It was how the Pittsburgh Steelers’ started practice almost every day at Latrobe. Ball on the two. The famous “seven shots” series.
That practice is paying off on Sundays.
In a great article on Steelers.com, which has a ton of informative quotes to check out, Will Allen makes a direct link to those reps and the play of this current red zone defense.
“It’s a situation that happens throughout the year, on a consistent level. The coaches put us in the hardest position possible. It’s something that we use. I enjoy it, everybody enjoys it in practice, but everybody wants to win. It’s something that helps us come game time,” Allen told Teresa Varley.
The Steelers rank 10th in the NFL in red zone defense, according to teamrankings.com. That is an improvement on 2014 when the team ranked 19th.
“You see the most obscure situations from our offense. You see the hardest routes against man coverage, you see the hardest routes against zone coverage. You see the hardest routes and combinations against every coverage you can think of.”
I’m sure if you comb back through my training camp notes, where I detailed every single snap, you’ll find some of those “obscure” plays. I remember one in particular where the Steelers lined up Alejandro Villanueva outside the numbers and threw a fade his way. That’s as obscure as you can get.
That red zone defense was on display again Sunday, holding the Cleveland Browns to only one touchdown in four trips inside the 20. Two trips saw the Browns come away with zero points. A 4th down interception by Mike Mitchell and a 4th and goal incompletion late in the game.
According to Allen, it’s something Mike Tomlin takes pride in.
“Coach Tomlin emphasizes situational ball all of the time. That is his deal. That is his big thing, situations after a turnover, after anybody comes in red zone, third down, start of a series, all of these situations that are key moments in a game.”
The Steelers will be facing the worst red zone offense in the NFL when they take on the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12. They rank last, finding the end zone just 35% of the time in 2015.