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Know Your Enemy: Insight into the Steelers
As many of you know, my dad coached with the Steelers for three years and I've watched every Steelers game from 2007 all the way to this point. I spoke with him this week about some of the Xs and O's with the Steelers and the Texans (he watches both each week) and I like the Texans to win this one 24-20. Here are my thoughts on the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger is one of the all-time greats when it comes to extending plays and then making big plays come from that. Ben never stops looking down the field and it is imperative that the Texans CBs and safeties continue to stay with their man and not peek into the backfield and lose track of one of their speedy wideouts. On the other hand, Ben can be easily confused with exotic blitz packages and looks out of the single-high safety so don’t be afraid to dial up an exotic blitz – even if it is slightly unsound. As an example, here is a blitz that Jim Johnson used against the Steelers and Roethlisberger that worked ALL. DAY. LONG.
Rashard Mendenhall prefers to bounce runs outside as opposed to staying with the track of the play if he doesn’t see a hole there right away. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly works for him, but he does leave some yards on the field by not having the patience and discipline to stick with the track of the play design. Still, Texans CBs and safeties have to be ready to come up and tackle because Mendenhall has the perimeter speed to get the corner and make big plays. Backup RB Isaac Redman will tend to keep the play running inside and I think he is the tougher runner of the two.
Speaking of the Steelers running game, they have a play that calls for a double team of the nose and then a kick-out on the DE and the way they run it could be very, very difficult for the Texans If Shaun Cody or Earl Mitchell are getting pushed around or if the LBs don’t read the play correctly…. especially if Mendenhall bounces it outside.
The Steelers have a relatively unathletic offensive line by NFL standards, but they are pretty tough and they are pretty good with blitz recognition. The Texans should have a HUGE advantage in their nickel packages with Antonio Smith bumping down inside to rush the passer. Remember that Antonio Smith was one of the Cardinals that ate the Steelers lunch as a pass rusher in the Super Bowl and his quickness off the snap might be too much for the Steelers. Maurkice Pouncey is an excellent, young center who is the key to their inside zone running success if they are to have any today.
The Steelers aren't running the ball well at all and the running game won’t get any easier with two of their more athletic offensive linemen (J. Scott and D. Legursky) out for this game. Offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, doesn’t consistently commit to the running game so the Texans shouldn’t have to commit 8 in the box at any time out of necessity…. only if they want to show that look. The Steelers will also run the ball out of the bunch formation as they like having Hines Ward as a blocker in the running game.
Hines Ward can’t beat you down the field, but he is still very good at sitting down in open areas of the zone and making big catches. The beast right now is Mike Wallace who has unbelievable speed and is rapidly becoming more than just a vertical threat. The Texans have their hands full with him. While I’m at it, I might want to let you know that Antonio Brown is no joke as a deep threat or as a return specialist.
On defense, Dick LeBeau has studied the Texans from this year and last year and he has searched for tendencies left and right and will know exactly what they are if they have any. He’ll look for particular plays out of particular grouping packages and he’ll look for frequency of particular plays based on down and distance. Once he has this info, he’ll pass it along to Troy Polamalu who can then “freestyle” but with a loaded deck. It may look like Polamalu is just running around in random spots, but in most cases it is based on tendencies of the offense that he’s been given by LeBeau.
Ike Taylor is still a decent cornerback, not an upper-echelon CB by any means, but Bryant McFadden is the other CB who could be a target for the Texans for much of the day as he has been disappointing since coming back over from Arizona. Safety Ryan Clark hits as hard as any safety I’ve seen and I’m sure he’ll be looking to make a statement at some point with a big shot on Owen Daniels up the seam if he gets a chance.
The most shocking aspect of watching the Steelers so far has been their inability to stop the run with the regularity that we’ve become accustomed to. Aaron Smith, once the most dominant run stuffer in the league at 3-4 DE, is not the same player now and I don’t know if it is age or if he hasn’t come all the way back from injury. Whatever it is, he has not been the same guy we’ve seen in years past. The same thing can be said for Casey Hampton who is probably just feeling the effects of age. In 2008, Hampton thoroughly dominated Chris Myers and the Texans, but I’ve seen teams move Casey around a little bit easier this year than in years past. He just hasn’t gotten the same penetration. If the Texans can keep Hampton from blowing up the middle, they should have success on the ground since the Steelers are allowing 4.6 ypc.
The Steelers haven’t gotten the same productivity out of James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley that they’re used to lately, but those guys are still to be feared. Also, don’t think for one second that LeBeau hasn’t seen exactly what type of blitzes give Matt Schaub the most trouble. If the Texans find themselves in 3rd and long spots or even 2nd and long situations, I promise you that LeBeau has a variety of blitzes dialed up that have already had success against Schaub and the Texans in the past.
One of the best ways to attack the Steelers is to keep them in their base defense. The Texans have a unique opportunity to have 2 RBs, 1 TE and 2 WRs in the game and still go with a 4 or even 5 WR look. If that happens, James Farrior and/or Lawrence Timmons will be isolate in coverage and that is not a good thing for the Steelers as Timmons struggled against the Ravens and Farrior is simply not a coverage option at this stage of his career. Don’t be surprised to see the Texans take advantage of the Steelers by showing 4 WR looks with James Casey in the slot and Owen Daniels releasing off the line of scrimmage.
Now for the most important aspect of the Steelers. They are proud. They are proud and they are tough. They are tougher than the Texans and pretty much any other team in the NFL, not just physically, but mentally. The Steelers play for “Steeler Nation” and an entire city and they are playing to uphold the history of the Steelers. They take it seriously. I asked my dad about the Steelers pride in the locker room this week and he told me that they don’t need a pep talk by Mike Tomlin or any other coach in that locker room because they have the type of veteran leadership that rises to the occasion and forces other players to do the same. The Texans actually have several check marks in their favor for this matchup, but they don’t have the Steelers history, pride and confidence and you had better believe that the Steelers are not going to just roll over and play dead against what they perceive as a new threat in the AFC. You are going to get a better game from the Steelers than you might think.
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Re: Know Your Enemy: Insight into the Steelers
He was serious and matter-of-fact about it. All business.
Being a "Steeler" means something to players, and they take it seriously.
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Re: Know Your Enemy: Insight into the Steelers
Thanks for sharing LZ. Just sent to a friend I grew up with who is a Steelers fan. We have a fishing trip wager on the game, I hope I net a win-win-lunker.
Smell the glove is here
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