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Tag:Marcus Gilbert
Posted on: January 6, 2012 9:32 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Steelers wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It hardly seems fair that a 12-win team has to go on the road to face an eight-win team, but the NFL’s playoff seeding system is designed to reward division champions. That includes the rare division champion that enters the postseason on a three-game losing streak.

Here’s a breakdown of what many expect to be a massacre.


1. Broncos offense has no prayer
We covered everything there is to know about the Broncos’ offense last week in preparation for their Week 17 bout with the Chiefs. Nothing has changed. It’s clear that press-man coverage can overwhelm Denver’s passing attack, as the receivers don’t have the quickness to separate and Tim Tebow doesn’t have the mechanics, timing or confidence to fit balls into tight windows.

It’s rare to see the zone-based Steelers play press-man coverage, though they did so with great success against the Patriots in Week 8. Usually, shutdown corner Ike Taylor (yes, SHUTDOWN corner) plays press coverage against the opposing team’s top wideout (in this case, Demaryius Thomas), while William Gay, Keenan Lewis and/or Bryant McFadden play a variation of zone on the other side.

If Dick LeBeau wants to bait Tebow into interceptions, the Steelers may still stick with their traditional approach:

This shot from Super Bowl XLV illustrates the Steelers’ traditional approach to coverage: Ike Taylor playing press-man against the opposing team’s top receiver (Greg Jennings) on one side, with the rest of the secondary playing zone on the other (you can tell it’s zone by how cornerback Bryant McFadden is lined up off the line and with his body open slightly towards the inside).

The Broncos don’t have a threatening tight end, so Tebow would be throwing into heavy zones against athletic corners. If LeBeau wants to pressure Tebow with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and bait him into the usual slew of incompletions, he can play man-to-man. Whatever LeBeau chooses will work; we’re talking about the league’s top-ranked pass defense against the league’s most inept passing quarterback.

Lately, Denver’s read-option run game has still produced yardage, though only because of the high volume of carries. If the Broncos couldn’t muster more than three points by running against Kansas City’s 3-4, they can’t be expected to muster ANY points running against Pittsburgh’s.

A key to Denver’s run game is getting offensive linemen clean to inside linebackers. No three-man defensive line does a better job at protecting its inside linebackers than Pittsburgh’s. That’s why Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior are able to play with their ears pinned back.

2. A roll of the dice
Because it feels a little too simplistic to declare the Broncos’ chances at moving the ball to be zero (even if they are), we’ll use this section to present creative ideas for how the Broncos might – MIGHT – manage to muster a semblance of offense on Sunday.

The first idea is to just throw deep and hope luck tilts your way (a cornerback falls down, a ref calls pass interference, two Steelers collide while going after the same easy interception, etc.). Don’t count on Denver doing this, though. It goes against everything John Fox has stood for since turning to Tebow, and it also requires that, you know, Tebow actually throw downfield accurately.

Another idea is to draw up trick plays. Lots of trick plays. Problem is, a defense as experienced and disciplined as Pittsburgh’s is not going to bite. You might make chance-taker Troy Polamalu pay for a gamble once or twice, but more likely he’ll make YOU pay even more for YOUR gamble.

A third (and stronger) idea is to run the ball outside. In the past, outside running was guaranteed to fail against the Steelers. This season, however, Timmons and Farrior have not been as sharp in lateral run defense. That’s why Pittsburgh has struggled a bit against zone teams. The Broncos no longer have a zone run game (it left shortly after Shanahan departed), but it might not be crazy to hastily install one given that their usual approach will not work anyway.

Denver’s lack of running back speed is an issue here, but again: their usual approach will not work anyway!

3. Pittsburgh’s passing attack
As lopsided as this matchup seems, the final score could be tight given that Pittsburgh’s offense might have trouble against John Fox’s and Dennis Allen’s defense. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers come out throwing in an effort to build a quick lead that forces the Broncos to go to the air early.
 
Against the Browns last week, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians chose to spread the field with 3 x 2 empty backfield sets on passing downs. This may have been to get the ball out quickly so that Ben Roethlisberger would not have to make plays on his bum ankle. Though Roethlisberger has gotten much better in his presnap reads and sudden decision making, his natural inclination is still to extend the play. Thus, Big Ben still held the ball plenty long last week.

He won’t be able to do that this week, though – not under the same gameplan, anyway. Offensive tackles Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert may have been be able to handle Browns defensive ends Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard on an island (Sheard just barely, actually), but they won’t have a snowball’s chance against Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

If Roethlisberger is to buy time for his receivers downfield, his offensive tackles will need running backs and tight ends to chip-block, if not stay in completely and double-team. Something else to keep in mind: Miller, D.J. Williams and Brian Dawkins all excel as inside blitzers. Blitz pickup is an area in which the Steelers interior line, particularly left guard Chris Kemoeatu, struggles.

