The third part of this three-part series on the Pittsburgh Steelers' transition to the Cover 2 defense proves the fruits of Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin's labor. Simply put, those fruits are turnovers. One area the Steelers defense has been stingy is in the red-zone. They also have been very opportunistic in this same area by using the Cover 2 principles of keeping the play in front of them, and creating turnovers.
These plays are just a glimpse of how the Steelers' defense is improving, and how the Cover 2 is no longer a liability, but rather, a defense which is helping Pittsburgh win football games.
In the red-zone it is easier for a defense to play aggressively against the pass. By using the boundaries as an extra defender, the Cover 2 concept of keeping the play in front of you becomes much easier. Also, the system allows the defensive backs to watch the quarterback and their eyes when dropping back to pass. This is a common theme you will see in all three plays used in this feature.
Here you see Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders stare down his receiver. Ross Cockrell keeps his eyes in the backfield throughout his backpedal, and is able to make a play on the ball. Great fundamentals on Cockrell's part, and exceptional ball skills to come down with the interception.
Red-zone turnovers are huge for a defense, and the Steelers have feasted on them throughout their first 10 games in 2015
Here is a very similar situation with Antwon Blake on the reverse side of the field. Blake is responsible for the back half of the field, and actually does a good job turning his hips and getting his eyes on the football. Blake struggles with this at times, but it shows how something so elementary can pay huge dividends for a defense.
When Blake locates the ball it is just a matter of taking advantage of a very poor decision by Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton. Watch the play again and the "cushion" which so many fans gripe about with Blake, actually baited Dalton into throwing the quick-hitting pass. Blake makes a great play and turns it into an impressive interception and return.
The previous two plays had all been the quick-hitter variety. A quarterback scanning the field quickly and making a decision fast. This play is he furthest from the others as Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel extends the play on 4th down trying to make a play for his team. Notice the secondary for the Steelers. All looking into the backfield, all playing their zones and performing their responsibilities.
When Manziel finally makes a decision where to throw the football, it is Mike Mitchell who is waiting for it and makes a great diving interception. Another red-zone turnover, and another great play by the Steelers secondary.
The Steelers transition to the Cover 2 style defense is far from complete, but the team has improved by leaps and bounds in many areas. Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin were harshly criticized by fans for making the change in the early portions of 2015, but give credit where credit is due, they stuck to their guns.
The switch to the Cover 2 suits the team's defensive backs and their skill sets, making the transition an easy decision for the black and gold. For the team to reach their ultimate goal of a Super Bowl, the secondary will have to step up even more than they have in 2015 and start limiting yards allowed by opposing offenses.
Check out parts 1 and 2 of this three part series: