Game notes from the season opener between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots.
– Kick return unit: Front five: Ross Ventrone, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, and Shamarko Thomas. Robert Golden directly behind him. Matt Spaeth and Will Johnson the next pair with Roosevelt Nix behind them. Jordan Todman served as the upback for Dri Archer.
– Nice cut block by Marcus Gilbert to help open up this Antonio Brown screen. Takes out Rob Ninkovich’s legs so he can’t bat down the throw.
– Todd Haley staple play. False run key by pulling the guard, sucker in the linebackers, and hit the tight end down the seam.
– Good upfield punch by David DeCastro on the draw, helping to open a lane for DeAngelo Williams. Gain of 11.
– Calling the trick play by Haley was curious enough. But to have this split between the stack receivers at the top of the screen is a dead giveaway for some unusual play. And against a two high look with Spaeth as the main target, you have a very small chance of success.
– DeCastro can’t stick to his block or else Will Johnson would have had a nice run. Came on 2nd and 28 and put the Steelers in 3rd and 22. If DeCastro is able to stick, this turns into a 3rd and 15.
– Field goal unit. Jordan Berry the holder. Stephon Tuitt and Matt Spaeth the wings. On the line. Cameron Heyward, Kelvin Beachum, David DeCastro, Greg Warren, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, and Alejandro Villanueva.
– No curl/flat defender on the first play as the Steelers are in a three deep zone (so don’t get mad about the CBs cushion). Maybe some miscommunication. Lawrence Timmons drops to the deep middle but Mike Mitchell is in centerfield. Easy pitch and catch for New England.
– Empty set with curls from the outside receiver and the #2 running vertical to hold the deep third DB on the first three plays. But the Patriots are in 12 personnel, keeping the Steelers in base and forcing their OLBs to cover a lot of ground and try to get wide enough to take away the curls. They can’t, and it’s why New England made it look effortless to move the ball early.
– Nice job by Steve McLendon to shed rookie center David Andrews.
– Sure seems like an excessive amount of depth by the single high safety to the weakside on second and ten…
– Punt return unit: Shamarko Thomas and Antwon Blake the jammers. On the line: Terence Garvin, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Sean Spence, Robert Golden, Vince Williams, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Ross Ventrone. Antonio Brown the punt returner, of course.
– Sail concept and Ben Roethlisberger finds Heath Miller for a 17 yard pickup.
– Punt coverage: Ross Ventrone and Shamarko Thomas the starting gunners. Robert Golden the upback. Will Allen and Matt Spaeth the wings. On the line: Williams, Garvin, Warren, Will Johnson, Sean Spence.
– Cam Heyward unaturally blown out of the hole, creating a gap as New England runs for an eight yard gain.
– Stephon Tuitt swims over the right tackle and Steve McLendon does a great job to anchor against this double-team to win the LOS and bottle up this run.
– Steelers go subpackage and you can see why it’s easier to have the DB defend the curl/flat. More depth, aligned wider, better athlete, can get to his spot quicker. Gay makes the immediate tackle here.
– Ryan Shazier’s instincts are incredible. Guard has no chance on the reach block as Shazier shoots the gap and makes the tackle in the backfield.
– Antwon Blake getting forced to play in the slot. Not used to having to cover all that ground. Outside shade and has no chance to make a play on Julian Edelman, who releases inside and on a drag.
– Rob Gronkowski’s first touchdown. No one covering him and no one covering #2 to the other side. Ugly all around.
– Ben sees the safety move to the MOF. Knows he has 1 on 1 coverage to the outside. Takes his deep shot and completes it to Heyward-Bey.
– DeAngelo Williams showing ability to run through contact all the way through the run. Still has some juice left.
-Marcus Gilbert can’t seal Jabaal Sheard, who wins inside.
– Fire X from the Patriots. Cody Wallace doesn’t get his eyes on Jamie Collins, leaving the linebacker free up the middle.
– Steelers in nickel while the Pats are in 12 personnel with both tight ends to the same side. No one to defend the C gap and it’s an eight yard gain through the hole.
– Steelers have two one techs initially on third and short. Then the one shifts down to become the three, opening up a bubble for Tom Brady to sneak through and convert.
– Gronkowski’s six yard touchdown. Looks like a zone run off the snap so Will Allen tries to get over the top, thinking it’s a run. Then Gronkowski stems inside and upfield and Allen has no chance.
– Whiffs by Ventrone and Todman on Archer’s lone kick return. Hard to blame the second-year speedster when he can’t be given anything remotely resembling a crease.
– Curious decision by Ben to throw the ball on this RPO with a six man box. On a power, had four blockers on three defenders.
– Another Haley staple. Inside zone + swing/seam RPO. Two high shell so all Roethlisberger has to do is read the nickel corner. Miller is open down the seam for a nine yard pickup.
– Put Antonio Brown in the slot and you’ll have a lot of room for him on the fade.
– Blown coverage on DHB’s gaffe. Safety never rolls over to carry him vertical. Heyward-Bey just can’t stay inbounds. Ugh.
