A short time later, the Steelers have switched to their preferred one-safety-high, Cover 3 look in order to better stop the run. Out of this package they can show more pressure, though they seemed to prefer to drop the maximum into coverage and let Andy Dalton decipher the coverage.
This is a sound strategy, as Dalton often lacked the patience to let the play develop. Against zone coverage, even the Steelers’ route-recognition scheme, in which they wait to let the routes develop to indicate who their man is, in a hybrid zone and man coverage system.
Sometimes, however, getting the ball out quickly is a quality of Dalton’s that should be commended. On this play, the coverage of a handful of go-routes was solid from the beginning, and it was obvious that nobody was taking the top off the Steelers’ defense.
Gresham is lined up in the slot to Dalton’s left, and his defender blitzes while James Harrison bails to take Gresham. Gresham runs a great route, in which he breaks in, pushes Harrison towards the middle of the field, the breaks towards the sideline.
Unfortunately, as has all to often been the case, Gresham drops a ball that hits him squarely in the hands. A tight end is supposed to be a quarterback’s best friend but, as Jermichael Finley will tell you, frequent drops will send a safety valve to dangerous territory. Unfortunately, a target like Gresham had infinite value to Dalton and could be the second option if he could show more consistency.
As mentioned on Monday, here is a look at the sole deep shot to Green. The Bengals were limited from the beginning. Although this second half play was the first pass out of the I formation during the whole game, the Bengals were limited from the beginning.
Almost every big formation featured backup tackle Dennis Roland as a blocking tight end. Despite his deficiencies as a blocker, his biggest limitation as a regular tight end is his lack of a receiving threat. It even hurts in the running game, as we will see later. But, with the Steelers regularly dropping in a safe zone coverage, only releasing two receivers on this play action pass already has the Bengals fighting with one arm tied behind their back.
Gresham runs a dig route, occupying the underneath coverage. In fact, he draws three receivers.
With Green’s deep post, he finds himself crossing the deep safety’s face. This is a good match-up for Green, finally free from bracket coverage. But, with his third of the field unoccupied with Gresham running the crossing route, the Steelers’ left cornerback is free to drift over and disrupt the play.
As mentioned earlier, this play is an illustration of why it is detrimental to the running game to regularly run the big set with Roland as an extra tight end. This was effective earlier in the game, but the old saying about going to the well too many times holds true.
Despite the earlier play action pass, the Steelers have become confident in playing the run against this formation, and with good reason. The three circled defenders are the only ones who really need to be worried about the three circled threats.
Upon the handoff, the rest of the Steelers’ defense crashes hard against the run. The Steelers’ left cornerback flies in and makes the play, while the Bengals are occupied with the seven men in the box already fully committed to playing the run.
In this situation, Gruden’s comment about not putting players in a position to be outstanding rings true.