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Film Room: Steelers’ Defense Has No Answer For WR A.J. Brown

There’s dominance. And then there’s what A.J. Brown did to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon. To put it simply, Brown scored more points (18) than the Steelers (13) did yesterday. Brown did the bulk of his damage and all three of his touchdowns in the first half, heck, the first 22 minutes, and the Steelers simply had no answer.

As Mike Tomlin discussed postgame, the Eagles finished their plays and the Steelers didn’t. Painful as it is, let’s look back at those three long touchdowns.

Brown opened up the scoring mid-way through the first quarter with a 39-yard touchdown. Off playaction, Jalen Hurts makes a semi-risky throw to Brown, manned up by SS Terrell Edmunds over slot. FS Minkah Fitzpatrick is playing shallow pre-snap but flips his hips and tracks the ball the whole way. It looks like he’s going to pick it off, or at least break it up, as he’s done so many times before.

But he misplays at the end, the catch point, and is fading too far backwards. Brown gains inside leverage and snags the football without much of a contest. Too easy for what should’ve been a tight-window throw.

As you’ll see below, Edmunds is carrying Brown vertically and Brown seems to stop on the route, potentially indicating even he thinks the ball isn’t coming his way. That gives Fitzpatrick time to rally to the ball but he still can’t make a play, simply misjudging it on the way down. Touchdown, Eagles.

Here’s a broadcast look from the end-zone view with dot-ball. One, check out the heavily reduced and tight splits from the Eagles. Steelers appear to be in Cover 1 with Edmunds carrying and Fitzpatrick supposed to providing support over the top.

Second quarter. 3rd and 8. Steelers bringing pressure, as they did for much of the time, trying to get after and contain the mobile Hurts. It leaves them playing Cover 1 on the backend, man-free with a single high safety in Fitzpatrick. Hurts knows exactly where he wants to go with the football. He has Brown 1v1 on the outside and throws a pretty pass to Brown’s outside shoulder, hitting him against CB Ahkello Witherspoon.

Witherspoon carries it well but can’t finish the play. It’s a good throw, credit to Hurts, but it wasn’t so good that no corner could make a play on that. Witherspoon takes one swipe at Browns’ arms before falling down. There’s more he can do, tackling Brown and hoping to knock the ball loose as they go to the ground while still playing down through the hands as opposed to punching across into the chest.

Third and final one. As we noted in our scouting report, the Eagles run a ton of RPOs 3×1 with bubbles/flares to the flat. .Here’s what we wrote followed by a slew of clips of them running the same packaged play.

“Though this could fall in the run or pass game part of the report, the Eagles are predictably a heavy RPO-based offense. One of their favorite calls is a packaged play with an inside zone run and a bubble/flare route with #3 running the bubble. Sometimes they run orbit motion and get that guy moving in the flat.”

After showing that earlier in Sunday’s game, the Eagles build a great constraint play off it. Here, they fake the bubble to #3, get the defense to come up and bite, and counter by throwing vertically to #1. Though we don’t yet have access to the All-22, you can feel the Steelers’ defense bite and at the top, Witherspoon is trailing and not as in-phase as he was on the second TD.

While we don’t have an aerial view, Fitzpatrick is carrying #2 deep here and is late getting to #1, Brown, on the outside. This effectively makes it a 1v1 play and Witherspoon’s technique is a mess, flailing and stumbling and doing nothing against a big and strong receiver like Brown. Fitzpatrick can only throw a late shoulder in him but it’s too late.

Brown’s the first player to ever have three 1st half receiving touchdowns against the Steelers. Pittsburgh applied pressure and tried to stop the run/RPO game, leaving 1v1 matchups downfield. While Pittsburgh had good coverage on two of those three reps, it doesn’t mean much if you can’t finish. Positioning is half the battle. But if you have great positioning and a poor finish, you’re going to give up a lot of points. Pittsburgh did, 35 of them, with Brown leading the charge and effectively ending the Steelers’ season.

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