Podcast: Previewing the 2019 Steelers Depth chart — Offensive Line

In the latest episode of “The Steelers Preview” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-gold from the week that was.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers season is over, and while the team isn’t playing anymore, it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to discuss — so it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Jeff Hartman and Bryan Anthony Davis break down all things Steelers leading into the offseason.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Black-and-Gold News
  • Position Breakdown: Offensive Line
  • Conference Championship Weekend predictions/ Fantasy Football suggestions
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Bryan Anthony Davis walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: The time when Art Rooney II speaks, yet says nothing at all

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at how on Wednesday Steelers Team President Art Rooney II spoke to the media, went on KDKA in Pittsburgh and even joined the crew at Steelers Live. He did a lot of talking, but what might be the most notable is how he said very little.

Maybe he is learning from Mike Tomlin, or vice versa, but those who were hanging to every word waiting for something significant — were left hanging.

Let’s get to the news:

Tim Benz: Art Rooney II’s take on Steelers ‘circus’ is pure ‘nonsense’

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II had his annual season-ending powwow with the team’s local print outlets Wednesday.

He made one comment that was so far from true, it couldn’t see the truth with the Hubble telescope.

Rooney was asked about the perception that his team is a circus and full of distractions.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s nonsense,” Rooney said .

I’m told he actually made that statement with a straight face and with no fingers crossed.

This year alone, the team’s helicopter-ridin’ star wide receiver skipped practices and meetings — twice — and was sent home for the season finale. He mocked the coach on Instagram with a former team icon, too.

In between those moments, Antonio Brown set a new land-speed record on McKnight Road, threatened a reporter, accused another of racism, threw another sideline tantrum and was in the news for throwing furniture off a balcony.

That team icon — James Harrison — has been on a crusade to undermine coach Mike Tomlin’s authority. Yet he was brought back to Heinz Field for the Super Bowl XLIII 10th anniversary celebration and was given a standing ovation on Rooney’s field.

Another team legend — Rocky Bleier — declared he was “done” with the team on Facebook, then recanted. The starting quarterback openly questioned the draft and criticized his receivers on a few occasions.

All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell seemingly welched on an assumed plan to play on a franchise tag, tied up $14.5 million in unpaid cap space and then spent the next few months intermittently mocking the club, laughing at his absence from it and flirting with other organizations.

Meanwhile, his teammates ripped the running back and raided his locker in front of the media.

On the field, the kicker who signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason had a season-long meltdown, and the team blamed an X-ray machine for a loss against the awful Oakland Raiders while gagging away a 7-2-1 record to miss the playoffs.

After that, valued offensive line coach Mike Munchak jumped ship for the same job in Denver, and outside linebackers coach Joey Porter was fired.

Following Porter’s dismissal, reports — from someone who works for the team’s website, radio network and flagship station — were that Porter “was trying to pit the defense against the offense in a divisive manner.”

That was just in 2018.

(For more, click the link in the headline above…)

Steelers brace for ‘tough’ reality of losing top talent

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

No need to tell Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II about the difficulties of finding transcendent talents.

He has seen three absurdly good players — linebacker Ryan Shazier, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell — lead his team to victories only to leave the lineup, potentially for good.

When asked about losing top-15 players such as these, Rooney acknowledged the obvious with the trade discussion around Brown: Talent prevails.

“That’s one reason why we haven’t made any decisions on Antonio yet,” Rooney said in a Wednesday interview with a small group of local reporters.

Loose translation: All-Pros are really hard to find, no matter how difficult. That’s why any exchange for Brown must produce serious draft capital. And the Steelers are hemorrhaging top talent. As a result, this offseason is shaping up to be a test of mettle for an organization that must strengthen the roster on the fly.

The loss of Shazier to a severe spinal injury in late 2017, coupled with Bell’s yearlong holdout and the seemingly inevitable trade of Brown, are nearly impossible to replace on the surface. Shazier wants to continue rehabbing for a return to football, and the Steelers plan to help him with that, but he’s not in the plans for the 2019 roster.

