Doster / USA TODAY Sports Images

A.B. ready to roar down the stretch

Jon Ledyard breaks down tape of the Steelers' win at Indy.

- The best route-runner in the NFL was at it again on Thursday, as Antonio Brown of the Steelers feasted on Vontae Davis and a Colts secondary that simply had no answer for him. His first touchdown came on a 3x1 look with Brown isolated to the boundary across from Davis, who maintained press position just off the ball. The Colts corner played Brown’s outside release beautifully, accelerating down the sideline with him until Ben Roethlisberger’s back shoulder pass caught Davis unaware. Brutal spot for the Colts top defensive back, as the chemistry between quarterback and receiver proved impossible to stop.

The second touchdown came on another 3x1 look, but this time Brown was the outside receiver to the trips side, with a reduced split just outside the hash. About 15 yards down the field, Brown stemmed outside quickly as if running a corner route, forcing Davis to flips his hips toward the sideline just for a second. That was all the separation Brown needed, as the receiver redirected on the go route and toasted Davis by several steps for the score.

The third touchdown was just Brown and Roethlisberger finding the hole between the sinking cornerback and the Cover 2 safety on a wheel route for the score. You knew big games were coming for Brown over the second half of the season, and I’d expect more of the same against the Giants this Sunday.

Javon Hargrave has exploded onto the scene with two sacks in as many games, showing the pass-rush ability and range that made him such an enticing prospect this spring. Hargrave’s hand usage, power, leverage and agility are all standing out consistently now, but I also love the versatility he’s shown being able to line up from 5 to 1 technique and still be successful. Lastly, Hargrave’s mental processing has been phenomenal throughout his rookie season, especially on Thursday night, as the rookie was consistently able to identify screens mid-rush and blow up the potentially explosive play.

- There are three reads for a running back on outside zone plays - bang it inside, bounce it outside, or bend it back (cutback) against the grain. Against the Steelers this season, Stephon Tuitt has consistently forced runners to bend it back because of his dominance at avoiding reach blocks and exploding through his gap to take away bang reads. Tuitt’s get-off, lateral agility and sheer power always keep his playside shoulder clean, a big reason why the Steelers run defense has been resurgent in recent weeks.

Ladarius Green is alive! The Steelers big free-agent signing came up clutch with two 30+ yard grabs of Roethlisberger rainbow shots, dusting a linebacker in man coverage each time. Opposing defenses are going to watch this tape of Green and realize they can’t cover him with a linebacker, forcing more dime personnel onto the field. That will open up the box for Le'Veon Bell and the running game, which has been on fire the past two weeks.

- The Steelers offensive line hasn’t faced the best competition the past two games, but they’ve paved the way for Bell to run for 120+ yards without allowing a sack in either outing. Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva have been especially stellar on the edges, as Roethlisberger has barely been touched each of the past two contests. It gets much tougher next week however, as the Giants high-priced defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon come to town.

Bud Dupree continues to settle into a bigger role coming back from injury, and I’d expect his snap count to be over 50 percent next week. He dropped into coverage a ton against Indianapolis, which was a huge buzzkill, but I was impressed with how decisive and precise his footwork and key-and-diagnose skills were. Not nearly as much uncertainty as he had as a rookie or even in college, which will be huge for Dupree’s development. Oh, and that first step off the edge is as explosive as ever, he just needs more opportunities to wind up and go. Against a Giants team that loves to air it out in the absence of a competent rushing attack, Dupree should get the green light often on Sunday.

- Getting victories against Scott Tolzien-led Indianapolis and the winless Browns was absolutely vital to the Steelers' playoff chances, but the team was unimpressive and sloppy for large portions of both games, and continue to commit penalties at a ridiculously frustrating rate. After 26 penalties in their first five games, the Steelers have 42 in their last five, 23 on the offensive side of the ball. That might be able to get it done against the little sisters of the poor, but the Giants are on a six-game winning streak and are currently the least penalized team in the NFL. Pittsburgh can talk all it wants about getting back on track, but beating a team like the Giants will go a long way toward establishing the Steelers as a contender again in the AFC.


Steel City Insider Top Stories