One of the key issues that the Pittsburgh Steelers had defensively, particularly early on, last week against the New York Jets was a difficulty for the safeties to play the run successfully.
Of course, this wasn’t entirely surprising, given that Troy Polamalu missed the game with an injury that he suffered the week prior. That put Will Allen in the starting lineup, who hadn’t played much yet this season.
That also changed some of the responsibilities for Mike Mitchell, who at times even assumed Polamalu’s hybrid linebacker role when the Steelers moved to their sub-package, and he didn’t always look comfortable doing it.
There were a number of instances from the first quarter alone in which the Jets were able to take advantage of the safety play by the Steelers, and it came both on the ground and in the air.
The Jets opened up the game with an extended drive, even though it only netted a field goal in the end. They were able to move the ball well on the ground using Percy Harvin around the edge, but also by running Chris Ivory between the tackles.
This run by Ivory looked like it was going between the tackles before he cut back off left tackle. Wide receiver Eric Decker blew Allen out of the gap, allowing the running back through the seam for an eight-yard gain.
As the Jets entered the red zone, they kept the ball on the ground with Ivory. The Steelers countered with their nickel defense, with Mitchell serving as the left outside linebacker for what all intents and purposes was a 4-3 front.
With Jason Worilds setting the edge to that side, Stephon Tuitt was flushed down the line, creating a gap off the defensive left side. Mitchell was slow to close into that space, which gave the right tackle time to come off of Worilds and block Mitchell, opening a hole for 12 yards.
In fairness, Allen did come back at the next play from the four-yard line and knocked Ivory back a yard. He and Mitchell did have a few solid tackles in that category between them.
In fact, the safety pair got so used to cueing for the run that it caused them to bite hard on play action on the Jets’ second drive, and the defense paid for it dearly in one swift blow.
Allen lined up at the line against the run on the left side, allowing the tight end to release when it looked to be a handoff. Mitchell, 10 yards off the ball over center, also came forward for the run, and by the time he read pass he couldn’t get around in time, stumbling in the process.
Mitchell could be fairly criticized for the second touchdown as well. As can be deciphered from the screen grab, Antwon Blake was clearly communicating his coverage on the receiver fading to the corner. Mitchell stuck with the same receiver, leaving the tight end to climb up the back of the end zone for the touchdown.