Where Steelers Need to Improve

Cleveland Browns DT Malik McDowell
Cleveland Browns DT Malik McDowell
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 8 - The Steelers won a huge game against the divisional rival Browns this past Sunday. That makes three straight victories for Pittsburgh after having dropped the previous three games. It wasn't always pretty—any game where you can't kick extra points in the second half due to a kicker injury isn't going to be a masterpiece—but it has Pittsburgh back in the playoff race.

The defense was obviously the engine that drove the Steelers to victory, but the offense did just enough to hold up their end. I thought offensive coordinator Matt Canada's game plan was smart. The Steelers ran a bunch of RPOs to try to protect their offensive line against the Cleveland defensive ends. This allowed them to call a bunch of running plays without trying to ram their heads into bad boxes all game. They also did a nice job running multiple formations to force the Browns to align correctly against a variety of looks.

This is a very common gap-blocking play named Duo. They're running it to the short side of a tight end overload formation. But while the play is technically called to the weak side, it cuts back to the overload where Cleveland doesn't have enough guys to defend every gap. Once the Mike linebacker (Anthony Walker, 4) flows to the weak side with the initial action of the back, the Browns are left with 3.5 guys defending five gaps.

Pittsburgh's offensive line does a great job of washing down Cleveland's defensive front. Duo is designed to create double teams and push the down linemen. Both of the Browns' defensive tackles get knocked down at the line of scrimmage, making Najee Harris' cutback pretty clear. This is a good-looking football play.

Here the Steelers bust out counter blocking from the pistol and 11 personnel. Is Mike Tomlin sure that the MAC isn't on the schedule? Because this is very much a college play. Jadeveon Clowney (90) comes up field too far and doesn't close much space off the down block, so left guard Kevin Dotson's (69) kick-out block is easy. Tight end Pat Freiermuth's (88) block isn't devastating, but it's certainly effective.

Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and right guard Trai Turner really make the play go, though. Turner does a great job of feeling the defensive tackle (Andrew Billings, 99) playing into him and swallowing him completely up. Notice how Turner steps down square to cover the defensive tackle up. When the defensive tackle feels that he fights to get inside a bit, so Turner uses a heavy outside hand to move the tackle across his face and seal him off from the hole.

Okorafor sees that defensive tackle play inside and immediately climbs to the second level. That linebacker he's blocking (Andrew Billings, 99) has a lot of space to move around in. It's not an easy block, but Okorafor stays in control, tracks the linebacker, and locks on to him to make the block and spring the touchdown.

The Steelers weren't dominant on the ground—they only ran for 119 yards—but they did a good job of picking up consistent yards on the ground. They didn't spring any real long runs either. In fact, their two longest runs of the day were both to WRs.

The first was a nifty end around that went for around 20 yards, but the wide receiver held so it was called back to only a gain of 10 officially. Okorafor (76) at right tackle is the only Steelers lineman who really has to block anyone on this play, and he redirects Clowney away from the play more than he blocks him.

The second play was a reverse to Chase Claypool, which was the Steelers longest run of the game. Again, the way the play is designed, Okorafor is the only one involved at the point of attack for Pittsburgh's offensive line. Like I said earlier in the column, the Steelers did a good job of mixing up looks and schemes to keep the Browns defense just off balance enough to move the ball a little bit. I thought the game plan was solid, and it needed to be, because they were absolutely outmanned on the left edge.


These are just two examples, and there were probably six or eight more, of left tackle Dan Moore (65) getting his doors blown off by Myles Garrett (95). Any time the Steelers didn't get rid of the ball instantly, Garrett was a threat to blow up the play. The worst part is that I don't hate Moore's technique in that first sack—Garrett just gets such an insane getoff that Moore never has a chance.

Moore gains a lot of ground with his first kick-step, but Garrett is so quick out of his stance that Moore is already behind the play and has to try to run Garrett by the quarterback. But Garrett is too strong to run by and he's able to lean into Moore and sack Roethlisberger. The only advice I could give Moore is to get faster and stronger before the next time the Steelers play Garrett. Or start campaigning for a lot of chip blocks.

The second play is harder to see because of the angle. It looks like Moore may step underneath himself on his initial set, but again, when Garrett gets off the ball like that, there just isn't much you can do. Jadeveon Clowney is an explosive athlete with a great getoff, but compare his getoff to Garrett's on this play. Garrett blows him away. He is an impressive dude.

At the end of the day, the Steelers did enough different things schematically where the guy they couldn't block didn't get to tee off on their quarterback all day. The RPO game was huge—I didn't pick any specific plays because they were mostly quick outs and slants for 6-yard gains that aren't interesting to GIF, but they kept Pittsburgh in good down-and-distances. Those RPOs also allow you to run the ball when it's there, which is something the Steelers needed on Sunday.


2 comments, Last at 05 Nov 2021, 7:48pm

1 so the upshot is

the steelers need to do a better job slowing down the  Myles Garrett in order to improve. Absent presenting their QB's head as helmet target practice to precipitate a season-long suspension. Luckily for Moore, most teams don't have a Myles Garrett.

Nice article. The blocking on the Harris touch was a thing of beauty, but I was very surprised the Browns only had 7 in the box there. But I guess the Steelers had 3 guys out wide. Really pays to have legitimate options in the red zone!