Steelers Vs. Browns Game Rewind – First Half

By Alex Kozora

Game notes from a wild Week One Pittsburgh Steelers 30-27 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

First Half

– Kick return unit: The five players that made up the front line. Shamarko Thomas, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, and Antwon Blake. The next two had Michael Palmer and Matt Spaeth. Forming the wedge was Stephon Tuitt and Will Johnson (Cody Wallace saw most of the first team reps in camp but likely held out due to his bum finger). LeGarrette Blount served as the upback for Dri Archer.

– Steelers’ first snap of the game. Motion Le’Veon Bell out wide to create an empty set. To the other, three receiver side, we get a Tare route. No. 2 and No. 3 receivers run outs while No. 1 gets vertical. But with the off coverage against Bell, Ben Roethlisberger takes the smart and easy play of hitting Bell on the backside slant/dig.



– Next play. Bubble to Antonio Brown. Two way screen. Ben looks up to the top first then throws to AB along the boundary. Need a GIF here to fully appreciate how elusive he is after the catch.

Brown works back to the ball, too, making it an easier block for David DeCastro. Shorter distance. Nice seal by the guard. Little components of a play make them successful.


– Screen to Bell on the first drive. Wouldn’t call it pistol because the QB is at normal depth but Archer motioned from sidecar to behind Ben. Released on a swing to occupy the LB. Advantage here is when Bell receives the ball and starts to cut back, the linebacker is out of position. He’s not going to be able to close quickly. Widening the defenders to create space.




Maurkice Pouncey with a great stick in space, too. Wallace can’t do that.


– Split zone on the first drive and something the Steelers’ ran all the time. Alert for this is the TE motioning across the formation pre-snap and lining up in a two point off the LOS.

Split zone is zone blocking with the tight end coming across the formation to cut or kick out the EMOL. In this case, it’s Heath Miller on Paul Kruger.



Also, check out the exaggerated split between the center and right guard. Saw it a few times though mostly early, I think.

Also love Antonio Brown’s willingness to block. Came away really impressed with that in this one. Puts his eyes in the backfield, sees the beginning signs of the run being bounced, and seals Joe Haden. Bell runs overtop and gains the rest.



– Nice vision by Bell on his touchdown that was called back due to Kelvin Beachum’s hold. It’s Power O from left to right but the safety – who stuffed him twice already – is in the box. Cuts back to his left and scores.



– Wheel route to Blount that was supposed to have Bell in. Got the right look. The concept is sound. Browns rotate to single high, taking the safety out of the play. No. 1 runs an in-breaking route, No. 2 (Matt Spaeth) runs vertical to ensure the safety is held. Running back is one on one with the ‘backer.



– This is really minor but another example of Roethlisberger’s mobility in the pocket. Marcus Gilbert gets walked back right after Ben’s feet. Nearly get their feet tangled but Ben – all while keeping his eyes downfield – picks his right foot over Gilbert’s leg and attempts to reset. Just the stuff I get geeked up about.




– Field goal protection unit: From left to right. Stephon Tuitt, Cam Heyward, Kelvin Beachum, David DeCastro, Greg Warren, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Matt Spaeth. Brad Wing the holder for Shaun Suisham.

– Kick coverage lineup from L1 to R1: Cortez Allen, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas, Terence Garvin, Ryan Shazier, Shaun Suisham, Sean Spence, Will Johnson, Antwon Blake, Justin Brown, and William Gay.

– Quick and dirty breakdown of Sean Spence’s tackle on the Steelers’ kickoff after the touchdown. Flies into Barkevious Mingo, bench presses/sheds, finds the ball, and makes the tackle.



Good to have you back, 51.

– Second run of the game for the Browns. Gain of seven. Lawrence Timmons is sealed and Ryan Shazier can’t dip Alex Mack, who shoves him into the ground. Creates an alley. Nice run support by Cortez Allen to prevent any bigger of a run.



– 3rd and 1 on Cleveland’s first drive. Ike Taylor never sees the fullback dive. Had he, he could have chipped in on the tackle and arguably prevented the first down.


