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.
Over the course of this season the Steelers have played a lot of close games and last Sunday was no different. It was the tenth game of the year decided by 7 points or less. After starting 0-3 in close games, the Steelers have done much better posting 6 straight wins until falling to the Bills. The deciding difference in these game using comes down to who makes fewer mistakes. As Alex expertly covered here, the “the Buffalo Bills out schemed and outcoached the Pittsburgh Steelers’ staff in Sunday night’s loss”. Will they be able to adjust? I think we’ll find out this week.
Steelers Offense vs the Blitz
There is plenty of blame to go around for the mistakes last week. The staff wasn’t prepared and didn’t make enough of an impact with any adjustments they implemented. The offensive line struggled picking up the blitz and led to Devlin Hodges having little time to throw. And while Hodges did do and solid job to avoid the blitz he made poor decisions leading to turnovers.
All of this has New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams salivating right now.
The Jets defense is 9th in total yards allowed (4,601) and second in rushing yards allowed (1,243) while allowing 3.3 yards per attempt average. Williams has always been an aggressive coach and this year is no different. His defense is fourth in the NFL with 212 blitz attempts which means he comes after the quarterback 37.6% of the time. That is fifth in the NFL.
That percentage may be higher this week going against a rookie quarterback.
What Do They Bring?
There is a method to the madness when rushing the passer and many different ways to go about it. A veteran like Williams who has been coaching for 28 years, 17 as a defensive coordinator, has an abundance of ways to apply pressure the quarterback no matter how many players are on the attack. Let’s take a look at some of what he likes to do.
3 Man Rush
This isn’t a blitz but it’s something they like to run. This is a 1st and 10 play where they have 4 defensive linemen. The left defensive end is going to drop out while the other three will rush to the right. The idea is to force the QB to one side; my guess is to take away the passing options on half the field. On this play by forcing him to his right the defense has 5 defenders to that side to cover 3 receivers. They’ll run it to the left as well.
Slot/Double Slot Blitz
They like to blitz from the slot from the left, the right or both and will do it often with their safeties Jamal Adams (33) and Marcus Maye (20). Here they run T-E stunts on the inside to occupy the offensive lineman and bring linebacker James Burgess (58) and DB Nate Hairston (21) to bring pressure.
Like the slot they bring one or two players into the A gaps up the middle. They will sugar the A gaps and rush one and drop one or bring both. Here the hang back a bit before rushing up the middle while dropping the OLB Jordan Jenkins (48) to the middle of the field.
Zone Blitz with 7
Here in Nickel defense they have 7 players at the line of scrimmage with two in a three point stance. Three DL and 3 LBs with the 5 DB’s. Pre snap DB Darryl Roberts (27) is going to walk up on the left side to add to the confusion. At the snap Roberts and Adams will come around the outside with DE’s Henry Anderson (96) and Quinnen Williams working in to the B gap. The four defenders in the middle all drop back.
Zone Blitz with 8
A similar alignment this time with 3 defenders with their hand in the dirt but at the snap the two linebackers in the middle will drop and the safeties on the edges will drop to the flat.
9 in the Box
This is against 22 personnel but the Steelers will likely see it versus their 13/Jumbo personnel. They Jets have a single high safety, a DB out to the right on the wide receiver and 9 in the box. It’s a one man route, we’ve seen the Steelers try this with Johnny Holton, and it’s covered. What starts as a five man rush ends up with 8 coming after the QB and getting the sack.
They Must Adjust
Whatever adjustment they may have made was either not enough or not effective. Now that this is out there on tape anyone the Steelers play from here on out will copycat and be aggressive on defense. What must they do?
Quicken the Passing Game – The Steelers came out in the third quarter and seemed to move to a quicker, timing based passing game. Get the ball out quick, don’t let the rush get there and take the shorter gains. This offense loves the deep ball and they can still use it. If you can use a quick passing game effectively it can open up deep one on one passes.
Throw to the RB’s – If teams are going to blitz that will give many players a winnable one on one situation. The Steelers have RB’s that can win the one on one battles especially in the middle of the field. Use the Texas/angle route to get the LB moving outside and cut back in. Over the last 4 games against the Jets, RB have received 29 targets good for 22 receptions for 137 yards.
Use His Legs – If he can escape the blitz, Hodges should take the yardage running the ball. Lamar Jackson had 86 yards last week. He’s on a different level but the week before that Ryan Fitzpatrick had 65 yards on 7 carries. Yards can be found on the ground against aggressive defenses and they could end up being chain movers.
Locate 33 – The status of Adams is up in the air right now but if he plays, Hodges and the offense must know where he is on the field. Adams has 6 pass break up and one interception returned for a touchdown. He has 2 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. He leads the team in tackles, tackles for a loss, quarterback hits and is second in sacks. He is their playmaker and must be accounted for.