Steelers vs Panthers First Half Notes And Observations

Below are my notes and observations of the first half of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 37-19 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night.

  • The Steelers opened the game in the 12 personnel, with both Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth lined up off the right side. That’s already different.
  • On second down, after a penalty, the offense actually shifted to the 22, bringing Will Johnson onto the field. He saw substantially more action this game than in the first two combined. On the play, he started off in the backfield before flanking off the line behind right tackle. He and David DeCastro pulled, and Le’Veon Bell followed them for 11 yards.
  • Two plays later, Bell showed nice patience awaiting an opportunity to advance beyond Cody Wallace’s poor efforts. Once he found the seam he was looking for he hit it for nine yards.
  • Bell was off the field after gaining a first down, with Miller, Spaeth, and Johnson all split wide in a three tight end, no back look. The ball went to Johnson on a screen pass, but it bounced off his chest.
  • He was back in the backfield on second down, getting a good punch on A.J. Klein through the hole. Because LeGarrette Blount hesitated before hitting the hole, however, the linebacker was able to spin off the block and make the tackle after three yards.
  • On third and seven, Wallace was pushed back in the pocket and allowed the defensive lineman to get his arm up and deflect the pass, forcing the Steelers to punt.
  • The Steelers opened up in their base defense, with Cam Thomas remaining the starter on the left side. Steve McLendon bulldozed center Ryan Kalil on the first snap, but he was pushed to the ground over Kalil by the left guard, which gave Cam Newton the time to find a wide open Kelvin Benjamin for 18 yards on first down. The All-22 reveals that Jarvis Jones tried to check him five yards down the field, but the 6’5” receiver knocked him off balance to gain huge separation.
  • After two straight completions, Ryan Shazier missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage on Jonathan Stewart on second and one that allowed the first down. This was pretty much the one missed tackle in all of the first half, so that’s improvement.
  • Jones took a poor angle and got caught in a screen on the next play, giving Stewart the left sideline for a 14-yard gain.
  • The Steelers chose to rotate the line after the long screen, subbing McLendon and moving Thomas to nose tackle, Cameron Heyward to left defensive end, and bringing in Brett Keisel. I see nothing on the previous play to prompt removing McLendon, but perhaps they wanted to limit his snaps due to his shoulder.
  • On said play, Lawrence Timmons came up and quickly filled the hole to tackle Mike Tolbert for a short gain after a streaking Shazier flushed the fullback away from the action.
  • On second and eight, they brought in William Gay in the nickel. He tied up Jason Avant and prevented him from getting to the deep ball in the end zone.
  • A late pressure from Heyward on a rollout resulted in a hurried throw to Benjamin, who tried to highpoint the ball but could not bring it in, and the Panthers settled for a field goal.
  • Following a tackle for loss, a penalty, and a dropped screen pass, the Steelers hoped to make something happen on third and 13 on a screen to Antonio Brown, but the result was another punt.
  • Back in the base, McLendon avoided a cut block on first down and chased a run right to make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of one.
  • With Thomas collapsing the pocket to his left, Newton dumped it off to Stewart on second down, but Timmons was in strong trail position, tackling the catch for a gain of just a half a yard.
  • The Steelers brought Keisel back in in the nickel and stood him up on the left side for third down. Newton found Philly Brown, but solid tackling from Gay brought the receiver down well short of the sticks.
  • The Steelers opened up in a 13 set on their next possession with Darrius Heyward-Bey the lone receiver running a go route. The Panthers jumped offside, giving the Steelers a free play, so Ben Roethlisberger flung it and was able to get a 42-yard pass interference call out of it.
  • After two impressive, patient runs from Bell gave the Steelers a first down inside the Panthers’ 30, Kelvin Beachum was beaten off the left side by Mario Addison for Carolina’s only sack of the night. He tried to push the rusher around the pocket, but with DeCastro allowing penetration, there was no escape route.
  • The Steelers opened in the nickel after tying the game with a field goal. Heyward on the left and Keisel to the right. On second and seven, at the start of the second quarter, it was back to base. The Panthers tried to block Heyward with both a back and a tight end, but he grabbed a hold of Newton’s jersey and sacked him. Unfortunately, there were offsetting penalties, negating the play.
  • on third down, Jason Worilds did a nice job of knocking Newton’s checkdown receiver off his route, forcing him to throw downfield for an incompletion.
  • A poor block in the back penalty by Terence Garvin backed the Steelers up deep in their own end, however.
  • On second and 13, DeCastro sealed off the tackle as the end was walked along the edge. With the line flowing left, Blount found ample space for a cutback lane for 15 yards.
  • Brown came up with a beautiful over the shoulder catch on third and six on a perfectly thrown ball from Roethlisberger. It was one on one coverage, an easy decision.
  • In the red zone, Roethlisberger looked for Justin Brown in the corner of the end zone, but the corner cut the route off.
  • On second and goal, the Steelers asked Beachum to reach block on Star Lotulelei. It didn’t work, and Bell was tackled in the backfield.
  • There are many things wrong with the third and goal play. The easiest call was the obvious offside that was missed, which would have given the Steelers half the distance to the goal. Then there was obvious illegal contact on the part of the cornerback in the end zone. Unsurprisingly, there’s no good look at Markus Wheaton’s feet on the coaches tape, but it does seem he was out of bounds. According to Mike Pereira, however, the penalty should not have resulted in a loss of downs.
  • McLendon ripped and dipped past Kalil on first down to record his first sack as a starting nose tackle.
  • The Panthers still managed to convert, however. Little pressure on second down produced a long completion to Benjamin, and Newton found his tight end Greg Olsen in front of Mike Mitchell on third and short to move the chains.
  • The defense was effective defending the screen on the next play, however, and Cortez Allen got a good break on second down to separate man from ball. On third and five, Ike Taylor failed to jam Benjamin, opening up the middle of the field. Taylor got back to try to defend, but Benjamin’s size won out.
  • Jones drew a facemask penalty against left tackle Byron Bell, setting the Panthers way back.
  • Even though they picked up 16 yards on first down, it was three plays and a punt from there. On a second down scramble, Newton took a hit from Shazier as he was going out of bounds, and Heyward planted him as he threw on third down, working his injured ribs.
  • Roethlisberger was sharp and on point running the two-minute offense to close the first half, but a personal foul on DeCastro trying to defend his teammate made his job more difficult.
  • On third and 21 from the 39, he just checked down the Bell for a 12-yard reception, but that was enough to get into field goal range and go up 9-3 at halftime.
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