Steelers Vs Packers First Half Notes And Observations

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Green Bay Packers by the score of 24-21 on Sunday, but they certainly lost more than they gained due to injury. Below are my notes and observations upon review of the first half of the game.

  • I’m sure more than a few noticed that new Steelers kicker Garrett Harley’s first kickoff went for a touchback.
  • The Steelers opened in their nickel against 20 personnel, and stayed in the nickel for the length of the Packers’ first drive. It worked out well for about one play.
  • On that play, Ryan Shazier continued to show progress in shedding blockers, making the tackle on Eddie Lacy at the line of scrimmage after working off the right guard.
  • Immediately on the next play, the singling out of Antwon Blake began, with Aaron Rodgers finding Jordy Nelson for 16 yards.
  • The Steelers used their version of a nickel ‘4-3’ look on the following play with safety Shamarko Thomas coming up in the box. He filled the running lane to make the tackle.
  • It’s difficult to assign individual blame for Randall Cobb being wide open for 30 yards, especially with the lack of proper tape, but it’s clear that there was some miscommunication. No zone coverage has that big of a soft spot. Blake did finish the play with a good stick tackle on the 30-yard line.
  • The Steelers rushed Jarvis Jones through the playside A gap on the following play, with he and Shazier combining for the tackle on the running back.
  • Nelson’s injury did look innocuous at first, but it would seem the injury occurred nearly at the point that his foot hit the ground, as he tried to turn as soon as his toes landed, resulting in an awkward bend. Of course, Blake also slipped on the play.
  • The other good play of the first drive. Stephon Tuitt worked down the line to make a run stop for a loss of two yards.
  • But the Packers finished up the drive with three nickel-beating run plays designed to win before the ball is ever snapped, which was particularly the case on Lacy’s seven-yard touchdown run. That includes the ensuing two-point conversion.
  • Return man Dri Archer still has yet to look particularly dangerous, but both of his kick returns have been at least solid so far. On the other hand, he has a quick trigger on the fair catch on punt returns.
  • With the running game unable to get going early, Ben Roethlisberger had to take to the air on third down three times on the opening drive, first completing to Antonio Brown for 17 yards on third and eight, then to Markus Wheaton for 17 on third and 11. Roethlisberger had Wheaton in the flat on a later third and six, but he wound up taking a sack looking for a bigger play.
  • In between the two conversions was a recalled 58-yard touchdown to Brown, on which the receiver visibly displaced the defender in midair from his spot. But the real notable aspect of this play was the blitz pickup from Le’Veon Bell to give Roethlisberger the time to look downfield.
  • The Steelers were on the 33-yard line, the cusp of field goal range, when he took the sack. Certainly an aspect of situational football that displeased Todd Haley.
  • The special teams and defense combined to somewhat make up for it, with Jordan Berry’s punt being downed at the one-yard line, and James Harrison sacking Rodgers for a safety three plays later.
  • On the first play of that Packers drive from the one, Bud Dupree rebounded from getting sucked inside the formation by escaping his blocker, resetting the edge, and making the tackle for minimal gain. It may have been his most meaningful play yet.
  • There was a clear miscommunication on the ensuing safety kick in terms of who bears responsibility for whom, with Anthony Chickillo and Sammie Coates contributing to the confusion on Archer’s return.
  • One play after replacing Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace was driven into the backfield on a run play to the left by the nose tackle.
  • Roethlisberger very nearly hit Bell on third and 11 on the move, but the ball was just a bit too high. While not a drop, he knows he should make that one. Whether or not he would have converted the first down is not obvious.
  • Thomas made an excellent special teams tackle on Berry’s next punt to keep the Packers inside the 20.
  • Fourth-year linebacker Sean Spence, at least based on this preseason, has also made great strides relieving himself of blockers to make plays. His increased physicality is also apparent, as on his blitz on Harrison’s safety.
  • Jones certainly deserves credit for his sack. It was a good punch and inside counter, and he got into the backfield against an offensive lineman to bring the quarterback down. But it must be said that Don Barclay is not a starting-caliber left tackle, and he was beaten throughout the day by all levels of competition. He also looked rather unathletic chasing the quarterback down, as he did on several other plays. He is a limited athlete, but he can still be a productive starting outside linebacker.
  • It was obvious that Roethlisberger would not leave the field before putting points on the board, so it’s no surprise he came out for the third drive, even after losing Pouncey. He sidestepped an onrushing defender on second down to hit Wheaton over the middle of the field for 20 yards.
  • Veteran Heath Miller showed a good head of steam to plow forward once he caught the ball. This is something the rookie Jesse James could stand to learn from.
  • Miller’s shallow route at the goal line was able to pick two defenders to leave Wheaton wide open for the five-yard touchdown a play later.
  • On the Packers’ ensuing drive, Steve McLendon managed to slip between a double team, but missed making the tackle on Lacy in the backfield. The result was a nine-yard run, and Tuitt was injured on the same play when Thomas came flying in to try to make the stop.
  • Tuitt was replaced on the next snap by Cam Thomas, who should be running as the first-team left defensive end until Tuitt returns. Thomas gained good penetration on his first play on a run stop for a loss of two, with the tackle made by the combined efforts of Spence and Dupree.
  • The second-team offensive unit, helmed by Bruce Gradkowski, took the field thereafter, which, aside from a 12-yard DeAngelo Williams scamper, produced little.
  • On third down, Mitchell Van Dyk was beaten readily by an inside spin move after providing the opening, forcing Gradkowski to ground the ball at his tight end’s feet.
  • Shamarko Thomas won the edge on a blitz on the Packers’ ensuing drive to record a sack, providing evidence that Keith Butler’s schemes may be able to generate pressure.
  • Just as the second-team unit was starting to get some movement, Chris Hubbard’s low snap off of Gradkowski’s shin caused the Steelers to lose not only possession, but their backup quarterback for the season.
  • Spence had a conversation with Thomas after a 21-yard touchdown pass, giving a strong indication as to whose responsibility it was on the play.
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