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Game tape breakdown reveals ups, downs of big win Monday night

Jon Ledyard breaks down the game tape and addresses the X's and O's of the Steelers' win over the Redskins.

After an examination of All-22 tape from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 38-16 victory over the Washington Redskins on Monday night, here are a few observations:

• I’m a big believer that there are very bright days ahead for Sean Davis, but Monday night wasn’t one of them. Davis missed several tackles on the night, and could have been exploited on a few coverage errors as well. On one Cover-3 look, Davis carried William Gay’s assignment to the deep third, leaving a receiver wide open in the flat where he should have been stationed. Earlier in the game Davis made a similar mistake, allowing Jordan Reed to pick up a first down on Washington’s initial drive. The rookie was understandably worried about getting beat deep if the Redskins’ attacked with multiple vertical routes, but he needs to pay more attention to his coverage responsibility than freelancing to stop potential outcomes at this point in his career.

• The Steelers defense opted for a rather passive approach during Monday night’s game, which could have burnt them badly if not for a few Kirk Cousins misfires early on. Pittsburgh rushed five defenders just twice during the entire game, opting for 3-4 man rushes on every other passing down. The game plan was clearly to force Cousins underneath and tackle the catch well, but if the Redskins hadn’t self-imploded with five false starts and a couple of holding penalties that put them in long down-and-distances, the strategy might not have worked as well. Knowing Cousins doesn’t fully trust his arm to make tight-window throws down the field, I liked the Steelers game plan, but there were times when it was imperative to send more pressure, yet they remained in soft coverage. That will need to change this Sunday against Cincinnati, which will be much more aggressive down the field if given time to throw.

DeAngelo Williams, Le’Veon Bell and an exceptional offensive line make the Steelers a tough team to stop on the ground, and Todd Haley’s schematic versatility in the run game really puts a massive burden of preparation on a defense. Pittsburgh showed its trademark counter-trey runs with mixes of inside and outside zone, but they were deadly running split zone, with David Johnson coming across the formation to kick out Ryan Kerrigan, the backside edge defender. Dart schemes, with Marcus Gilbert pulling across the formation, and pin-and-pull actions, were even put into practice, as the Steelers looked to get Maurkice Pouncey in space, something they rarely did with Cody Wallace last year. That’s an awful lot for a defense to prepare for, especially when you consider the talented backs that are carrying the ball.

• The Steelers gave up only one sack of Ben Roethlisberger, and I thought the protection was exceptional all night. Even on the strip-sack of Roethlisberger by Kerrigan, Alejandro Villanueva pinched down on the edge rusher’s inside rip move, creating an easy escape from the pocket for Roethlisberger. The Steelers quarterback probably should have maneuvered outside and gotten rid of the ball in that situation, but technically Villanueva did his job well despite the play’s result. I thought it was a really encouraging night for the young offensive tackle, especially considering the fine competition he faced in the form of Kerrigan and Preston Smith.

• The Redskins' biggest play of the night was a 33-yard completion to DeSean Jackson on a post pattern in front of Mike Mitchell during the first half. Mitchell had single-high coverage on the play, and nearly jarred the ball loose with a big hit, but he has to get out of his pedal earlier to make a play on the football. As soon as Jackson’s route stems inside, Mitchell should be breaking on the football. No double move is coming that late in a route. Read the receiver/route, trust your eyes and attack the football.
• There has been a lot of talk about the Steelers' 4th-and-1 play that resulted in a touchdown to Antonio Brown. I don’t mind going for it given the Steelers' talent on offense, but the pre-determined decision to go deep regardless of the coverage is a poor one in my opinion. Yes, it worked in this situation because Brown is a special player, but Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates were both wide open underneath and could have probably walked into the end zone. This was a pre-determined deep shot just to be aggressive, and while it worked on Monday night, the results won’t always be so fortuitous on such a low-percentage play.
• The Steelers went back to the same play on a 4th-and-1 later in the game, and although Washington was more prepared for it than they were before, Rogers’ exceptional release off the line of scrimmage against press coverage resulted in an easy first down. Redskins defensive back Dashaun Phillips tried to jam him up, but Rogers swatted his punch down with terrific hand usage, getting into his route cleanly and instantly gaining substantial separation. Monday night was a terrific debut for the young receiver, and Rogers should continue to factor heavily into the Steelers offense even when Markus Wheaton returns to the fold.

• I think Ryan Shazier needs to play more controlled and take better angles, but he is such an important part of this defense because of his aggressiveness, range and ability to match up against flex tight ends in coverage. His diving pass breakup of a would-be Reed touchdown early in the game was a huge reason why Pittsburgh was only down 6-0 after a slow start.
• The biggest concern for the Steelers defense has to be their inability to get to the passer with just four rushers. Pittsburgh finished Monday night with zero sacks and just two quarterback hits, albeit partially due to a lack of blitzes. At this point in their careers, you know Jarvis Jones, James Harrison and Arthur Moats aren’t guys who will win one-on-one matchups with regularity, which makes Pittsburgh heavily reliant on Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward for pressure right now. You’d love to see Anthony Chickillo start making some noise, but the edge rusher’s significant lack of bend around the edge makes him overly reliant on power and counter moves, which didn’t work well against the mountain of a man that is Redskins right tackle Morgan Moses. Cincinnati’s offensive line was rocked by the Jets’ pass-rushing creativity up front, something the Steelers should take note of when game-planning for Sunday.

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