Steelers Vertex: Difficult to cover running backs in passing play

The Steelers were good defensively, but the Bengals used their back effectively offensively.
The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season continues. The Steelers have lost less than 100 yards in total in their last two games, and they really turned around a historically bad part of their game last season. But there are several ways to use running backs, and on Sunday, the Tigers found a way to use rushers effectively in a passing game. What exactly caused the Steelers to be exploited in this way? This is the Steelers Vertex theme for this week.
Sometimes, in order to reach an important conclusion, it is necessary to combine two different analytical systems and complement each other in order to reach the correct conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film decomposition. We’ve brought together Dave Schofield (statistician) and Jeffrey Benedict (movie guru) to give an opinion based on two of our thoughts.
Since the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a solid two-game stretch. Losing just 29 yards to the New Orleans Saints, the Steelers held the Bengals in second place in scoring for the 2022 season. The Bengals ran for just 62 yards on 24 tries, averaging 2.6 yards per carry. Their lead rusher was Samaye Perin, who had 11 rush attempts for 30 yards and an average of 2.7 yards per carry. Joe Mixon rushed seven 20-yard rushes and averaged 2.9 yards per carry before leaving the game with an injury. Among other players, Joe Burrow gained 5 yards on 4 carries, which averaged 1.3 yards, and Treveon Williams gained 7 yards on 2 attempts, averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Because the Steelers’ defensive front does a good job of limiting players in running play, the Bengals have embraced the philosophy that their running backs receive the ball in space as part of the passing game. An attempt to bounce back will likely deal with defensive midfielders and the defensive line will be largely eliminated. The Bengals used runners for 7 catches, 7 targets in a passing game for 94 yards and 3 touchdowns. Joe Mixon had 3 catches for 42 yards for 24 yards and Samaya Perin had 4 catches for 52 yards for 29 yards and 3 touchdown receptions.
So what exactly did the Bengals do to use their runners so effectively in a passing game, and what can the Steelers do to stop it? It’s movie time.
The first goal of the running back “Bengals” appeared only towards the end of the first quarter. I should note that prior to this game, Joe Barrow not only didn’t target the running back, but he also didn’t target Tee Higgins, who was 3-3.
First, I want to draw your attention to the area where Robert Spillane is sitting in center field, and the Steelers have set both safety devices deep. While most of the defenders looked like they were in the cover zone, the Steelers had three who clearly weren’t. The four-man onslaught left four defenders with what appeared to be a guard and Joe Mixon was completely exposed.
Barrow found Mixon, which was a nice bonus. However, the Tigers noticed the Steelers’ attention and returned to their run later in the game.
Notice how Devin Bush moves with Tyler Boyd, focusing more on passing Boyd to the outside zone than covering Mixon. And not in vain. . . .
Look into Barrow’s eyes. He watched Boyd until he went to shoot, watched Mixon out of the corner of his eye until he fired. Barrow knew that the Steelers were focused on disabling his receivers and used it against them. Joe Burrow put in a great game to take advantage of the Steelers’ defensive focus.
Two games later, the Bengals went even further, declaring that the game was exclusive to Samaje Perine. All receivers ran to block the quarterback, Tyler Boyd pulled Robert Spillane through the play, and the right guard went out to look for Devin Busch, who was defending Palin. The left back went forward to complete the final block, and the Tigers took advantage of the Steelers’ concerns about wide receivers to lead by seven.
The Steelers adjusted, but the Bengals saw a triple pass to Tee Higgins in the ensuing hit, beating the Steelers’ defense without paying much attention to the first try. The Steelers, attacking in the center, had no choice but to switch to zone defense.
This game is the most important for me. The Steelers tried to match the Tigers offense twice in a very short time.
It’s just a little sloppy on a zone defense that rightfully fears Tee Higgins. Miles Jack made a tackle but still won by 7 yards.
The empty field allowed the Steelers to flank Miles Jack to cover for Palin without worrying about running. Jack is a solid but not the best covering linebacker, and the Bengals use a simple route formation that allows Palin to easily go 6 yards on the first down.
With the Tigers consistently moving the ball in their zone defense, the Steelers were back on the defensive. A well-executed route by Tyler Boyd thwarted Robert Spillane (#41), who ultimately missed the tackle. Spillane has bad losses, but look at other defenders. Many of them were watching the game or jogging, especially Arthur Mowlet (#35). Compare Mauleta to Minka Fitzpatrick, who has to move on to intervene but is actually running towards the ball.
The Bengals stopped throwing to their running backs from the middle of the second quarter until this game, which was much the same as the previous touchdown game above. The route blocked Miles Jack’s path and Samage Perin was able to send him into the end zone for the Bengals’ final touchdown of the game.
The Steelers’ initial approach to the Bengals defense was to focus on wide receivers and hope the pressure would get Burrow fast enough to prevent him from throwing the ball to an open runner. The Bengals’ offensive line was good enough to give Burrow time to find open players, and the rest of the game was just an attempt by the Steelers to make up for the staffing imbalance that the Bengals were constantly attacking.
It didn’t help that the Steelers corner couldn’t stop Ty Higgins. This help comes at the expense of being able to cover fleeing defenders. Joe Burrow has enough protection to keep finding and exploiting inconsistencies.
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Post time: Nov-24-2022
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