Jordan Cameron’s 47 yard catch. Smash seam vs single high. That, coupled with Hoyer looking off Mike Mitchell, opens up Cameron one-on-one with Timmons.




Jarvis Jones has to make this tackle. Backfield penetration with a free shot on the tiny Andrew Hawkins. Bounces off of him. Can’t happen. Must finish.


Other element to watch is Joe Thomas predictably schooling Ryan Shazier. Had his number all game as we’ll revisit later on. Sticks and washes him out of the play. Why he’s one of the best.

– Rookie mistake here from Joel Bitonio, the right guard. Not sure what he’s doing. Eyes locked on Jarvis Jones. Looks like he’s assuming stunt. Bad idea. No stunt and Brett Keisel rushes in free. QB crunch that leads to an incompletion.



– The field goal block unit is like the preseason. The starters on defense. Just swap out Cortez Allen for William Gay.

– Heath Miller missed cut block on a split zone.



– Growing pains of zone blocking more often. Being able to adjust on the fly and in unison versus different fronts. After Heath Miller is motioned to the playside, Paul Kruger is playing a wide – probably a 7 or 8 – tech.


Miscommunication between Miller and Gilbert. Gilbert immediately flows to the next level, ostensibly thinking Miller will base Kruger. By the way Miller blocks it, it’s apparent he is expecting a zone block (double team combo block) with Gilbert on the backside. Help that isn’t there. Kruger is essentially unblocked and makes the tackle. No gain on the play.



– Love and would continue to encourage the use of Antonio Brown in the slot. Gets him away from the #1 CB and opens up the route tree. Routes won’t partially be pre-determined by split of cornerback shade.

Simple five yard dig here. Here’s what I love. Zone under. As Brown crosses the linebacker’s face, he drifts upfield. That isn’t lazy route running. That’s football IQ. Drifting upfield eliminates any potential angle the linebacker has if Brown’s route was flat. Once Brown makes the catch, the linebacker has no shot and it’s off to the races. Big gainer.




– Unsuccessful run on this Power O – Ramon Foster is probably responsible for not getting to the next level, but a wrinkle to file away. Maurkice Pouncey pulls as David DeCastro post blocks the 2i tech.



– Failed stunt pickup by Pouncey. Rearing its ugly head from 2013 though overall, it was pretty solid Sunday. Coaching point. Feet before hands. Always.

We’ll start with Pouncey’s eyes. Carries the penetrator a little too long though it isn’t that egregious. Do need to make sure the penetrator gets passed off to the tackle. But a little late in sliding over.

The looper must be treated like an outside shade tackle slanting inside. Step with the outside foot and slide until you reach his midpoint (in front, square to the DL). Pouncey brings his hands before his feet. That generates zero power and the looper blows through.





– Fantastic body control from Markus Wheaton on his long catch down the right sideline. Obvious now but I’m excited about this kid. Team also using motion to get the defense to tip their hand of man/zone. Offensive line picked up an aggressive front well on this play, too. Gold stars all around.

– Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert isn’t at Oklahoma State anymore. Tries to jump this out route but Ben calmly floats it over the rookie’s head to Markus Wheaton for a completion.

– Blount’s TD. Solid blocking all around. Including Justin Brown at the next level.


Steve McLendon and Lawrence Timmons doing a fantastic job of moving down the line. Though I have no clue why the Browns wanted to run a toss to the boundary. Stupid. Both read it well and help stuff it.


Ike Taylor slaps Mack upside the head after the whistle.

– Jarvis Jones loses his contain on this reverse. Credit to the defense – specifically Ike Taylor – for holding it to just an eight yard gain. Tend to get a lot of splash plays off those mistakes.


– It’s a pass but Steve McLendon gets all the credit for blowing up this Cleveland 3rd and 1. Playaction with a designed two man route to the top of the screen. Fullback releasing into the flat and a corner route by the tight end. First read is the fullback.