To be sure, the Steelers are good enough to win games without those players. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s due an extension this offseason, gives Pittsburgh a chance in every game.

With a little creativity, they can be right back in contention.

They have $27.72 million in salary-cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. They can create more with roster cuts and restructuring the final year on Roethlisberger’s deal.

”We have a lot to things to evaluate,” Rooney said. “Having a little extra cap space always helps, that’s for sure.”

Rooney said the Steelers feel good about their running-back lineup with “two good, young players” in James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. The Steelers haven’t made a firm decision on whether to place the franchise tag on Bell for a third consecutive year, but Conner made a Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter and Samuels is a natural pass-catcher. They can roll with those two players if Bell’s situation has become too explosive.

”We feel like we’re in pretty good shape there,” Rooney said. “The linebacker position is still something we need to address. It’s a challenge, no doubt about it.”

(For more, click the link in the headline above…)

Uncertainty remains after Art Rooney II addresses Steelers offseason plans

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In the wake of a nightmare collapse for his team, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II held his annual meeting with Pittsburgh-area beat writers.

Joe Rutter was our representative for Trib. He joined me for our podcast.

Rooney said one thing in particular that I couldn’t believe. I shared my thoughts on that with Joe.

We also tackled Rooney’s view of an extension for head coach Mike Tomlin.

LISTEN: Recapping Art Rooney’s meeting with Steelers reporters

The owner also discusses the future — or lack thereof — for Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh and the state of the coaching staff.

Le’Veon Bell’s status is still uncertain. And the team has no idea what it is going to do about Ryan Shazier.

Aside from that, it sounds like everything is under control.

Analyzing the cap implications of the Steelers potentially signing Ryan Shazier

Ryan Shazier will technically become a free agent this offseason, but the team can keep him on board without breaking the bank.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to pick up Ryan Shazier’s 5th year option, they thought they were locking up one of the most talented inside linebackers in the game before he would be eligible to hit free agency. What they didn’t know was that 5th year option would be viewed as a Godsend for Shazier after he was left motionless from the waist down at Paul Brown Stadium in December of 2017.

Shazier got his money, as 5th year options are guaranteed in the case of injury, and the Steelers even gave it to him in one lump sum. This gave Shazier, and his family, his yearly salary up front, to possibly help pay for any additional services necessary for his rehabilitation, but also could have helped the Steelers from a salary cap standpoint moving into 2019.

It was no shock when Art Rooney II took to multiple platforms Wednesday to talk about how the Steelers will try to work out a deal with Shazier, who becomes a free agent this offseason, so he can remain with the organization and continue his rehabilitation.

But at what cost to the team’s salary cap? I know, it sounds horrible, but the Steelers are a business and every dollar needs to be accounted for when it comes to the salary cap. According to Ian Whetstone, who contributes to SteelCityInsider and is a genius when it comes to the NFL Salary Cap, his best assumption is the team won’t owe Shazier that much to keep him in the fold.

What about the team deferring all Shazier’s money to him early last season? Did that have any significance? According to Whetstone it did.

The good news here is if these numbers are accurate, it would be very reasonable for the Steelers to give Shazier a one year contract, paying him the league minimum, and allowing him to continue to train and rehab his injury.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the rigors of the 2019 offseason.

T.J. Watt is headed to the Pro Bowl in place of Jadeveon Clowney

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have another player participating in the annual All-Star game next weekend.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a very talented roster, and for the second straight year they will be sending a handful of players to participate in the Pro Bowl. This year, they have had two players added to the roster as injury replacements.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is ironically replacing Antonio Brown after Brown claimed an injury would keep him out of the game. And now outside linebacker T.J. Watt is headed to Orlando in place of Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans took himself out of the All-Star game due to injury purposes.

