In the second part of this three-part series highlighting the Pittsburgh Steelers transition to the Cover 2 defense under Keith Butler, we focus on the Steelers steady improvement throughout the 2015 regular season; however, hiccups still occur.
If you missed Part 1, you can catch it here, but the Cover 2 principles focus on defensive zone concepts with the hope of defenders always keeping the ball in front of them. Doing so will help increase turnovers, something the Steelers have done better in 2015 than 2014.
This play has been viewed a million times by Steelers fans. Antwon Blake's interception return for a touchdown helped turn the tide in a dreadful game by Pittsburgh, but when focusing on the Cover 2 in this play, it is Mike Mitchell which is the player to watch.
Before getting to the secondary, the Steelers disguise a 5-man rush, but only send four players. They are betting pass with Philip Rivers in the shotgun, and their guess pays off. The pass rush doesn't get to Rivers, but when the pass is thrown, the Steelers secondary has the receiver bracketed. Mitchell is playing his deep middle position perfectly, while Blake takes the underneath. With Blake knowing he has help over the top, it allows him to undercut the route and make the interception.
This is a great illustration of the Cover 2 working to perfection, from a defensive secondary standpoint.
Most Steelers fans are concerned about the defense against tight ends, and rightfully so, but the team is improving against routes down the seam, even against tight ends. It isn't perfect yet, and the team has continued to get burnt by athletic tight ends, but on this play against the Arizona Cardinals, they play the tight end perfectly.
Carson Palmer is a smart quarterback, and on this play he knows he wants to target tight end Jermaine Grisham. It is the job of the inside linebacker to pick up Grisham, and Vince Williams proves the depth the Steelers have at inside linebacker is stellar. Lawrence Timmons and Williams both slide to their right and Williams cuts off Grisham's route causing a pass break up that leads to a Timmons interception.
Again, the Cover 2 is developed to keep plays in front of defenders, and this is a great example of that.
Like we said at the onset of this article, the Cover 2 isn't a finished product, and this touchdown surrendered against the Kansas City Chiefs is a jumbled mess of issues. As noted in the GIF, the Steelers look to be in a Cover 1 defense, and the initial issue with the defense is the cushion Antwon Blake gives the receiver. This is where things get foggy. In Cover 1, Blake is most likely responsible for the back corner zone, which makes you believe another player is responsible for the route in the flat.
That player would be James Harrison, but Harrison is late getting into the flat which allows the easy reception. Compound Harrison being late and Blake's increased cushion and you have an easy touchdown for the Chiefs.
The Steelers Cover 2 scheme is still a work in progress, but is improving by leaps and bounds as the secondary continues to gain continuity across the board.
The three-part series: