Throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers season I will be doing a weekly piece on an intriguing matchup to watch for each game. The focus will be on choosing important battle for the upcoming game and give you some background information that could be something to keep an eye on come game time. For example, it could focus on key players on each team that will be going head to head or how a defense will try to stop a specific player.
I hope you all enjoyed the bye week but now it’s time to get back to business. The Steelers are at home on Monday night which has been a big positive for them. The Miami Dolphins are coming in and are winless. I’m sure the Dolphin players are hungry for a win and I don’t expect this to be easy. The Steelers are coming in relatively heathy after the week off and are going to need to make plays on both sides of the ball.
There has been a lack in a certain area that needs to improve and I think there will be a good chance for that this week.
Mason Rudolph vs Miami’s Man Coverage
Mason Rudolph is returning after missing a game and will be starting his fourth game. Overall, his numbers have been good completing 67% of his passes and throwing 7 touchdowns. I think any team would take that from their backup QB. However, the offense has been lacking in the big play department.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked if he thought Rudolph has been hesitant to throw the ball downfield and he didn’t think that was an issue. Based on what he has been asked to do there have been very few shots down the field. That can be expected when moving from Ben Roethlisberger to Rudolph (or Devlin Hodges). They concentrated on running the ball, a short passing game and trusting their defense.
Through six games the entire team has 13 pass plays that have gone for 20 yards or more. There were 3 with Roethlisberger, 8 with Rudolph, 1 with Hodges and 1 on a touch pass from Jaylen Samuels. Using the play description from Pro Football Reference just 4 of those 13 plays came from the result of a deep pass.
So I think Fichtner’s assessment is correct. However, I’m guessing Rudolph wants to throw the ball deep. He’s a quarterback. Don’t they all want to throw the ball deep? He may still be finding his groove and the comfort will come allowing him to trust himself as well as his receivers and let it fly. This week could be a good chance to take the training wheels off and do just that.
The Dolphins defense has dealt with the trade of Minkah Fitzpatrick and injuries to two of their better defenders safety Reshad Jones and DB Xavien Howard. They have used a host of other players in the defensive backfield and that may be part of reason they have given up their big plays.
Through six games the Dolphins have allowed 27 pass plays of at least 20 yards. Eighteen of those plays were considered deep passes.
When to Attack
Miami’s pass defense hasn’t been good overall but it has been better the last two weeks against Washington and Buffalo. Through six games the defense has given up 1,539 passing yards with 16 touchdowns with just one interception. For the record, the run defense isn’t good either allowing 965 yards in 6 games.
Looking back over these big pass plays against Miami a lot of them come against Man coverage with a single high safety. Here are a few examples:
At Buffalo, the Bills in 11 personnel are going to motion John Brown (15) wide to the left and this helps to identify Man coverage. He’s going to press to the outside before cutting inside on a Skinny Post. The DB Ryan Lewis (24) tries to slow down Brown grabbing his waist but it wasn’t enough. QB Josh Allen (17) does a nice job with his eyes looking to his right then to the receiver in the middle of the field to hold the safety before throwing to the left.
Vs Washington, the Redskins in 12 personnel with WR Terry McLauin (17) is split wide left. McLaurin is going to run a Post Corner. He’ll release to the inside and at about 6-7 yards he sells the inside route by turning his head back to the QB. The DB Ken Webster (31) sees this and begins to undercut the route before the WR breaks to the corner. The safety takes one false step forward and has no shot.
Vs Los Angeles, the Chargers are in 20 personnel. Dontrell Inman (15) is split wide to the left and is going to run a Go route. DB Eric Rowe (21) is in good position to the inside but Philip Rivers (17) is going to make a nice back shoulder throw.
At Dallas, the Cowboys are in 21 personnel and are going to motion Amari Cooper (19) to the right slot. Miami shows a Cover 2 look before rotating at the snap. He uses a hesitation hop to lull the defender before breaking to the inside and really selling the crossing route. Howard (25) is trying to catch up to the crossing route and Cooper leaves him behind when he cuts back to the outside. Devin Smith (15) runs a Go route on the outside to draw the safety to him leaving and ocean of space for Cooper.
Vs New England, the Patriots are in 10 personnel with Antonio Brown (17) in the left slot. He’s going to run a go to the outside. The DB Jomal Wiltz (33) has solid coverage to the inside. Tom Brady (12) is going to look off the safety and make a back shoulder throw.
What We Know
From these examples we can learn some good information.
- We know the offensive personnel didn’t matter. Each play above had a different grouping.
- We know the defender doesn’t matter. Again, in each example there was a different defender in coverage.
- We know motion can be used to help identify the coverage.
- We know QB eye manipulation is useful to hold the safety.
The Steelers have begun to run the ball better. If you can run the ball, you can use play action. There were two examples above that used play action and I saw others. There will be opportunities on Monday night to throw the ball down field.
What Rudolph needs now is trust. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington in particular are very good at making the contested catch. Rudolph needs to trust his ability to put the ball in the right place. He needs to trust that his receivers will be able to make a play on the ball in a one on one situation. They don’t need to throw it down the field constantly but I would expect at least 5 or 6 attempts of at least 20 yards.
This could be a break out game under the bright lights not just for Rudolph but the offense as a whole. Are you ready for some football?