Much like my former colleague Jon Ledyard did last season tracking missed tackles per game, it returns this season under my watch, starting with the third preseason game against the New Orleans Saints last Friday.
Against New Orleans, the Pittsburgh Steelers missed 14 tackles as a team. Here’s how the breakdown looks from an individual standpoint:
Ryan Shazier: 3
William Gay: 2
Ross Cockrell: 2
LJ Fort: 2
Ricardo Mathews: 2
Vince Williams: 1
Donald Washington: 1
LT Walton: 1
Doran Grant: 1
The major concern starts at the top with Shazier, who is expected to make a major leap forward this season and fulfill his star potential at inside linebacker for the Steelers. However, the third-year linebacker out of Ohio State has really struggled to make tackles this preseason, largely due to poor technique, angles and the inability to wrap up strongly at times.
The other area of concern with that list is the fact that the two starting corners — William Gay and Ross Cockrell — are near the top due to missed tackles. That’s not good, especially when you consider what the team’s philosophy is with cornerbacks.
This should have been a quick stop for Cockrell, who is one-on-one with CJ Spiller in the open field, while having the benefit of the sideline next to you. Cockrell simply plays this poorly and goes in a bit soft hoping for an arm tackle.
A powerful stiff-arm from Spiller ends that tackle attempt quickly. Gay is in good position to clean this play up, but the veteran goes diving at ankles, allowing Spiller to pick up a few extra yards in the process.
Pittsburgh’s corners have to be much better once the season starts at making solid tackles.
On the very next New Orleans drive, Gay again comes up with a missed tackle on Spiller while attempting to go high with a lunging arm tackle.
For a guy who is known to be a smart, sound football player, this simply can’t happen in the flat on a throw that he knows is coming and closes in on quickly on the short dump-off.
Fortunately for Gay, Spiller didn’t do much with the missed tackle.
Throughout the game the Saints threw to their running backs quite a ton out of the backfield, which is a staple in Sean Payton’s offense. Knowing that, Pittsburgh had a tough time slowing down that passing game out of the backfield due to a handful of missed tackles like this one from Shazier.
Like Gay’s missed tackle earlier, Shazier sees this screen coming and flies downhill to try and make the stop. But in typical Shazier fashion he comes in too fast and out of control, forcing him to dive a Travaris Cadet’s legs, in which he doesn’t come close.
With the missed tackle, Cadet is able to pick up a large chunk of yards and move the chains against the Steelers.
It doesn’t get better from there for Shazier as on the very next play — a run by Mark Ingram — Shazier knifes into the backfield untouched yet comes in — wait for it — out of control and out of position, forcing a lunging attempt at an arm tackle that Ingram shakes off easily.
It’s great that Shazier is able to get into the backfield so quickly and reek havoc, but he needs to be able to make the play once he gets there.
One final GIF for you readers to get frustrated with, I promise.
This should have been an easy sack for Cockrell coming in with a free lane to Luke McCown, no?
If there’s one thing that needs to be taken away from this game, it’s that Steelers defenders need to do a much, much better job of breaking down at the tackle point instead of just flying in hoping to get a piece of the ball carrier for the stop.
I get that McCown made a subtle little movement in the pocket to give himself some extra space, but that should be a sack for Cockrell. It was a perfectly-called blitz by Keith Butler and the defense just couldn’t follow through with the execution.