It isn’t as if Watt didn’t have the numbers to get himself to the Pro Bowl anyway. He had a career year in both sacks (13), tackles (68) and forced fumbles (6).

This isn’t the first honor Watt has received this season, as he was also named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Weeks 1 and 5 of the 2018 season.

Watt will join Cameron Heyward, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Alejandro Villanueva as the Steelers’ representatives during the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

Getting the low down from Art Rooney II’s year-end Steelers interview

Antinio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Ryan Shazier, and playing in Mexico were all points of discussion.

Art Rooney II made his end-of-the-year press interviews on Wednesday, first with a small group of reporters and then on the Steelers Live show on Steelers.com. Thanks to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Steeler fans were given some insight as to the private interview. Some of the topics discussed in either instance were the following:

On evaluating the 2018 season, especially not making the playoffs:

“It was a tough way to end the season. It felt like we had a chance, and it really came down to just a few plays here and there in the season, literally at the end there. So it’s disappointing that we didn’t make it. It felt like we had a team, particularly the last three weeks of the season, playing well and playing some of the playoff teams and playing well against them. So it’s disappointing.”

“I think the two things that if I had to pick out a couple things that were a problem. One was a kicking game was below average and below where we expected in to be. And second is the minus turnover ratio. That’s always a problem. We can’t be on the wrong side of that.”

On how he would evaluate the players and the coaches:

“I think that when you don’t make the playoffs, nobody is absolved. You just have to say that the players coaches, staff, front office, everybody’s got to do a better job.”

“I think we have a core group of players that can get us back to where we want to be. I look forward to working on this off-season and trying to get the pieces back in place.”

On Mike Tomlin’s performance:

“I think everybody left room for improvement. When you don’t make the playoffs you look at everything and everyone. Coach (Tomlin) and I have talked about a number of different things. And Kevin (Colbert) the same way. So we have work to do.”

On the promotion of Shawn Sarrett:

“Shawn was probably going to get an opportunity eventually somewhere, and so we’re glad it’s here. He’s been mentoring with Munch for a number of years now. So he’s comfortable in the room and he knows the guys and the guys know him. So we think he’ll be able to step up and do the job.”

On an extension for Ben Roethlisberger:

“Ben had a strong year physically and mentally. I think he’s in a good place and, as you look around the league and see guys playing into their 40’s at the quarterback position, there’s no reason to think that Ben can’t be one of those guys.”

On the Antonio Brown situation:

“I would have liked to have been able to talk with him and understand a little better from his perspective what went on the last week of the season.”

On Ryan Shazier in 2019:

“We’re going to continue to work with him and figure out how that works.”

“He just continues to be an impressive young man who is making progress beyond what anyone predicted he would make. He was jogging in the workout room the other day, so I wouldn’t underestimate him.”

On Le’Veon Bell:

“We’ve got a decision to make, so we’ll probably have some discussions with his representative here in the next few weeks and kind of talk through that.”

On playing in Mexico:

“All I can tell you is we keep volunteering to make the trip and would love to go down there sometime. We have a great fan following down there in Mexico.”

On various other topics only answered in the private interview:

Hope is the last thing to die when you’re a Steelers fan

Even as the Steelers last realistic chance at a postseason berth was snuffed out in Baltimore, I still held out hope for a tie in Tennessee.

In fairness, hope is the last thing to die for a fan of any team, but since this is a Steelers site, I had to customize my title for clicks, baby!

Now that that’s out of the way, I thought it was fitting that the Steelers last bit of playoff hope was tied to, well, a tie between the Colts and Titans on Sunday Night Football in the final game of the regular season. It was fitting because a tie is how Pittsburgh began the 2018 campaign. It was a 21-21 come-from-ahead tie with the Browns in Cleveland on September 9, and I’ll be damned if that Week 1 mistake by the lake didn’t come home to roost on December 30.

