It doesn’t take me to tell you communication was one of the biggest issues that loomed over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Thursday night’s loss. The Australians over on The Guardian live blog could have told you something was amiss.
Things will get better. And it isn’t just me looking through a black and gold covered glasses, optimistically hoping and guessing the communication problems will fix themselves. There is genuine reason to believe the defense will get on the same page Sunday afternoon versus the San Francisco 49ers.
The Steelers ran dime packages, using six defensive backs, about a third of the time Thursday. It’s the first time they’ve used it since two years ago when Troy Polamalu became a faux-inside linebacker following Larry Foote’s season-ending arm injury. It appeared to be game plan specific, a way to get extra safeties on the field to defend the New England Patriots’ monstrous tight ends. It’s why Robert Golden suddenly became a heavy contributor for the first time since the Minnesota Vikings torched him in London.
After combing through some 49ers tape, they don’t pose nearly the same issue. They like to use their tight ends but there’s no Rob Gronkowski to be found. Or a 6’7 Scott Chandler. It should allow the Steelers to play their base defense more freely and given the 49ers’ personnel sets, perhaps almost exclusively.
The Steelers could go from a pretty even split of base 3-4, nickel, and dime, to playing their base defense 80% of the time with some nickel personnel mixed in. Less bodies on and off the field, less confusion, more time to communicate calls and scan the offense. That was easily the number one issue for the Steelers’ communication woes against New England. Players running on the field at the last moment – some of that was circumstantial if the Patriots were far away from the Steelers’ sideline – unable to receive the call in time and diagnose the play.
The 49ers can tempo their offense but they lack the athletes the Patriots offered nor the drone-like precision of Tom Brady, moving the ball downfield faster than you can shotgun an Iron City beer. Tempo creates confusion, especially when you’re trying to rotate personnel. That bit the Steelers in the you-know-what in the first half of the game.
Not to bring up the elephant on the headset but the issues created in the season opener, regardless of who is at fault, certainly won’t happen at Heinz Field. That will naturally solve a lot of the early-game woes.
And of course, the simle fact that it is the second week. The Steelers were punched in the mouth Thursday. Now they can stand back up, learn, and respond. Repetition is the only way to get better and San Francisco offers a perfect opportunity.
Does that mean the defense will play well? No. Put eleven of me on defense and Carlos Hyde will break every bone in my body, no matter how well I can communicate the fact he’s running straight towards my frail, unathletic body. Communication is preparation. It doesn’t ensure you succeed.
But a lack of it ensures you’ll fail.