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First-time starter B.J. Finney grabs top billing in analysis of Steelers

Jon Ledyard breaks down the tape of the Steelers' turnaround, command performance.

* Few Steelers were more impressive than left guard B.J. Finney on Sunday night, as the second-year offensive lineman boasted a dominant performance against one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. On one zone run, Finney was charged with a hard scoop of nose tackle Dontari Poe, which he pulled off with exceptional quickness and hand technique. Finney was excellent in space as well, hitting his marks decisively on pulls and often cutting defenders downfield. If Ramon Foster can’t go this week, Finney will have another brutal test against the Jets stacked defensive line, but his performance against the Chiefs suggests the Kansas State product is more than capable of filling in admirably.
* Much has been written about the wide variety of blitzes that Keith Butler finally brought back to the Steelers defensive attack, so I won’t belabor the point here. The pressure was absolutely essential in forcing quarterback Alex Smith into mistakes, including a hurried screen pass to get the ball out before a free blitzer arrived off the backside edge. Cam Heyward got a hand up to deflect the wobbly throw, tipping the ball to Jarvis Jones for a huge first quarter interception that set the Steelers up with a first-and-goal at the Chiefs 4. One play later, Antonio Brown’s touchdown catch from Ben Roethlisberger gave the Steelers a 15-0 lead they would never relinquish.
* On the Steelers' first scoring drive of the game, Todd Haley called for a reverse to Sammie Coates that resulted in the receiver being dropped for a one-yard loss. The play could have gone for a big gain, but Alejandro Villanueva overran his block on Frank Zombo, and the outside linebacker was able to string Coates out to the sideline until help arrived. If Villanueva makes his block, the next-closest defender is the deep safety 20 yards downfield. The Steelers have been a couple execution errors short of busting that reverse for substantial yardage over the season’s first few weeks, so expect the team to keep going back to it.

* I loved Haley’s screen pass call to begin the third quarter, but the design looked awfully familiar to a play the Philadelphia Eagles ran the week before. Fake the handoff to Le'Veon Bell, fake the end-around to Darrius Heyward-Bey coming behind Roethlisberger on a deep motion, conceal the ball for a second, then fire a quick screen to Bell while the defense is frozen and/or out of position. Finney did an excellent job hustling downfield to cut a Chiefs linebacker, resulting in a nice gain for Bell. But it was a really fun example of how the Steelers saw something Philadelphia did, liked it for their own offense, and implemented it the very next week.

* The Chiefs were kept off-balance by the Steelers passing game from 13 personnel packages, which resulted in a couple big plays for Pittsburgh. On Brown’s second touchdown from 38 yards out, The Chiefs loaded the box against the Steelers' run-heavy, three-tight end look, isolating Brown in 1v1 coverage with Steven Nelson, while Ron Parker loomed as the lone deep safety. The vertical shot to Brown was on regardless, but Xavier Grimble’s deep crossing route held the safety in the middle of the field, allowing Roethlisberger the opening to fit the deep ball to his star receiver without the threat of a safety over the top.

* Later in the game, the Steelers again ran a two-man route out of 13 personnel, with Grimble running a skinny post from an in-line position to the right of the formation, while Brown was isolated outside to the left on a curl route. This time the safety stayed deep anticipating another potential vertical shot, and Grimble obtained inside position on Marcus Peters just as Roethlisberger hit him in stride.

* Bell’s 44-yard run in the fourth quarter will be on a lot of highlight reels thanks to a deadly cut in space at the second level on safety Eric Berry, but that move never happens if the blocking on the first level isn’t superb. The Steelers ran a pin-and-pull scheme with Finney and Maurkice Pouncey pulling to the left to open things up for Bell. Finney stood up edge defender Tamba Hali with an excellent block, while Pouncey hustled downfield to pick up Parker. One of the key blocks came from Jesse James, as the tight end got inside Daniel Sorensen and drove the strong safety all the way outside the numbers. Just a brilliantly blocked play to help jump-start a stagnant Steelers run game despite the offensive line being down two starters.


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