Because McLendon gets so much penetration though, he knocks the center into the fullback, essentially re-routing him and costing the Browns’ offense time for the fullback to release. Hoyer works to his second read but it’s well covered. Pass is incomplete and the Browns punt.



– Punt return unit. Jammers are double-viced on the first punt. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Antwon Blake on one side, Shamarko Thomas and Justin Brown on the other. The rest: Terence Garvin, Vince Williams, Ryan Shazier, Will Johnson, Robert Golden, and Sean Spence.

– AB juking Mingo out of his shoes.


– Roethlisberger INT. Browns defend it well. Playaction, trying to open something up deep. Browns don’t bite. Big Ben smartly works to his checkdown but it’s well covered. Locks on, forces the throw, and it’s picked. One of the few times where Ben should have been told to scramble and see if any routes open up. Believe AB got open right as Ben released.

– Excellent play by Lawrence Timmons. Makes pre-snap adjustments as the Buck linebacker, gets Jarvis Jones in position versus motion, takes on the block post-snap, sheds, and drops the runner into the Earth.

– Lot of window dressing by Cleveland – a fake dive and end around – but the Steelers’ defensive backs did a good job of not biting. Coverage sack as Jarvis Jones brings Hoyer down. Easy play for 95, he was virtually unblocked.

– On this play in the early second quarter, you can noticeably tell Bell has gotten quicker. Watch him make Mingo look silly.

– GREAT eyes by David DeCastro to pick up Mingo, slanting into the playside “A” gap late. Most guards would have missed it. DeCastro sees it, feet before hands, and drives into Mingo’s shoulder to push him upfield. Awesome job.




– Still haven’t a clue how Roethlisberger completed that touchdown to Antonio Brown. On the run, pressure from behind, against a top corner, along the sideline in the end zone. Very few guys can make that play.

– Wrinkle the Steelers’ employed, mostly in the first half. Line both defensive ends up along the left side. In this case, Brett Keisel and Cam Heyward. Stunt as well. Keisel the penetrator and Heyward the looped. Keisel is actually able to shove Schwartz to the ground. Schwartz is a below average right tackle.




Stunt principle, too. You can see Heyward “touch the tackle” before looping, something I recently noted in a previous article.

– Just to illustrate all the space AB had down the left sideline. In hindsight, a better option than curb stomping the punter.


– Steelers’ run action gets the Browns’ linebackers to suck up a step, opening up Justin Brown on a slant in the slot.


– Back to the overwhelmingly positive news from Antonio Brown. Looking back at his improved run blocking. Bell’s 38 yard touchdown. Great run by Bell, but love the hustle by AB to run downfield and give the runner the final block needed to vault him into the end zone.



– Appears Bell and Blount’s runs came off the same blocking scheme. Power one, too. Not zone.

– Travis Benjamin with a boneheaded decision. Takes this kick out nine yards deep while looking at this. Sea of Steelers. Should have taken the knee.


– Again, Thomas dominated Shazier. Shazier had a few bright moments but I can’t recall one play where he shed and made the tackle. His impact plays came from a first step and being unblocked.

Jason Worilds needs to make the TFL here. Can’t let the back escape.


– Punt coverage. Blake and Thomas the gunners. On the line from left to right. Michael Palmer, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, Greg Warren, Will Johnson, Sean Spence, Will Allen. Robert Golden the upback. Brad Wing the punter.

– Worilds’ sack. Matched up versus a tight end. Obvious advantage.

– Browns’ 3rd and 4 conversion with 2:00 left in the half. Slant/flat combo with the No.1 and No. 2 receivers. Creates a rub and separation.



– Although JB was called for interference, here’s Ben throwing Brown open. Backshoulder throw. Cornerback has no chance to make a play on the ball.

– As Dave pointed out in a tweet the other day, check out Antonio Brown’s catch radius. Why height is overrated. Give me talent. Give me a guy who can do this. Don’t care how tall he is.


– More praise for AB. He earned it. Ball doesn’t go his way but look at the separation he gets against Joe Haden on this post corner. And Haden has inside help. Still gets beat bad. Top of the screen.


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