– Nasty, in a good way, stunt pickup between Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum. Destroys Chandler Jones.
– Kick coverage from left to right. Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone, Terence Garvin, Vince Williams, Josh Scobee, Sean Spence, Jarvis Jones, Roosevelt Nix, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Brandon Boykin.
– Ryan Shazier being a force on the perimeter. Follows the back out to the edge, works over the tight end, and makes the open field tackle.
– Blake, again, not used to playing in the slot. Edelman beats him on this jab step inside before breaking out and making an easy reception.
– Shazier did struggle when asked to scrape and set the edge. Gets off the guard but misses the tackle and it turns into an 11 yard gain by Dion Lewis.
– And again on the next play as the Patriots run power by pulling the backside tackle. Can’t spill the run inside and it’s a nine yard pickup.
– Steelers controlling the line of scrimmage. Double-team by Gilbert and DeCastro while Matt Spaeth sticks to Ninkovich. A 28 yard gain for Williams.
– Nastiness from DeCastro, shoving and pancaking Dont’a Hightower way upfield.
– Williams has to run off DeCastro’s outside hip, not cut it up inside. Defensive tackle easily sheds and makes the tackle. Williams showed good vision Thursday but this was a negative play.
– Counter OF picking up where it left off last season. Big hole opened up for a ten yard gain.
– Steelers pulled DeCastro on consecutive plays along the goal line. Second one vaulted Will Johnson into the end zone.
– Two point play. RPO with three slants to the front side and a slant to the backside. Roethlisberger hooked up with Wheaton.
– Awful tackling by Blake and Will Allen. Lewis turns it into a 13 yard gain.
– CB/S combination blitz. Will Allen runs in free to drop Brady.
– Mesh concept creates a pick on Malcolm Butler, bumping him off his line and helping to create separation for AB. Pass complete for a first down.
– Roethlisberger taking a vertical shot with a corner underneath and safety – Devin McCourty, mind you – on the numbers? Gutsy, even by Ben’s lofty standards. Wheaton came down with one heck of a toe-tap.
– Heath Miller continues to show his veteran intelligence. Sits down initially but runs away from the DB for the completion and first down.
– Designed shovel to Miller but Roethlisberger unfortunately misses a wide open Antonio Brown in the end zone.
– Patriots consistently brought one more defender to cover the Steelers’ receivers. Here’s an example of four over there to one side, three over two to the other. Makes it hard to find open receivers.
– Hard to show in a picture but Nix blew up Hightower on the goal line. Put him on his butt.
– The draw everyone hated. Numbers are right, six in the box. Run it several times before with a lot of success. Looks like David DeCastro didn’t get the playcall right. Zone steps the wrong way, sliding left when he should be sliding right. Could be evidence of Ben changing the playcall. The three tech is left basically unblocked and blows the play up.
– Steelers kick coverage only got one chance to actually work Thursday but Roosevelt Nix (R3) mad the most of it. Check out the closing speed he has to make this tackle. That’s from a fullback. Pretty impressive.
– Steelers had trouble checking when the Patriots would motion Gronkowski out of the backfield. First came on the initial play of the game, causing confusion and a 13 yard gain underneath. Second resulted in a 52 yard pickup over the top. Bud Dupree screwed up, should have carried Gronk vertically. Rookie mistake but a costly one.
– #2 runs down the seam. Will Allen seems to pass him off but to who? Asking William Gay to cover a lot of ground. What is both receivers had run vertical? How do the Steelers expect to defend it?
– You can see Stephon Tuitt’s work with Chuck Smith paying off here. Repostions his left hand to get under and into the guard’s chest, leveraging him and shedding, getting pressure. Tuitt was arguably the best Steelers’ defender Thursday.
– Arthur Moats replaced Sean Spence on special teams after Spence left with a hamstring injury.
– Last defensive play for the Steelers. Had ten men on the field, second time of the game. Terrible.
– Steelers stunt Ryan Shazier inside on this punt block attempt. Nearly got there. Steelers were getting free rushes often late in the game.
– Smash route, curl + corner, for an 18 yard gain.
– DHB still jumping to make easy catches. He’ll just never learn.
– Roethlisberger fires into triple coverage. Brown still makes the grab.
– Ryan Shazier played at OLB in dime packages but struggled to make an impact. Lacks strength to get any sort of a push on tackles, who absorbed his punch with ease. And a limited pass rusher off the edge who lacks much hand use.
– On the positives, the offensive line played with an attitude. Nasty in both phases. Finished plays, gave guards gave aggressive help in pass protection. Loved it.
– Tyler Murphy got reps over Heyward-Bey at the end of the game. Played in the slot and as the X.
– Steelers consistently showed wide splits between left tackle and left guard throughout the game. Don’t recall that from previous years.
– Onside kick unit: Thomas, Golden, Shazier, Boykin, Jones, Spaeth, Blake, Ross Cockrell, Ventrone, and Garvin.