It seems every year we talk about some sort of spiel with the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary. Whether that is schematic issues or lack of talent, or even the dreaded ‘both’ tag on that one. Last season, it seemed that both of those snakebit the Steelers far too heavily. This team was lackluster largely due to a lack of communication and just a basic lack of fundamentals, but a predictable, outdated scheme certainly did not help things when it came to the follies in the defensive secondaries. Having linebackers on wide receivers was far too often the case.
But the Steelers also had another area where they struggled heavily — in Cover 2 and Tampa 2 coverage. It’s a curious problem since they were actually quite solid in 2017 on those concepts, but this year, they were the reason they lost some of these games.
This rep against Kansas City is an interesting one. The Steelers look like they are showing a Cover 1 shell the whole way until Hill motions across the formation. There are always adjustments or simple hot calls you have as a secondary when presented with different looks. Instead of 3 x 1 look you are getting a 2 x 2 look which means a few things.
For one, since both Hill and Kelce are now playing tight to the formation, you have to play with some space off. You do not want to get carried in all of the trash down below. A simple post wheel combination comes out. That is common all the way down through high school. The Chiefs have studied this exact look from a play in Cleveland in Week 1 where the Steelers rolled out of Cover 1 and rolled into Cover 2. Patrick Mahomes can read this just fine and know his main progression is Kelce in the middle of the field since it is middle of the field open. The Steelers mistakes are simple:
1. Vince Williams allows Kelce to get a free release off the line. You cannot let an elite TE or red zone threat like Kelce get a free release up the seam. You just cannot allow that to happen.
2. This route is not squeezed nearly enough. Williams does not carry it up enough and as a result this route is never going to be squeezed enough with Sutton having to play Hill or Kelce.
Overall, the free release was the main issue, and it is these things that the Steelers failed to do. All the small things to keep big playmakers in check.
This is a place where Morgan Burnett was supposed to help out in, and this play is almost solely on him. The Steelers come out in a Cover 2 look, but the safeties are inside the numbers. Carr could have read that as possible Tampa 2 or he went at face value to see a 2 deep situation. The other possibility is that the Steelers actually drop one of their safeties down underneath to “Buzz” and go Cover 3, but his main read seems to be Seth Roberts right up the seam given the look. Given this is actually going to be Tampa 2, this is all of Burnett’s responsibility with the Y Roberts running down the seam.
Burnett, instead, does not square up Roberts and takes a bad angle when dropping out. By almost showing half of him towards Roberts, Roberts is going to blow right by him with Burnett, who athletically was washed last year. His hip turn is horribly slow and by then Roberts gets behind him and stacks him. The dime by Derek Carr only adds onto this gaffe that cost the Steelers this game.
Unfortunately, it seemed the culprit of a lot of these Tampa 2 gaffes was Burnett.
This one is similar in a lot of ways. Tampa 2, showing 2 high at the snap so Baker Mayfield will be looking to throw it up the seam. Burnett does a good job of actually backpedaling and covering the Y up the seam here as traditional Tampa 2 rules go. Then…..I am not sure what in the world he does. It’s almost as if he loses track of Seth Devalve and doesn’t just keep carrying him up the seam to squeeze this route. Mayfield throws a dime and it’s a touchdown. This shouldn’t have even been a play for Mayfield, but that lack of discipline to squeeze this window shut allows it to happen.
This is not what the Steelers need to be doing this year. With a new dimebacker this year, one of the biggest things to watch will be how they work in this Tampa 2 concept. If they can carry the guys up the seam, squeeze these windows, and communicate effectively, these struggles should be all but erased.