This is either a beautifully designed play by Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, a huge error by the Steelers defense, or a combination of both.
I am a little hesitant to criticize linebacker Vince Williams too much on this play. Normally, when playing zone, you would not carry a receiver as far as Williams did. If he carries the receiver the normal 12-15 yards, he would've been able to converge on the running back. But A.J. Green is the receiver on the bottom of the formation. Therefore, Ryan Clark may be favoring Green more, and thus Wilson may have been instructed to carry a vertical threat further while playing zone. If that is the case, Gruden may have seen it and designed this play to exploit it.
However, I can't figure out why the Steelers do not have a flat defender once Troy Polamalu goes in motion. It makes no sense. The Steelers have two flat defenders toward the boundary (Polamalu and Woodley) and no flat defender to the field. Without a threat to his zone, the flat defender would get immediate depth and would have been in position to assist on this play.
The next play is another example a combination of small errors leading to a poor play.
Normally, when you are able to reach a 3 technique defensive tackle and climb to the backside linebacker, as the Steelers do on this play, you are going to get 2 yards. However, a combination of a few things lead to 4th down for the Steelers.
First, it seems Ben Roethlisberger gets fooled on this play. Ben sees the corners playing press and two safeties high pre-snap. Therefore, he thinks the Bengals are playing 2-man. In 2 man, the corners play man on the receivers and the safeties play the two deep halves. Against this defense, it would be smart to run the ball. However, the safeties rotate late. Instead of playing 2 man, they are playing cover 1. The other safety, just before the snap, rotates down into the box.
The Steelers still have a chance to get the first down. Crotchery recognizes the safety dropping down and goes to block him. This bring Leon Hall into the box, but a corner is going to make a play if the ball bounces, not for a minimal gain. Unfortunately, Ramon Foster and Isaac Redman both have technique issues. Foster has to see Rey Maualuga and block him. He is responsible for the frontside linebacker. But, Foster takes an angle too wide around DeCastro. This allows Maulauga to attack the play downhill.
Speaking of attacking, Maulauga hits the hole faster than Redman does. This is because Redman is taking the handoff from the shotgun. Because he is next to the quarterback, Redman's shoulders are not square is if they would be from the I formation. But, that's Redman's responsibility. He has to get his shoulders square. Contrary to popular belief, the aiming point for the back is not off-tacke. It's A gap. Redman needs to get his shoulders square and attack the hole downhill.
Because of the poor angle by Foster, he still might get hit by Maulauga. But, if Redman just falls forward, it is a first down.
Those are small errors though. Here's a much bigger one.
Honestly, when I watch this play, all I can think about is Bill Cowher saying "It's a fine line." The Steelers are in great position on this play. The Bengals get no movement at all. Moreover, Timmons absolutely blows up Domato Peko, who better stick to nose tackle. Speaking of nose tackle, Steve McLendon occupies both the center and the guard. This means that there is no one to block Vince Williams. However, Williams totally whiffs on the tackle.
One of the oldest maxims in coaching is that you are never as good as you think you are, and you are never as bad as you think you are. I remember watching the post game "analysts" talking about how the Bengals asserted themselves on that 3rd and 7 and shoved the ball down the Steelers throat. As you just saw, that didn't happen. On that play, the Steelers were the more physical team. But, a rookie linebacker couldn't finish the play.
What does this portend for the rest of the season? The mistakes, whether physical or mental, are correctable. It is about accountability and attention to detail from every person in the locker room. But, that is what it is every week in the NFL. Thus, the real question is probably not what do we have to do to fix things, but instead, why does it take two losses to realize what it takes to win.
Check out all of our play breakdowns in the Steelers Film Room hub on Behind The Steel Curtain
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The Stanard is the Standard - Episode 3
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