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Steelers Film Room: Sean Davis’ progression vs. the Cowboys (Part 2)

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We continue our look at the play of the Steelers rookie against Dallas.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

You may recall that containment in the run game was a focus in Part 1 of our Film Room on Sean Davis. As we begin part 2, we’re going to see that again. This is a run by Alfred Morris in the second quarter:

You can see that Davis emphatically moves to the outside shoulder of Whitehead. Again, he is the force man, and he ensures that the run is not going to get outside of him. My point in showing yet another of these run plays is to demonstrate that Davis consistently executed his assignment in the run game.

What about coverage? How did Sean Davis do there? There wasn’t much to see in that area vs the Cowboys. With complex coverages, it can honestly be difficult to know exactly what each player’s responsibility is from merely watching the film. I can tell you there were no obvious missed assignments by Davis in coverage.

We will look at a play, however, where he was covering Jason Witten one-on-one. Davis is still playing the safety position. With the Cowboys in an empty set, and Witten lined up wide, Davis walks out over him:

Note how quickly Davis gets out of his backpedal (“click”) and breaks (“close”) on the comeback route. If Dak Prescott had thrown the ball where Witten could catch it, then no doubt Davis would have been given a prime opportunity for an interception.

Davis, of course, was likely not threatened by the prospect of getting beat over-the-top by Witten. This makes it easier to anticipate a shorter route and break on the ball. Still, you have to give credit to Davis for utilizing his speed advantage in this situation.

As noted previously, Davis rotated at strong safety with Robert Golden during the game (Davis actually played more snaps than Golden, 43 to 29). Davis did fill in at CB for a play when Artie Burns was injured.

The Steelers also utilized Davis at CB in several short yardage situations. The Cowboys are using 3 TE on this 3rd and 1 play in the 3rd quarter. Davis is lined up at CB, with Golden remaining at strong safety:

Note how Davis anticipates the run. His head is toward the ball, pre-snap, and he breaks toward it before Elliott has even received the hand off from Prescott. The Cowboys gained 3 yards, which was negated by a holding call on Leary (Shazier essentially got tackled by the Cowboys guard). This recognition by Davis, however, set up a big short yardage stop in the 4th quarter.

Here the Steelers are trailing 23-18. The Cowboys face another 3rd and 1 on their 20 yard line. We see the same personnel by the Cowboys, in virtually the same set (one TE has shifted from the right side of the line to the left:

Again, notice Davis eyeing the ball rather than the receiver. He breaks toward the ball immediately. Davis displays excellent form in breaking down and securing the tackle. Dallas was forced to punt, and the Steelers drove for a TD to re-take the lead.

A short yardage stop by the defense can be a momentum shifting play. It proved to be on this occasion, and Sean Davis was a big part of it.

Through this 2 part Film Room series, I think we’ve seen that Davis did his job against the Cowboys. As a strong safety he was assignment sound for the vast majority of the game. He also showed some of the flexibility that attracted the Steelers to him by playing CB in short yardage situations.

While it may be true that Sean Davis didn’t make many splash plays against the Cowboys, he certainly seems to be more comfortable in knowing what he is supposed to do and executing it. If he keeps that up, with his physical talents, the splash is sure to follow.