There were the Steelers and their fans standing around at Heinz Field following an ugly 16-13 victory over the vacation-bound Bengals, hoping and praying for Cleveland to knock off the Ravens in-order to make the AFC North title, something that seemed like an inevitability just six weeks earlier, the ultimate fantasy brought to life.

This was Pittsburgh’s last realistic chance at the postseason, and after Baker Mayfield and Co. failed to come through in the final seconds at M&T Bank Stadium, everyone who either loved the Steelers and/or worked for them, walked away dejected, the stark reality of another year without a seventh Super Bowl parade at the end of the rainbow quickly sinking in.

But I’ll just bet there were at least a few folks (perhaps more than just a few), some Steelers employees, many more just plain old Steelers fan, who hadn’t quite given up on that one last possibility.

I’m talking about a tie between Indianapolis and Tennessee, a result that, thanks to, well, tiebreakers, would have allowed the Steelers to sneak into the dance as the AFC’s sixth seed.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly hadn’t quite given up hope. Even as I co-hosted my final regular season edition of the Hangover with Bryan Anthony Davis, I was keeping tabs on the score of the game. Even though I was sick as a dog and really couldn’t wait to go to bed after the show was over, I was keeping tabs on the score in Tennessee.

But how crazy was that to even think a tie was even possible? Yeah, sure, ties are more possible now than they’ve been since overtime became a reality in the mid-70’s (thank you, 10-minute overtime periods), but in a do-or-die situation, where the winner cashes in the final postseason ticket, how would either team even allow it to come down to that?

If I’m either team in that situation, and I know there’s only one avenue to the Promised Land, what do I care about taking risks? True, I don’t want to lose, but I also don’t want to walk away without winning. If the game is tied in the final seconds, I’m pulling out all the stops. Even if it leads to a loss, oh well, a tie wasn’t going to get me anywhere but home on my couch, anyway.

OK, now that I’ve cleared up just how unrealistic a tie truly was, I want to take you back to the morning of December 31, 2018. Was I thinking about some rockin’ New Year’s Eve party I would attend later that evening? Was I making a list of all of my New Year’s resolutions I would drop by January 15?

Neither.

I was thinking about the Colts and Titans game, and about how there was no way the Steelers could miss the postseason, especially with 2018 being the 10-year anniversary of the team’s Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Cardinals in Tampa Bay.

Did the game end in a tie? Did the miracle happen?

When I checked my phone to see a final score of 33-17 (it didn’t matter who won or lost), I was even more dejected than when Mayfield’s fourth-down pass was intercepted by C.J. Mosley.

I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I held out hope for a tie. I can’t believe I was sad when I found it it wasn’t a tie.

That’s me, I’m a Steelers fan…a Steelers fan all the way to the bitter end.

Steelers sign safety Marcelis Branch to a reserve/future contract

The Steelers added another player to the roster on Wednesday with the signing of defensive back Marcelis Branch.

The Pittsburgh Steelers added yet another new name to the 2019 roster on Wednesday with the signing of safety Marcelis Branch to a reserve/future contract, according to the NFL’s transaction database. They first brought him in to Pittsburgh for a tryout just over a week ago.

Originally signed by the Atlanta Falcons and as undrafted free agent in 2017, Branch was released at the end of training camp before being re-signed to their practice squad. After rejoining the Falcons on a reserve/future contract in 2018, he was once again released at the end of preseason, but was unable to find a place on a practice squad last year.

As per DraftScout.com, Branch finished his career at Robert Morris University with 251 tackles, seven interceptions and 21 pass break ups. Named North Eastern Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, Branch joined the team as a cornerback and moved to safety in his senior season.

Branch is the 16th player signed to a reserve/future contract by the Steelers so far this offseason.

Antonio Brown responds to criticism from Bruce Arians and Emmanuel Sanders via Twitter

With so many negative reports circulating about him in the media every day, it is a surprise that Antonio Brown was able to hold his tongue for so long.

