After re-watching much of the Pittsburgh/Cincinnati matchup a few things became clear to me. The Steelers were content with playing a lot of soft coverage. They lined their corners in a lot of off coverage and played a lot of zone concepts. It plays into what they like to do defensively anyway, but against Cincinnati, they were content with making Dalton and the Bengals march down the field in small chunks.
Andy Dalton played their game and finished the game 21-29 for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cincinnati led most the game until a screwy 4th quarter saw the Steelers reel off 25 straight points to steal the victory. Let's take a look at some of the tape from that game.
Off-coverage on AJ Green?
The Steelers were fine with allowing Green to gain 6-8 yards per reception. They would line up in off coverage hoping to protect against the deep ball while also knowing Dalton would settle for the short check down.
Green is at the bottom of the screen. His DB starts about 5 yards of the LOS and starts to backpedal. What's more is he is starting to show his ass to the sideline which indicates he will open up into trail position if Dalton's route extends beyond the 10-12 yard mark. He will protect the sideline while relying on Tory Polomalu to have his back if things go further. Green breaks off his route to a comeback at about the 8-yard mark and makes an easy catch and gets the first down with some YAC.
This is the same sort of concept except the Steelers are openly giving away that they are playing Cover 3 pre-snap. Look at the geometry between both corners and the safety as well as the stance of the corners. Ass to the sideline, waiting to play trail position if necessary. In the middle, Polamalu and the linebackers back into an umbrella zone just before the 1st down marker.
The throw is out quick and Green is able to make a nice catch before falling back for a few more yards.
Two cases of off coverage and we have two receptions for about 19 yards. Sure Green has not beaten them deep but the Bengals are moving the chains rather easy.
This time Ike Tayor squares up but he's still giving green a good 7 yards of cushion. This time Green breaks on an out and gains 9 more yards before being pushed out of bounds. If you're counting that's three receptions for 28 yards and 2 first downs....and that's only within the first couple of drives.
Pittsburgh has met it's goal, AJ has not burned them deep...yet they are allowing the Bengals to march down the field chunk by chunk.
And what's more, Cincinnati is just going to move Green around to find a soft spot in the defense, and we come to another tactic that the Broncos should rarely use against Andy Dalton: Zone coverage.
Green is in the slot. Presnap, Dalton knows at worst he has a LB/S bracket, and at best either a one on one against the LB or possibly against the SS. The LB "passes" Green to....a whole lot of open space. Here's why Green is such a dangerous player. He sees Polamalu lined up slightly to the outside. He knows from the start he can win the middle of the field once he blows past the linebacker. Polamalu sees it but is to old and slow to react. Green splits both safeties for a 58 yard gain.
You can put this into the ever-expanding "derps" of grandpa Dick LeBeau who you all remember was the one that allowed Tebow to average like 50 yards per throw in the playoffs a few years back. There is no rational explanation for ever playing coverage against Green this way. But it also highlights something else, Dalton is smart and will exploit mistakes. Dalton like any precision passer will kill zone coverage every day of the week.
Don't forget to cover the TE
This play stuck out to me for a few reasons. The first being how hard Pittsburgh's corners and linebakers bit on the playaction fake. We are going to have a few new faces out there due to the injuries to Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall. Graham feigns a block and heads to the corner of the endzone. As far as I can tell the corner who bit up on the fake should probably at least have zone responsibility here. He's not there and the safety is too far out of position to make a play on the ball.
If the Bengals reach the redzone, Gresham must be accounted for at all times. As long as the Broncos defense can stifle the run, they probably won't bite that hard on a fake.
This is one game where Jack Del Rio is going to want to check soft defensive calls at the door. The worst approach to take against this offense would be to sit back and let Dalton pick them apart.
On Monday night, Del Rio needs to dial up a lot of press-man. You want Dalton and this offense to work hard for every yard and you want to test the calibration of his accuracy.
If you're worried about AJ Green---which is completely warranted, then give some safety help over the top. Thinking more about this matchup I would like to see Aqib Talib on Green with Rahim Moore over the top. Chris Harris Jr. can take on their #2 and Roby can cover the slot. I wouldn't make the mistake of allowing Roby to cover Green if the Bengals move him around. That's what Talib is making the big bucks for and they do have history.
Tomorrow I'm going to highlight how Talib did against AJ Green when the Patirots played the Bengals last season.