Brown's emerged as one of Pittsburgh's best receiving options. (Getty Images)

4. The passing matchups
Even though protection could be a problem, it’s possible the Steelers will still spread the field and let Roethlisberger run around and make plays. We’ve seen them before give up piles of sacks this way but make up for it with big plays.

The Broncos have a good secondary now that undrafted rookie Chris Harris has blossomed at nickel corner, but they’re thin and inexperienced at safety and vulnerable with Jonathan Wilhite at dime corner.

If the Broncos decide to eliminate Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh’s new No. 1 receiver) with Champ Bailey, there will be big-play opportunities for Mike Wallace against the limited-ranged safeties. If Bailey defends Wallace, Andre Goodman can spar with Brown but probably not for as long as Roethlisberger can extend the play. Chris Harris will be tested by Emmanuel Sanders’ speed, and Wilhite will have fits trying to defend Jerricho Cotchery underneath.

As much as the Broncos might like their secondary, they can’t expect it to be the league’s first unit that sustains coverage against the Steelers’ prolonged improvisational plays. Thus, when the Broncos do blitz, don’t be surprised if they bring the kitchen sink to ensure that Roethlisberger goes down or throws hot.

5. Steelers run game
Rashard Mendenhall will be missed, but the Steelers can tread water with Isaac Redman. The third-year running back doesn’t have Mendenhall’s corner-turning speed and acceleration, but in confined areas he shows looser hips than you’d guess. Where Pittsburgh’s backfield woes will really show up is in the pass game. Mewelde Moore’s absence (foot injury) leaves them without a prominent openfield dumpoff receiver.

But this is a relatively minor issue. The primary job of the Steelers’ backfield is to pound the rock when called upon, which Redman and straight-line back John Clay are capable of doing. Also, Pittsburgh’s offensive line, especially with the superb pull-blocking skills of Kemoeatu, is capable of moving the pile down the stretch.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 11:01 am
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



The Patriots are known for their offense. The Steelers are known for their defense. But the other side of the ball is just as intriguing. Here are five keys to Pittsburgh’s offense against New England’s defense.


1. Understanding the REAL Steelers
It’s amazing: we still hear so-called experts refer to the Steelers as a black-and-blue, ground-and-pound offense. Usually a phrase like “getting back to their roots” or “playing true Steeler ball” accompanies this embarrassing misnomer. The people who think of today’s Steelers as run-oriented are the same people who stopped renting movies once the video cassette tape disappeared.

They’re the same people who still worry about the cost of a cross-country phone call, or who think that the best way to make a statement is to send a letter to their local newspaper.

The Steelers are a passing team. This isn’t to say that they can’t or won’t run. In fact, their run-pass ratio is about as normal as it gets. Over the last four years, in games that Ben Roethlisberger has played, the Steelers have called a run play 43.1 percent of the time and a pass play 56.9 percent of the time. The league average is 43.6 percent run and 56.4 percent pass. When the Steelers are protecting a lead, they squeeze the air out of the ball. But when they’re trying to establish a lead, they throw.

The Steelers have put the ball in the air 84.4 percent of the time on third down. This suggests either a.) They are not running effectively (hence, they’ve faced a lot of third-and-long situations) or b.) When they need a money play, they trust their pass game more than their run game. They’re lining up like a passing team, too. So far Ben Roethlisberger has attempted 159 passes out of three-or four-receiver formations. He’s attempted just 21 passes out of two-receiver formations.

This season, the Steelers’ decision to transform into more of a downfield offense was a conscious one. In 2010 they drafted a speed-and-quickness wideout in the third round (Emmanuel Sanders) and a power runner in the fifth (Jonathan Dwyer). They did the same in 2009, drafting Mike Wallace in the third round and Frank Summers in the fifth. These moves were made after it was confirmed that ’08 first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall was an everydown back with a slight predilection for finesse over power.

But the main inspiration behind these moves was the guy under center.

2. Ben Roethlisberger
He’s often not described this way, but Roethlisberger is the most physically gifted quarterback in the AFC – if not all of pro football (it’s a whole other discussion, but strong arguments could be made for Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton or Michael Vick).

Everyone praises Roethlisberger for having the strength to shed would-be sackers before throwing. But what’s more remarkable – and not talked about – is the quality of those throws. Roethlisberger throws off balance and under duress with unparalleled velocity and accuracy.