It is starting to feel like Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown cannot get a day off from the media as of late, thanks in large part to a growing list of former team members more than willing to talk about him in the press. But given that none of theses names who have been adding their two cents over the past few weeks have spent any time in the Steelers locker room this season, it should comes as no surprise to learn that AB has had enough of their opinions.

In the light of the harsh criticism offered by former teammate Emmanuel Sanders over the weekend and the unflattering remarks from his former offensive coordinator on Tuesday, Brown took to Twitter on Wednesday to offer a response.

A comment that would not go unnoticed by Sanders.

Brown did not limit his responses to Sanders and Arians, picking out a number of random posts to answer, ones that gave him an opportunity to let everyone know he was paying close attention to all the negativity.

Until Brown finally delivers on his big interview, he will remain the villain for most fans, and even then it is unlikely he will change many minds. Sadly, after Art Rooney II had revealed earlier in the day that no one in the organization had yet heard from their troubled receiver, it would appear that time might be running out for AB to rebuild his relationship with senior management.

Coaches Corner: How the Steelers Offense Attacks Cover 1 defenses

In a new feature on BTSC, we break down how the Steelers’ attack specific defenses in the Randy Fichtner offense.

Welcome to BTSC Coaches Corner, where we will examine the schemes the Steelers used in various situations throughout the 2018 season. The idea here is to go inside the game by looking at situational football – 3rd down offense, short yardage defense, defending empty formations, etc. How did the Steelers scheme for these situations? What personnel did they use? Why these particular schemes? In doing this we will highlight the philosophy of the coaching staff and the strengths and weaknesses of our players in executing their philosophy. We will also look to the upcoming draft for candidates who may be good fits for some of these schemes.

Our opening article examines how the Steelers offense attacked Cover-1 defenses and how, given the uncertainty at our wide receiver position, we might cope with this coverage moving forward.

Coaches Corner No. 1: How the Steelers Attacked Cover-1

What is Cover-1?

To begin, let’s explain the cover-1 concept. Cover-1 denotes man coverage with a single free safety playing deep in the middle of the field. The man defenders can play one of two basic techniques: “loose” man, where they typically align 6-8 yards off of their receiver, backpedal at the snap and try to keep the play in front of them; and “press” man, where they crowd the line of scrimmage, jam the receiver as he releases, lock on to his inside hip and run with him. The safety generally aligns 15 yards off the ball and is free to help wherever is necessary. He will get depth at the snap and read the quarterback’s eyes to try to anticipate where he is going with the football.

Here are the Steelers in a cover-1 alignment versus a double tight end set from New England. You can see the corner at the bottom of the screen and the slot corner are both in a press technique while the corner to the top plays a loose alignment. The techniques these defenders use are designed to take away or force the offense into certain routes. More on that momentarily.

Cover-1 is reliant upon three things to be successful: athletic defensive backs with man-coverage skills, an aggressive pass rush and a rangy free safety who can get to the football. A deficiency in any of these areas makes Cover-1 risky and susceptible to big plays. However, if teams have the pieces to play Cover-1, they can put tremendous pressure on offenses to execute at a high level. When teams can play man coverage, they can bring creative blitz packages, force offenses to simplify and create turnovers. It is a high risk, high reward defense.

When do teams use Cover-1?

Cover-1 can be played in any situation but teams tend to favor it when they want to blitz and bring pressure or in the red zone, where the amount of field a defender has to cover is reduced. Teams also use Cover-1 when they feel their defensive backs are better or more physical than the opposing team’s receivers. If a defense can jam an opposition’s receivers at the line and run with them, they will eliminate the windows a zone defense provides and force precise throws from a quarterback under duress.

Teams will try to mask cover-1 by rotating to it out of a pre-snap zone alignment so offenses can’t identify it and check to their cover-1 beaters. Offenses will see if a defense is masking its coverage by using motion, like the Patriots are doing in the photo above. They are flipping Gronk from one side of the formation to the other and the Steelers are flipping a defender with him. This suggests a man scheme. Identifying coverage is the first step in attacking it.

