While he is not the first, Bill Belichick is currently the most prominent head coach in the league who makes it a priority to neutralize an opposing team’s best players, forcing them to win with their supporting cast. He made the New York Giants ‘go to Manningham’ in the Super Bowl. It didn’t pay off that time, but they have a trophy case suggesting it usually does.
The Cincinnati Bengals took a different approach at the end of Sunday’s afternoon game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin doesn’t regret it, despite the fact that in doing so, he allowed Pittsburgh’s best players to win the game.
With 15 seconds remaining, the Steelers were sitting on the Bengals’ 31-yard line with first and goal. The offense read blitz with zero coverage and checked into a play to get Antonio Brown into a bunch formation where there was open space. He found that space and kept finding it until he crossed the goal line five seconds later.
“I wanted to force the hand, and again, they made a better play. They had a better call than mine”, Austin told reporters yesterday. “I didn’t want to sit back, I didn’t want to play passive, we had played some coverage, tried to bring some pressures through that whole series”.
Technically, the Steelers were already in field goal range and down only one point. With 15 seconds left, they could have bled the clock down to a couple of seconds to try for a game-winning field goal, and Chris Boswell, despite his struggles this season, has never missed a field goal in Cincinnati.
“I knew they had three timeouts and I wanted to make sure they didn’t get any more yards”, the defensive coordinator continued. “They were right at the fringe of where we thought they were able to kick it, and my thing is I wanted to get a negative play, I wanted to go after them and make them have to make a decision. It didn’t work this time”.
And so he went with an all-out blitz, hoping that if it were a running play, they would get the back down behind the line of scrimmage. If it were a pass, they could record a sack or at least force an incompletion to prevent any forward momentum.
The Bengals had not been able to get much pressure at all on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throughout the day using conventional means. Not even Geno Atkins, who entered the game leading the league in sacks. So if they wanted to get pressure, they had to add numbers.
Austin said that he never wants to second-guess himself or have his players second-guessing (though that is exactly what they did after the game). “We’re going to play aggressively. We’re playing to win. And I thought at that point, that gave us the best chance to win. I didn’t want to leave it into the field goal kicker’s hands and allow him because it’s not every day you block a field goal”, he said.
Instead, he gave the Steelers’ best players the chance to win the game, and that is exactly what they did.