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From sloppy special teams to sublime fake screens

Jon Ledyard breaks down tape of the Steelers win over the Giants

There are plenty of positive things to say about the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-14 victory over the New York Giants, but the team’s recent trend of sloppy play continued in the penalty department. One hundred and five flags have been thrown on the Steelers this season, awful enough for the 9th-worst mark in the NFL. Eighty-six of those penalties have been accepted (12th), highlighted by a ridiculous 15 special-teams infractions.

After just 32 penalties over the first six games of the season, that number has risen to 54 over the past six games, including 11 of their 15 special-teams penalties. Those mistakes are killing the team in terms of field position and sustaining offensive drives, but the Steelers were lucky the Giants made their own share of mistakes in key moments on Sunday.

- Loved the Steelers' first playcall of the game out of 12 personnel, with both tight ends in two-point stances on each side of the formation. One receiver was to each side, wide splits outside the numbers, and Le’Veon Bell was in the backfield directly behind Ben Roethlisberger’s stance in the pistol. There wasn't an obvious strength for the defense to call their alignment to. When the defense shifted to Jesse James on the offensive left, Bell released to the right on a designed swing pass, with David Johnson sprinting out ahead of him as a lead blocker. Marcus Gilbert cut-blocked Jason Pierre-Paul, Johnson reached the linebacker in space and Cobi Hamilton ran the corner off and then stalk-blocked him on the sideline. Even Maurkice Pouncey released cleanly from his center spot to help Johnson double the linebacker at the second level. Eight easy yards on first down and the drive began without a hitch.

- Easily the area of the game that has improved the most for Sean Davis and Artie Burns is tackling in run support and against the short passing game. The two rookies tied for the team lead in tackles with seven apiece, and Davis was particularly active against the run, both from the box and from a deep safety position. Early in the game Davis threw off an Odell Beckham block to join Lawrence Timmons in stopping Rashad Jennings after just a two-yard gain. A few drives later, Davis flew up from his deep safety position 15 yards downfield to lay a big hit on Paul Perkins and hold the Giants rookie RB to no gain. It led to a Steelers safety on the next play. Davis continues to be an impactful player against the run, and his work in coverage has steadily improved each week. The Steelers have been looking for splash in the secondary, and Davis is starting to provide it.

- Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown received plenty of praise for their improvisational skill Sunday evening, as the Steelers star quarterback escaped the pocket to find his favorite receiver running across the back of the end zone for a 22-yard score in the second quarter. The unsung hero of the play was right guard David DeCastro, who alertly picked up a penetrating Jason Pierre-Paul when the defensive end clubbed his way past Gilbert. DeCastro ran Pierre-Paul up the arc, Roethlisberger stepped up and out and delivered a strike, and the result was an 11-0 Steelers lead they would not relinquish.

- James Harrison is a marvel. Giants former first-round left tackle Ereck Flowers was no match for the Steelers outside linebacker on Sunday, getting called for a hold in the end zone on Harrison and also giving up a number of pressures in key spots. Harrison added a sack when Eli Manning slid down in the pocket to avoid getting clobbered, boosting his team-leading total to five on the season.

- One of the key plays of the first half was Eli Rogers' 18-yard gain on 3rd-and-17 to put the Steelers in field goal range before halftime. The screen pass to Rogers involved DeCastro and Gilbert getting downfield into space, where both players made crucial, crushing blocks to spring Rogers. The offensive line as a whole is playing its best football of the season right now and they were crucial on screen plays and in wearing down the Giants' excellent run defense late in the game.

- The Steelers have desperately needed other threats to step up in the passing game besides Brown, and Ladarius Green was their huckleberry on Sunday. Green is more of a linear, downfield threat than he is a play-in-traffic, contested-catch tight end, but his role is an important one for the Steelers right now as Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey nurse injuries in the hope of returning to their field-stretcher roles. Green is averaging almost 19 yards a catch four games into his Steelers tenure and has five catches of 20 yards or more already. This is opening up things underneath for Brown, Rogers and Bell, whose contributions will likely be even more significant if Coates is able to return to pass-catching action anytime soon.

- One of the brilliant aspects of Todd Haley as a playcaller is his ability to use one play or design to set up another, as evidenced on Green’s third-quarter touchdown catch. The Steelers had used the slip screen earlier in the first half, most notably on Rogers’ aforementioned big gain, and knew the Giants would be looking for it again. Off the snap Roethlisberger pumped to the left flat, where Hamilton was bubbling around Rogers as if receiving a screen. Green was the inside slot on the play, and he released straight downfield as if blocking the safety, only to accelerate past the defender at the last second. Landon Collins bit on the play design and the pump fake, and the result was a walk-in touchdown for the wide-open Green.

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