In this study, I'm breaking down a play the Pittsburgh Steelers turn to early in games to keep opposing defenses out of the box as the game progresses. Can the Packers' defense stop or contain it? Let's draw it up.
Depicted below is the Steelers' most famous single-back formation. I like to call it the "Mike Wallace Special." Really, it's a one-running-back formation that will feature two tight ends and two wide receivers or three wide receivers and one tight end. In this particular breakdown, it's the latter of the two.
The quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) takes a seven-step drop (with or without play-action). The running back goes straight to the flat, hoping to draw a linebacker.
On the trips side, the inside man is the tight end, who usually stays in to help protect the quarterback's right side — more on that later. The wide receiver directly to the tight end's right in the slot position is running a deep drag across the middle, hoping to draw the strong safety up just enough. The flanker on the far right side will start to run a slight fade to keep the cornerback on his right shoulder. After about 20 yards, the flanker will break off the fade to a deep post, still keeping the cornerback on his back-side right shoulder.
On the left side of the formation is where split end Mike Wallace lines up and runs a straight fly, keeping the cornerback to his left shoulder. Wallace also is the hot read on this play, especially if the free safety is drawn to the slot receiver running the deeper drag.
If the protection is perfect and the safety hesitates slightly, Roethlisberger will turn to his left and drop a long, tight rainbow into Wallace's bread basket in the zone noted by the "X."
How do you defend it?
The Raji Drop
I'll admit there's a lot going on within this formation, but really, it's just another creative version of a zone blitz, which I expect defensive coordinator Dom Capers to employ a lot of against Big Ben and the Steelers' offense. Within this particular nickel look, though, are four key movements.
The first is the cornerback coming off the edge toward the quarterback. With the tight end focusing on protecting the right side, where left outside linebacker Clay Matthews is rushing from, the right cornerback should have a free run at the quarterback and a chance to disrupt the rhythm of the play.
The second key movement is the free safety immediately dropping to the right side of the field and taking away the deep pass to the split end's inside shoulder. This will force the quarterback to make a perfect sideline toss if he chooses to turn his hips and throw into the pressure of the blitzing cornerback.
The third is the nose tackle (BJ Raji) dropping to the middle of the field to take away throwing lanes to any receivers looking for openings on crossing routes. The nose tackle acts as the quarterback spy in case the signal-caller decides to take off running.
The final key movement is the nickel cornerback (Charles Woodson) dropping back and keeping left inside contain deep. This will allow the left cornerback to run stride for stride on the flanker's outside shoulder. It also enables the strong safety to roam freely on the right side of the field to help in deep coverage.
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Eric Huber is a contributing writer for OnMilwaukee.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org