The Pittsburgh Steelers found great success against the Bengals using the counter power with the pulling guard two weeks ago. Of course, it’s a play that they’ve run throughout the season, but it took on a greater stature following its clinical application on the field in Cincinnati.
The offensive line, however, found that it wasn’t as easy to do a week later against the Atlanta Falcons, who seemed to have game planned to stop the run. Le’Veon Bell, despite scoring on the ground twice, didn’t have a very successful day as a rusher from the perspective of a play to play basis, and that includes on the counter, with the obvious exception of his 13-yard touchdown run.
As was the case against the Bengals, the Steelers tried to turn to the play in the fourth quarter in order to close out the game. It worked like a charm one week, and you might as run it until somebody stops it. While the Falcons did their due diligence defending the play, that’s not to discourage its continued use.
The Steelers first broke it out four plays into the game, utilizing three tight ends throughout the beginning of the drive while alternating passes and runs. The counter came on the second carry, but yielded only one yard.
The Falcons seemed to recognize it pre-snap and shifted accordingly. Heath Miller shifted to the left side as David DeCastro and Will Johnson pulled left after the snap. The three all picked up their assignments, but the Falcons just had one extra defender in the area to make the play.
The play was bottled up for most of the rest of the game until they used it to score on the second play of the fourth quarter. On first and 10 from the Falcons’ 13-yard line, from the same formation, Atlanta’s defense was less set to defend the play as DeCastro was able to seal off two defenders to get Bell to the edge and in.
The Steelers tried to run the counter twice more in the fourth quarter, but were unable to find success doing so. On a second and six play—again, using the same personnel in the same position—the Falcons were able to stop the play for a loss. While DeCastro was able to drive his man off the ball, Johnson seemed to get off a tick late, which slowed Bell’s progression and forced him to cut inside into traffic.
The last time the counter came out, they changed up the look, with Johnson and Spaeth on the left and Miller pulling left from the right side. Miller seemed a bit overzealous to get downfield and assumed that Bell would be able to get by the two nearest defenders that he darted past, who made the play after a short gain.