Steelers – Bengals Round 1: Analyzing Run Defense, Comparing Burfict and Maualuga
By Shawn Maher
On this WR screen, Maualuga bits on a run fake so hard that he does not notice the right tackle releasing to block for the backside screen. This allows the blockers to outnumber the Bengals defenders.
On this screen pass, Maualuga bites hard on a run fake despite the right tackle releasing to block downfield. Not only would a back side tackle not release upfield on a running play, the tackle ran right past Carlos Dunlap and Maualuga without touching either player. This is just poor recognition by Maualuga.
Roethlisberger looks Burfict off Miller then hits Miller on the post route for a touchdown.
This again, is not to say that Burfict is ready to be anointed as the man in the middle. One of his problems is that he struggles in coverage, especially on the hook passes where a true outside linebacker would have better closing speed.
A rookie problem in his game is that the quarterback can use his eyes to manipulate Burfict to open up another receiver. On Miller’s touchdown reception, Roethlisberger watches Brown running a dig route to his left out of the slot.
Although Burfict should have had underneath coverage on the seam route that Miller ran, he drifts towards Brown despite Maualuga’s coverage. Chris Crocker has no chance of getting around Miller’s big frame to break up the pass.
Maualuga covers enough ground on his drop to force Roethlisberger to place the ball in a position where Crocker can make the interception.
Because credit is deserved where it is due, Maualuga was solid covering the seam in zone. On the Crocker interception, he was able to get depth and stay with Miller. This forced Roethlisberger to put the ball up high and Crocker was able to come down with it.
While Nelson blitzes from the safety position, Bufict (the linebacker at the top of the screen) keeps his depth and defends the crossing route despite the play fake. That forces Roethlisberger to hit Miller on the checkdown. Burfict immediately make sthe tack.e
This play action pass demonstrates why Burfict is more suited to patrolling the middle. He stays patient on a play action fake while Nelson blows past Miller on the blitz. He maintains his zone, keeping an eye on Miller.
When Nelson reaches Roethlisberger, Miller releases to give Roethlisberger a quick hot pass. As soon as Miller makes the catch, Burfict is there to stop him for no gain.
Michael Johnson recognizes the TE screen and drapes himself all over Miller.
And while I mean to focus mainly on Burfict, Maualuga, the safety position and the defensive line’s weaknesses, Michael Johnson is obviously having a great season. Outside of his sack that shook up Roethlisberger and caused Emmanuel Sanders to fake an injury so poorly that Al Czervik was disgusted, Johnson made a fantastic play on a quick hit to Miller.
On the play, the tackle released to block upfield, expecting Johnson to run after Roethlisberger. But Johnson saw Miller waiting and stayed on him like white on rice. As soon as Miller made the snag, Johnson dropped him.
The run defense had a few flaws against Pittsburgh that have plagued the team all season long. The first of those would be the interior defensive line, namely Domata Peko. Peko is a serviceable player when in a rotation, but he sees almost all the snaps in the game and wears down visibly by the end. He did leave the field on some third down plays, however, and Robert Geathers rushed from the nose tackle. This is a good move, expect on a 3rd-and-2 where Geathers was blown off the line and the Steelers converted which we will get to later.
Early in the game, Peko and Atkins occupy the defenders to allow Burfict and Maualuga clear lanes to the running back.
This is a typical shot early in the game. Peko and Geno Atkins are fresh and handle a duo of blockers each. This keeps Burfict and Maualuga clean and able to make plays against the run. Burfict struggles to get off blocks often, which is due to his lack of strength. He only benched press 225 lbs 16 times at his pro day. He makes up for it with instinct, angles and excellent technique, but keeping him clean in paramount.