into coverage.
It brings up a question of whether it's the player's ability or the scheme in which he's playing.
In the case of Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley, it's both.
Woodley may not be getting the amount of splash plays his contract suggests he should after three games, but he's made big plays in each of the Steelers contests so far. Against Oakland, he and ILB Larry Foote executed a delayed blitz very well, and even after the Raiders did a nice job of picking it up, Woodley's additional effort led to the Steelers only sack of the game.
Oakland has the ball on 3rd-and-13 from their own 17-yard line with 3:03 left in the first quarter.
The Raiders, expecting a heavy pass rush, put tight end Brandon Meyers in the backfield with quarterback Carson Palmer in a max protection formation.
The Steelers are in a nickel defense, but only have one down lineman - Ziggy Hood. It's a 1-5-5 defense, meaning the Steelers are playing their nickel packages with anywhere from one to four defensive linemen.
Chris Carter is playing an inside linebacker position, with Brett Keisel standing up outside shade of the left tackle. Lawrence Timmons is between Keisel and Carter.
Woodley is outside shade of the right tackle and Foote is a shade outside Woodley.
Before the snap, Palmer recognizes two of the Steelers' five linebackers, Foote and Carter, are inching toward the line, and Foote is lined up wider than Woodley.
At the snap, Foote (inside slant) and Woodley (outside roll) cross, which is the intention of the Steelers' blitz. Woodley draws both the tackle, Willie Smith, and Meyers outside. That leaves a lane in which Foote has a clear shot at Palmer.
Right guard Mike Brisiel does a great job recognizing it, and drops down to put a hit on Foote.
At this point, the Steelers' man coverage is exposed, and Meyers chipped Woodley and released down the field. Palmer has a brief moment where he could have gotten Meyers the ball with plenty of room, but Brisiel's block on Foote drives him into Smith, leaving Woodley with a straight shot at Palmer.
Woodley lands before Palmer can get a pass to Meyers, and notches his second sack of the season.
This play highlights a few things from this game. First, Oakland's protection schemes were very solid. This is a pretty standard blitz but the package from which it games and the location on the line are unusual. The Steelers run a lot of fire blitzes - the inside linebackers cross and attack the A or B gaps - but they don't often use that technique on the outside. It was a difficult pick-up for Brisiel, and if he hadn't pushed Foote so far out of the pocket, it's debatable whether Smith couldn't have kept Woodley at bay long enough for Palmer to hit his hot read, Meyers, in the flat.
In coverage, the Steelers had safety Ryan Mundy about 17 yards off the ball, and Keenan Lewis (offensive right) and Ike Taylor (offensive left) in press coverage with Cortez Allen (offensive right) covering the slot. S Ryan Clark drops from the line into coverage at the snap, getting into the passing window of the receiver Taylor is covering - he's the receiver away from the blitz, a likely target if Palmer was throwing under duress.
It's a creative blitz from a creative package, and the lack of variance in their pass rushing schemes helped Oakland in the second half. They picked up blitzes very well, and Palmer navigated through it like the veteran he is. Their no-huddle offense helped with this, not allowing the Steelers to march out unique personnel packages like they did on this 3rd-and-long play.