How did the Steelers attack Cover-1 in 2018?

There are a variety of ways to attack this coverage. The Steelers tended to utilize the following concepts:

  • Picks and rubs to free targeted receivers
  • Crossing routes that make DBs run laterally
  • 1/1 balls versus favorable match-ups
  • Screens where blockers can isolate man defenders

Here is a breakdown of how the Steelers utilized some of these schemes.

1. Pick concepts

Every team on the planet uses pick concepts, whereby one or more receivers run “routes” that impede the path of a defender to the man or area he is covering. Few teams run these concepts as often or as creatively as the Steelers, however. The Steelers pick for wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, out of bunch sets, off of RPOs, etc. They will pick to get the ball quickly into the hands of their playmakers in just about any situation. Most commonly, though, they pick to free their targets from man coverage.

Here is an example of a great pick concept used on a crucial play of the game-winning drive in Jacksonville. It is 3rd and 10 from the Jags 27 yard line with under one minute remaining and the Steelers trailing, 16-13. The Steelers are in a trips look with TE Vance McDonald off the ball as an H-back, Antonio Brown in the slot and Juju Smith-Schuster out wide. Ryan Switzer is the single receiver to the boundary. James Conner is in the backfield to the left of Ben Roethlisberger.

The Jags are playing cover-1 out of nickel personnel. The corner on Switzer is in press coverage while the corner on Juju is playing a loose technique. Jalen Ramsey is rolled up on Antonio Brown in the slot.

It is interesting to consider why the Jags are in press against Switzer and AB but are loose versus Juju. They are likely pressing Switzer because they feel confident he will not be able to get off the jam and create separation versus their corner. They are likely pressing AB because they do not want to allow him any space off the ball and because they have one of the best press corners in the game in Ramsey. And they are likely loose on Juju because the Steelers have already won twice on fade balls up the sideline to Juju and the Jags are intent on not letting it happen again. Thus, we can see how a defense will mix and match their man techniques based upon what they intend to accomplish.

Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner anticipates man coverage here and dials up a beautiful pick concept. He runs a version of the traditional Divide route, which is a cover-2 beater that separates the safeties with deep corner concepts while sending a third receiver up the middle of the field. This is not cover-2, however, so Fichtner tweaks the route to adjust for a man scheme. The adjustment is shown below:

Roethlisberger will have two primary options on this play. First, with the soft coverage to the field, he can throw the hitch to Juju if he likes the cushion. Second, he can look for AB up the mid-seam. AB will be open if Vance McDonald can spring him with a cleverly set pick. McDonald has to fight through the jam of the strong safety to create enough space for AB and he then must delay his route just enough to let AB slip underneath him without blatantly impeding Ramsey. Finally, he must run hard to the corner to help pull the free safety out of the middle of the field. McDonald is not a receiving option on this play but his role is integral to its success.

The Steelers execute this play beautifully. Roethlisberger takes the snap and looks to Juju as his first option. He hangs with Juju for a moment but doesn’t seem to trust the cushion so he pulls off, hitches up and looks to AB. AB has slipped under McDonald’s pick and has just enough space up the middle of the field for Roethlisberger to deliver a perfect strike over Ramsey’s shoulder. AB is tackled inside the 5, setting up first and goal. The Steelers will win the game a few plays later on a touchdown run from Big Ben.

There are several keys to this play’s success. First, Ben hangs with Juju just long enough to draw the safety out of the middle of the field and away from AB. Next, the offensive line handles Jacksonville’s five-man pressure with ease. The pocket for Roethlisberger is clean, which allows him to come off of Juju, reset himself and find AB. But the real key here is that McDonald does a great job subtly setting his pick. Ramsey tries to fight through but he gets caught up. This frees AB and gives him a clear path up the seam. The throw from Roethlisberger is perfect but without McDonald’s crafty pick there would be no room for Ben to drop it in.

