Against most quarterbacks, perhaps, the Pittsburgh Steelers being without their top two options for the dime defender might not have been as big of a deal. But when you are facing a 15-year veteran and the son of a coach like Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers, he is going to snuff out whatever trickery you try to pull in compensation.
That is exactly what happened to them on Sunday, with Rivers routinely picking out the coverages he was looking for by motioning players to put Keenan Allen in favorable matchups, something Head Coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged earlier today.
“As the game wore on, I think he got a sense of some of the things that we were doing in some of our sub-packages”, he said, and he explained that some of the inability to adapt to that trend was due to what they had available to them.
“You know, playing without Morgan Burnett and Cam Sutton really kind of limited us in some of those things, and I think as the game went on, he pushed [Allen] inside and took advantage of some of those opportunities. Such is life”, he said.
Later on in his press conference, he was asked specifically if he was able to get the matchups in coverage that he wanted. We of course already know the answer to that. “In some instances I didn’t, but that’s life”, he said. “It was no secret we were without Morgan Burnett and Cam Sutton, two of our core interior sub-package defenders”.
While the Steelers still played most of the game in their sub-packages, spending less time in their base defense than they had in the past two games facing the likes of Blake Bortles and Case Keenum at quarterback, it was clear that they were not able to run everything that they would have liked to due to the availability of their dime defenders.
“There was going to be some smoke-and-mirror play, if you will, and it was”, Tomlin said of his efforts to compensate, which featured a lot of L.J. Fort and other linebackers in coverage. “But when you’re playing a guy like Philip Rivers, who has bigtime autonomy at the line of scrimmage, sometimes you run out of smoke”.
The good news is that Sutton was never injured and was held out due to a lack of practice time as he spent time away from the team to tend to an ailing relative, but he is back and anticipating a full week of practice. As for Burnett, well, you never know with him.