As the season progresses, the roster holes on the defensive side of the ball are becoming more apparent. The problems playing the run, screens and short pass plays have highlighted the unit’s struggles.
Half of the equation is regarding depth on the defensive line and the other half is subpar talent at linebacker, and strong safety. A breakout performance for Vontaze Burfict highlighted the Bengals’ linebacker of the future, but Marvin Lewis’ hesitation to move him to the middle already is due to his need for refinement in aspects of his game.
Another highly outstanding performance was Adam Jones in coverage. Leon Hall often bumped down to the slot to stay with Antonio Brown, who is a dangerous receiver and deserving of the attention. Jones, however, was not beaten in coverage once. When a pass was completed on him it was either due to an excellent throw or at the point when Jones was passing off his man in zone coverage.
With Jones playing at such a high level, it allows the team to not rush Dre Kirkpatrick onto the field and learn the pro game in practice instead of on the field in front of millions of eyes.
The two biggest advantages that Burfict holds over Rey Maualuga are his angles of pursuit, excellent tackling form and ability, and awareness in the running game. Although Maualuga might lay wood when he makes a hit, Burfict wraps up and does not miss often in the open field, which is far more important than teeth-rattling hits.
On this wide receiver screen, Burfict recognizes the linemen releasing. The Steelers often run a screen out of a bunch formation and when Ben Roethlisberger recognizes zone coverage in which the defensive backs are outnumbered at the line.
As soon Burfict diagnoses the play he shoots out to the flat, takes on Heath Miller’s block, sheds Miller then makes the tackle. He keeps his shoulders square, wraps up and drives through the tackle.
When Maualuga saw a wide receiver screen to his side, he struggled to recognize the play and make it to the flat quickly enough to help. In this play, his angle to try to tackle Mike Wallace takes him out of the play as much as his recognition.
When he sees the pass to Wallace, Maualuga takes off running to where Wallace is when he catches the ball. But Wallace is not going to sit around and wait for Maualuga when he has two blockers to take on the two defenders.
Maualuga ends up running behind Wallace in futility when, if he had aimed at the 33-yard line instead of the 40, then he would have run the play down before much damage was done.