Streicher / USA TODAY Sports Images

Tape breakdown of game in Philadelphia as ugly as expected

Jon Ledyard breaks down Steelers' grim performance, and looks at what to expect from injury replacements and return of Le'Veon Bell

* The Steelers defense looked completely unprepared for Philadelphia’s misdirection concepts, particularly the deep motion jet fakes the Eagles ran early and often. Some blame does fall on the coaching staff for a lack of preparation, but losing Ryan Shazier and Robert Golden early didn’t help, especially when Lawrence Timmons followed suit soon after. Doug Pederson and his staff also need to be commended for an excellent game plan, one that forced the Steelers defense to think rather than play fast and physical, which is their forte.

* Philadelphia’s offensive line is one of the more athletic groups in the NFL, and it showed in the way they were able to run outside zone against the Steelers' impressive front seven. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Cam Heyward get scooped so cleanly by a reach block, as Philly made it tough for the Steelers defensive linemen to get their hats playside all day.

* Artie Burns' tackling was atrocious. Antwon Blake-level bad. If Golden’s injury holds him out, as expected, Burns will likely start outside with Will Gay in the slot while Sean Davis (if healthy himself) kicks back to strong safety. Burns needs to be much, much better against Kansas City to hold onto that starting spot.

* Shazier was in and out of the lineup and clearly was not himself when he was on the field. Probably one of the worst games I’ve seen from him in his career. Philadelphia ran the exact same counter play on back-to-back plays preceding the back-breaking 27-3 touchdown, and Shazier was easily sealed inside on both reps. After losing Timmons early, backup linebackers Vince Williams and L.J. Fort did not play well as replacements, which led to much of the Eagles' success on the ground in the second half.

* There really isn’t a lot to say about the Steelers offense. Certainly being down 20-3 when they took the field for their first drive of the second half impacted the game plan and made them more one-dimensional, but countless missed opportunities in the first half set them up for failure down the stretch. Markus Wheaton’s three drops, including a would-be touchdown on the team’s opening drive of the game, coupled with a very atypically poor performance from Ben Roethlisberger, highlighted the unit’s struggles. The offensive line wore down in pass protection with the Eagles pass-rushers teeing off on them while defending a big lead, and Roethlisberger didn’t help them by hanging onto the ball longer than necessary.

* Schematically the Steelers' game plan seemed sound, but perhaps they abandoned the run too early. Pittsburgh’s ground game has often started slowly this season, but the team ran the ball just seven times in the first half, including DeAngelo Williams’ clock-draining carry to end the first half. Considering the deficit was, at worst, 13-3 during that time, I would have liked to have seen a little more opportunity for Williams, but Philadelphia’s defensive line made it tough to get excited about Pittsburgh’s chances of establishing the run game early on.

* Not often do you see David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert get beat up like they did this past Sunday, mostly thanks to the fine play of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. Cox is a really special player with the ability to hurt an offense in so many ways, but Graham doesn’t get enough love for the smart, physical force he’s become against the run and the pass. They made life miserable for one of the best guard-tackle combinations in football, as both DeCastro and Gilbert were charged with giving up a sack.

* With Eli Rogers hurt, expect to see Wheaton back in the slot a lot this week, while Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey rotate opposite Antonio Brown. Don’t be surprised if Le'Veon Bell’s return is punctuated by plenty of usage as a flexed receiver, perhaps even with Williams on the field. I think Todd Haley will look to feature Bell right out of the gate, and what the running back brings to this offense as a receiver, rusher and pass protector can’t be overstated. Bell is critical to this team’s chances of contending for a Super Bowl, and Haley won’t shy away from giving him a heavy workload, even after the running back’s lengthy hiatus due to injury and suspension.

* If he needs to start this week in place of Ramon Foster, B.J. Finney’s first real NFL action should give him confidence that he can play at this level. The left guard was solid in Foster’s stead on Sunday, showing the physicality and technique that allowed him to thrive at Kansas State. Based on the two-plus quarters I saw of the second-year guard, I’d take him over Chris Hubbard in a heartbeat.

* The Steelers will not be consistently successful on defense until Keith Butler returns to the blitz-heavy, aggressive, creative schemes that achieved so much success with a less-talented unit last season. Pittsburgh can deny their pass-rush problems all they want when they are winning, but now the bluff has been called, and the Steelers have no ace up their sleeve until Bud Dupree is ready to return. Without pass-rushers who can consistently win one-on-one battles, the Steelers are dead last in the NFL with just one sack, and that came on a no-gain scramble by Andy Dalton last week. Arthur Moats was in coverage and came up to tag the quarterback down at the line of scrimmage for crying out loud. For all intents and purposes, the Steelers have zero sacks this season, and that number is largely indicative of the amount of overall pressure they’ve created too. That has to change moving forward, or the Steelers will be suffering more losses like Sunday’s.


Steel City Insider Top Stories