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Steelers Film Room: Key defensive breakdowns on third down vs. Seattle

The Pittsburgh Steelers were a bad defensive football team against the Seahawks, especially on third downs. We diagnose what went wrong, and whether it can be fixed in time for the stretch run.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers surrendered 39 points in the loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12, and a lot of issues popped up on the defensive side of the football, mainly in the secondary. In this Film Room article, we take a look at the defensive mistakes by the Steelers on third downs against Russell Wilson and company.

On all of these plays there are multiple mistakes. One individually, and one schematically. The Steelers defense didn't help their cause much on Sunday, and their failure to get off the field certainly played a part in their misery. Roll the tape...

First Play:

On this play the Steelers are in their typical two-deep safety set, and as the GIF shows above, Ross Cockrell not only fails to get his hands on the receiver off the line of scrimmage, but he also shows poor footwork as he gets turned around and loses sight of the football being thrown in his direction. Cockrell's mistake is certainly pinned on the individual.

However, the big gain can't be placed solely on Cockrell's shoulders. Watch safety Will Allen (standing on the 40) at the snap of the football. He inches in, likely to try and take away the check down to the running back. This is the schematic problem. If that is Allen's responsibility, him cheating in allowed Seattle to convert on a third and long. The checkdown is what the defense is designed to give up, hoping you can tackle the catch. Allen sneaking up leaves Mike Mitchell out to dry, and a big completion for Seattle.

Second Play:

Russell Wilson is a smart quarterback. Don't think he didn't watch film of Antwon Blake against the Kansas City Chiefs when they ran a similar formation, and his spacing off the line of scrimmage gave the Chiefs an easy TD. Blake is a good 7 yards off the ball, and his poor reaction to the underneath route leaves Kearse with inside leverage to the endzone. Even a low snap didn't prevent this play from developing.

Watch Blake's backpedal. First, with this much cushion in the red-zone, Blake should be willing to hold his ground and trust himself to be able to make a play on a pass thrown his direction. Second, watch Blake's footwork. He is caught flat footed, which doesn't allow him to make a good solid jump on the football.

Schematically, this is where Blake is a liability. The Seahawks run the same route tree on both sides of the field. Watch the far side of the field and how the defender plays the same route as Blake. You can see the difference, and also why Wilson never even considering looking to his left. He keyed on Blake, and delivered for his team when it mattered the most. Some feel Blake is the best option right now on the outside, plays like this make such a sentiment a nightmare with 5 games remaining.

Third Play:

Before fans start to think we are doing nothing but picking on Antwon Blake, this play is mainly on Mike Mitchell. Not that Blake isn't guilty of his own failures on this play. Blake fails to jam the receiver, a far too common theme with Steelers defenders, and as Doug Baldwin sweeps underneath, Mitchell takes a horrible angle at the ball carrier and comes up empty. With Blake in chase mode by the time Baldwin catches the football, he is off to the races. Game Over.

Conclusion:

Some want to talk complex football. You can talk one-gap schemes, Cover 2 vs. Cover 3, the differences in the Tampa 2 and the standard Cover 2, but ultimately what is important are the fundamentals. In all of these plays the Steelers failed to do at least one thing fundamentally sound which resulted in a big play for the Seahawks.

Cockrell's footing, Allen's guess on the check down, Blake's poor footwork and depth, Blake's failure to jam the receiver and Mitchell's poor angle at the ball carrier.

Can the Steelers fix these issues? Absolutely. First, they need to have players on the field who are willing to play fundamentally sound football. If that means changing personnel, so be it. Second, they need to put their players in the best position to thrive under any circumstance. These issues are fixable, but only if Keith Butler continues to work his magic with a unit who hopefully isn't showing it's true colors heading into Week 13.