This play is well-executed all around. Its success begins with the design, though. This is a great job by Randy Fichtner of using a pick concept to free our receiver from one of the best man-defenders in the league.

2. Fade routes

We said earlier that a defense will try to dictate the routes an offense can run with the technique their man defenders play. Loose technique, for example, guards against the fade route while being vulnerable to slants and hitches. Press technique is the opposite. It takes away the short passing game and invites offenses to attempt low percentage deep throws.

If an offensive coordinator likes the match-up of his receiver against a press defender, he will not hesitate to take those deep shots. This is especially true when press is used against the vaunted “big” receivers so many at BTSC pine for. That thinking is logical. How hard is it to take a 6’4 dude who can jump through the roof like Martavis Bryant and just lob it up to him and have him go get it? Harder than many think. An NFL defensive back employed in press coverage gets paid an awful lot of money to excel at defending the jump ball. It’s amazing how a DB who uses good technique, proper positioning and well-trained ball skills can nullify the athletic advantage of many wide receivers in these situations.

Fortunately, the Steelers have one of the best young deep ball receivers in the game in Juju Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster is not a speedster, nor is he particularly large at 6’1. But he excels in using his strength to create separation from man defenders and he is tremendous at tracking the football in the air. Thus, Juju has become a great target on fade routes versus Cover-1.

As mentioned above, the likely reason the Jags were playing Juju in an off technique on that crucial pick play to AB was because Smith-Schuster had beaten them twice on fade routes earlier in the game. The first time was on a Steelers’ touchdown drive earlier in the 4th quarter. Juju was aligned as the single receiver away from a trips formation and he drew press coverage from Ramsey. With Ramsey pressing Juju into the boundary, quick inside routes like slant would be impossible to throw. The only route Juju could hope to execute, then, was fade. Juju knew this. Big Ben knew this. And Jalen Ramsey absolutely knew this. Fade, then, was a low percentage throw.

When you have a young stud receiver and a Hall of Fame quarterback, low percentage throws be damned. The execution here is amazing. It begins with Juju stutter-stepping to slow Ramsey from jamming him and then taking a strong outside release. Ramsey gets in great position but Juju has enough separation to keep Ramsey from getting his hands on him. That is huge, as it allows Juju to go up and get the perfectly-placed back shoulder dart from Roethlisberger. Honestly, what could Ramsey have done here to defend this throw? This is great coverage but even better execution by the offense. Fade might be a low percentage throw but you can see here why it is built into our passing package when we get press cover-1.

3. Running Back Screens

Todd Haley’s love of the quick receiver screen has rendered it about as popular as influenza in these parts. Fichtner doesn’t use nearly as many receiver screens as Haley did. He does, however, use screens to running backs as a way to combat man coverage. Here’s how:

The running back screen works against Cover-1 because linemen can identify the defender covering the back (usually a linebacker) and get a body on him while wide receivers run off their man defenders. This often creates space in the middle of the field for the back to run after the catch.

Here is an example of a slip screen to Jaylen Samuels versus the Raiders. Oakland is in 4-2-5 personnel with their corners in press and a nickel defender rolled up in the slot. They are actually playing a man-under two-deep concept but the underneath coverage is similar to Cover-1. The right inside linebacker will cover Vance McDonald while the left backer has Samuels. The Steelers will run their receivers off to take the corners out of the picture while McDonald will block his man defender. The offensive line will pass set and then release on the play-side. Right tackle Matt Feiler climbs to the backer assigned to Samuels and does a great job of riding him towards the sideline. Samuels, who is patient in selling the screen, tucks inside Feiler’s block and uses David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey as escorts into the secondary. The play tallies 23 yards.

Any time you can get a running back the ball with this much space, good things will happen. The Steelers found a variety of ways to screen and pick for their backs against man coverage. They ran their backs on wheel routes with crossing receivers rubbing off linebackers. They motioned them out of the backfield and threw them bubble screens. They ran traditional screens like the one above. The result was their running backs had 82 more receiving yards in 2018 than the previous season. Not bad, considering they lost one of the league’s best receiving backs in Le’Veon Bell.

