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.
Due to strange scheduling by the NFL the Steelers will face the Browns for the second time in 3 weeks. Despite losing 21-7 two weeks ago the defense played pretty well. They gave up less than 300 total yards, kept the running game well below its per game average and allowed Baker Mayfield to complete just 53% of his passes.
There were missed opportunities though. Despite getting regular pressure, often with just a 4 man rush, they were only able to sack Mayfield one time. He consistently eluded the rush to get through traffic and out of the pocket to give them extra opportunities. That extra time created by Mayfield led to 4 completions that were either a third down conversion or a touchdown.
Mayfield’s Mobility vs Steelers Pass Rush
In total, there were 11 times Mayfield was able to move forward or right to escape the rush. The Steelers varied their attack rushing between 3 and 6 defenders. Rushing just 4 defenders was the least successful allowing 3 completions including a TD and defensive pass interference in the end zone.
Rushing 3 (1 time)
3RD and 7 – Steelers are in the 1-5-5 Nickel defense with Cam Heyward being the only defensive lineman on the field. There’s a lot of movement pre snap to try to confuse Mayfield. Vince Williams is going to feign rushing and pull back to spy the QB. T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree do a fantastic job to close the pocket but Mayfield is able to escape to his right. Williams races after Mayfield to force the incomplete throw.
Rushing 4 (4 times)
3RD and 8 – The Steelers are in Dime here and rush four. Watt fires up the left side, avoids a chip from the running back but ends up 12 yards past the line of scrimmage. Javon Hargrave takes an outside rush and is walled off by the center. Heyward and Dupree run a twist that sends Heyward free up the outside to the right. The coverage is really good but Mayfield moves up and to the right giving him time to float one to the RB. Three of the 4 times Mayfield got outside against a four man rush the Steelers were running a twist.
3RD and 8 – This is another rep in Dime where the pressure is good. They end up right in Mayfield’s face so he can’t step up but they can’t get to him. He steps back to buy time before hitting the TE in the end zone. Again, the coverage is good and Heyward and Dupree on a twist.
Rushing 5 (4 times)
1ST and 10 – This Nickel rep brings all kinds of pressure with Dupree from the right, Hargrave up the middle and Devin Bush on the left and Mayfield still gets outside to the right. They force him into a tough throw that ends up incomplete.
3RD and 6 – Here. with the Steelers in Dime, Tyson Alualu uses a chop rip to easily beat the right guard and Watt uses a speed to power long arm to get pressure. This was a constant throughout the game with the Steelers able to get pressure but unable to finish. This one ends up complete for and 11 yard gain for a first down.
Rushing 6 (2 times)
1ST and 10 – This was their lone sack. They come out in a Base defense against 12 personnel. The play action holds the rush for second but Dupree and Watt get around the edge and Williams comes on a delay when the TE stays initially to block Watt. Williams get held with actually clears the route to the QB for Watt to make the sack.
Good Can Be Better
There are a lot of good things going on in these plays. Everyone knows there job and they are executing each job well. Pass rushers are getting pressure consistently from the inside and outside and the coverage is really good not allowing quick completions.
You’d like to see them get a few more sacks or at least be able to get off the field on third down. The third down numbers were good allowing 6 conversions on 16 attempts but with offense struggling, a couple more stops could make a huge difference.
Stay in Your Lane, Bro? – Having your pass rushers not divert too much from where they start will help surround the QB. Now these clips show that Mayfield can still get outside with his athletic ability and you really don’t want to hinder Watt and Dupree with how they have been playing so this may not be the best option. There were 3 completions when the Steelers rain a twist so maybe they refrain from running that too often.
Spy Tactics – I like the option of having a spy on Mayfield. It the first clip above Williams showed he can chase Mayfield so you know Bush and Mark Barron have enough speed. You can even use Terrell Edmunds or Mike Hilton to mix it up. As soon as he leaves the pocket make a beeline for him.
Sneak Attack – If Watt and Dupree are going to use speed up the outside send the blitz to fill in the gaps taking away areas for him to slide. Focus on pressure from the left side of the defense and force Mayfield scramble to his left and make it a more difficult throw.