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Week Two: Steelers Vs 49ers First Half Notes And Observations

The Pittsburgh Steelers secured their first victory of the season in convincing fashion on Sunday, putting up 43 points in their home opener against the San Francisco 49ers while recording five sacks and a turnover, holding the road team to just three points leading into the fourth quarter. Below are my notes and observations from the first half of the game.

  • Cody Wallace was beat on the first play of the game to relinquish a tackle for no gain on DeAngelo Williams. He had a better game than the season opener, but the backup center will be facing his biggest test next week.
  • Ben Roethlisberger’s dominance of the third down began on the opening drive, finding Antonio Brown for a 28-yard gain on third and 10. He converted six of 10 third downs through the air, five of which came via explosive play.
  • Later on the opening drive, the 49ers were able to blow up a screen play thanks to the cornerback making an excellent read on the horizontal toss to Darrius Heyward-Bey, combined with Heath Miller’s delay in getting out to the edge to block. The Steelers responded in kind to a few of the 49ers’ screen passes, however.
  • On the final down of the opening drive, Roethlisberger attempted to lead Heyward-Bey to the open spot on the field, but the receiver was not in a position to do so. In this instance, the quarterback would have been better served to throw to the man, and not to the spot.
  • Given that it was third and 26, however, it would not have gotten them a first down anyway, but it would have put them in field goal range.
  • Instead, Jordan Berry came out for his first punt of the day. Though it traveled just 35 yards, it was fair caught at the 15-yard line, with both gunners getting free in a hurry.
  • On defense, the Steelers opened in their base personnel, but in their faux 4-3 look, with Arthur Moats the outside linebacker set back at the second level. Jarvis Jones made the tackle, but a penalty on Steve McLendon—one of two—negated the play.
  • Back in a more traditional front, Jones made the tackle on first and five with Carlos Hyde cutting the run to the back side of the play, but not before the back found a hole for a five-yard gain.
  • On the following play, both Jones and McLendon gained penetration, flushing Hyde out to the edge, where it was cut down by a physical tackle from Antwon Blake.
  • After four or five plays into the 49ers’ opening drive, the Steelers began rotating personnel, with Bud Dupree replacing Arthur Moats, Daniel McCullers replacing McLendon, and Cam Thomas replacing Cameron Heyward.
  • On the first play in that alignment, Lawrence Timmons flowed the wrong way and then missed the tackle on a seven-yard run.
  • On the next play, however, Stephon Tuitt swam over the outside of the right guard and recorded a sack, stalling the 49ers’ drive and forcing them to punt.
  • On the last play of that drive, William Gay stripped the ball out of the grasp of Anquan Boldin on what would have been a first down and a fumble had the officials deemed it so, rather than an incomplete pass. By my observation, he got three feet down and was in the process of turning upfield.
  • Rushing lanes were hard to come by early for Williams, with most of his first-half runs going for just a couple of yards at a time. On the first play of the Steelers’ second drive, he tried to stretch to the perimeter, but aggressive run defense from the secondary held it to a two-yard gain.
  • On the third play of the drive, on third and five, Roethlisberger used play action to roll out to his left and hit Heyward-Bey on a vertical route for a 41-yard reception.
  • On the following play, the Steelers hit a screen pass to Brown for a 17-yard gain, but by my estimation, the play could have gone the distance with some more intuitive downfield blocking from Kelvin Beachum and Wallace, with the former perhaps taking an overly ambitious angle that prevented him from reaching the defensive back that ultimately made the tackle.
  • On the next play, from the 14, Roethlisberger nearly led Markus Wheaton to a sideline touchdown, but the ball was just a bit too high to be brought down inbounds.
  • A few plays later, however, Miller was in the end zone from two yards out for the score, after earlier drawing a defensive hold to set up first and goal. Brown was on the receiving end of a two-point conversion pass.
  • On the ensuing kickoff, Blake made an excellent tackle on the returner at the 13-yard line. The 49ers left open a wide split in his section of the coverage.
  • Timmons missed his second tackle of the game on third and three on the 49ers’ ensuing drive. In hindsight, the inside linebacker’s performance was not as improved as I had originally thought.
  • Following a 14-yard run from Colin Kaepernick, the Steelers moved to their second-team defensive line, which included McLendon at left defensive end.
  • On the final play of the first quarter, Ryan Shazier came up short in coverage on Hyde, giving up a first down on an 11-yard gain.
  • As the 49ers continued to drive, slowly but surely, the closer they got to the end zone, the more aggressive the defense got, blitzing defensive backs and penetrating through gaps. It ultimately led to a series of negative plays that resulted in a fourth and goal from the 29-yard line after a sack from Heyard.
  • On the first play of the Steelers’ next possession, the 49ers nose tackle controlled Wallace at the point of attack, moving him back and forth to adjust to Williams’ change of direction in the backfield, making the tackle after a short gain.
  • As was the case for most of the night, however, Roethlisberger got aggressive on third down, this time connecting with Brown for a 59-yard exchange down to the two-yard line, turning three defenders around after the catch. Williams found the end zone a play later.
  • Following the touchdown, fullback Roosevelt Nix made an aggressive play on the kickoff, barreling into a blocker in order to take down the return man at the 18-yard line.
  • The 49ers were induced into a three and out following back-to-back plays from Ryan Shazier, who finished things off with a 17-yard sack.
  • A 16-yard punt return from Brown set up the offense for a quick strike, with Roethlisberger hitting Heyward-Bey for a 35-yard touchdown on the first play.
  • Brandon Boykin replaced Blake for his first of two drives as the right outside cornerback, giving up an 18-yard reception on the second play. But Hyde and Kaepernick botched the handoff on the next play, with Shazier recovering.
  • The Steelers quickly scored, and then the defense induced a punt before halftime, thanks to a solid tackle on a Kaepernick scramble and a pass defensed by Mike Mitchell on third down.
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