Looking Ahead:

As long as Ben Roethlisberger continues to make some of the throws featured here, the Steelers will be in decent shape against teams who play them in Cover-1. Though Jacksonville, who played more Cover-1 than any opponent we faced in 2018, has frustrated him the past couple of seasons, Roethlisberger’s mix of experience, savvy and big-play ability makes him well-suited for the pressure Cover-1 teams attempt to apply.

The trickier evaluation when it comes to combating this coverage in the future is at the wide receiver position. I’m sure the thought of life without Antonio Brown makes many people nervous. Me too. You don’t remove one of the best players in the league from your offense without having to adjust. No AB would likely mean defenses would feel emboldened to play more man coverage, with a greater focus on stopping Juju. This would put pressure on the other receivers in our rotation to produce. Unfortunately, banking on the likes of James Washington, Justin Hunter, Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer to suddenly become reliable man-beaters is a dangerous proposition. Additions will have to be made if AB is no longer around.

If the Steelers were to look to the draft to fill (in part) AB’s shoes, what type of a player might they desire? If you watched the national championship game between Clemson and Alabama you saw two ideal cover-1 receivers in Justyn Ross and Jerry Jeudy, each of whom has good size and speed, is physical and can separate. One problem, however: neither is draft eligible.

What of the eligible receivers, then? This is where I step away and cede the floor to the audience. I spend most of my football-watching time studying schemes, not players. There are many people on this board better versed than me to make suggestions about which wide receivers we could target who could help us here. Drop The Hammer wrote a typically stellar piece the other day on wide receiver prospects in the upcoming draft. We are not evaluating receivers based solely on their ability to beat man coverage, of course. But with deep ball threats like Juju and Washington and zone-beaters like Rogers and Switzer already in the mix, a receiver who is both physical enough to get off press coverage and can also create separation with his speed would be ideal should AB wind up elsewhere.

So have at it, please. Who do you like? Who can alleviate the pressure we can anticipate when teams dare us to beat Cover-1 without AB in the lineup?

Thanks for reading. As always, Go Steelers!

Steelers are expected to name Eddie Faulkner of N.C. State as their new RB coach

The Steelers next running back coach will be Jaylen Samuels’ former position coach at college according to multiple reports.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers were scouting Jaylen Samuels in 2018, it would appear that he was not the only one who impressed them at N.C.State. In need of a new running backs coach this offseason, it looks like Pittsburgh will be returning to North Carolina to fill their vacant role.

Eddie Faulkner has been a part of the Wolfpack for six seasons and he is officially listed as N.C. State’s tight ends coach, fullbacks coach, special team coordinator and recruitment coordinator on the team’s website. Once a running back himself at the University of Wisconsin, Faulkner has spent 17 years in coaching with Anderson University, Ball State, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin before joining N.C. State in 2013.

Having recruited Samuels to college and then coached him for four seasons, Faulkner will obviously have intimate knowledge of his former charge and that is likely to help him with his transition into the NFL. The opportunity to reunite with a player he spoke so highly of in college must have made the job in Pittsburgh especially attractive to him too.

“As a coach we can sit here and say, “We want Jaylen to do this.” For some players it would be unheard of because he can’t remember that or do that. All you have to do is come up with a plan and he’ll learn it.”

Samuels was not the only former player Faulkner saw drafted in 2018 given he also had a hand in the development of Nyheim Hines. Selected in fourth-round by the Indianapolis Colts, Hines had an impressive rookie season as a dual threat in the backfield, recording 314-yards rushing as well as 63 receptions for 425-yards.

Faulkner will fill the role made available when the Steelers opted not to renew the contract of James Saxon who was signed by the Arizona Cardinals as their new running backs coach on Monday.