Very little about his game is fundamentally sound. His footwork is flawed. His balance is poor. His mechanics are okay but often irrelevant given that the majority of his drop-backs turn into sandlot improvs. The reason he’s a sandlot player is because he does not read the field well (if at all) before the snap. For most quarterbacks, this would be a crippling weakness. For Roethlisberger, it’s a strength. He actually prefers to react to a defense rather than dictate the terms.

Roethlisberger might sense a blitz presnap and, like just about any quarterback, make a few tweaks to his protection or receivers’ routes. More often, though, he’d rather just take the snap, actually see the blitz coming and make his own adjustments on the fly.

If any other quarterbacks played this way, they’d look like JaMarcus Russell (a sorry sap who actually did try to play this way). Roethlisberger has the physical talent and uncanny instincts to pull it off.

3. Defending Big Ben & Co.
The brilliance behind Roethlisberger’s unusual style is that it’s hard to gameplan against. It’s not unusual to see a defense strategically defeat the Steelers offense yet still get beat for a big play. Defensive strategies are based on disrupting the quarterback’s fundamentals and progressions. But what do you do when the quarterback does not rely on fundamentals or even progression reads?

But if it were as simple as just playing basic, fundamentally sound defense, every team would do that. Most teams, however, don’t have the resources to contain Pittsburgh’s weapons straight-up. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are bourgeoning inside receivers who have the quickness to separate from man-coverage and a great feel for locating the deep voids against zones (a critical attribute given the way Roethlisberger extends plays).

Outside, the lanky, long-striding Mike Wallace is the most lethal downfield threat in the game. These are wideouts who make you think twice about bringing a safety down in the box. Though the Steelers aren’t the run-first team they once were, they’re certainly capable of pounding a seven-man defensive front on the ground.

Thus, the most viable (and common) way to defend Roethlisberger & Co. is to attack their offensive line. You want to force Roethlisberger into sandlot tactics early in the down rather than let him extend the play. That way, his teammates don’t have time to execute their assignments. The limited timing naturally diminishes the threat of Wallace over the top and allows defensive backs to gamble more against Sanders and Brown.

Aiding this cause is the vulnerability of Pittsburgh’s front five. Left tackle Max Starks was out of football less than one month ago. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu has battled a knee injury and was awful in pass protection in his return last week. Right guard Ramon Foster is an undrafted backup (filling in for injured Doug Legursky) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert is an intriguing-but-still-youthful rookie.

4. How Belichick will attack
Belichick’s M.O. is to take away the opposing offense’s top two strengths. This obviously would mean preventing Roethlisberger from extending plays and eliminating Wallace’s deep routes. The Patriots did this last season in their Week 10 victory at Pittsburgh by blitzing like crazy (the Steelers had been struggling at the time with blitz pickups).

However, this season, Patriots linebackers have been poor in blitz execution. Also, the Pats have been more inclined to use a four-man pass-rush out of nickel packages.

We’ve seen Belichick do a 180-degree change in defensive gameplans from one week to the next plenty before, and anything’s possible when he’s coming off a bye. But given the way the Steeler guards struggle in pass protection, don’t be surprised if Albert Haynesworth finally gets significant playing time as a three-technique next to Vince Wilfork.

That’s a combination the Steelers simply wouldn’t be able to block. The Patriots could have their ho-hum ends play containment, which would keep Roethlisberger in the pocket facing pressure right up the middle. He’d still manage some sandlot plays, but he’d also be throwing into seven-man coverages, which could spell turnovers. The Patriots like to compensate for their vulnerable secondary by generating interceptions (last season they ranked 30th in pass yards allowed but first in interceptions).

5. Miscellaneous note
Jerod Mayo, who has been out since injuring his knee in Week 4, is far and away New England’s best linebacker. If he’s available Sunday, the Patriots would have more options for containing Roethlisberger (Mayo reads the field well and has good awareness in coverage). Not surprisingly, Belichick isn’t disclosing Mayo’s status.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 8 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 12, 2011 7:04 pm
 

Steelers RT Willie Colon could be lost for season

The Steelers could be without RT Willie Colon for the rest of the season. (Getty Images)
Posted by Ryan Wilson

If there was a bright spot for the Steelers following their Week 1 whupping at the hands of the Ravens, it was that they emerged from the game embarrassed but injury free. A day later, they couldn't even manage that; according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, right tackle Willie Colon could be done for the year.

"Steelers Willie Colon has torn triceps, will have surgery Tuesday, per agent Joe Linta to PG. Likely to go on IR," Bouchette tweeted Monday. "Willie is obviously devastated," Linta added. "But he vows to be back and give the Steelers more good years." 

It's amazing how quickly perceptions can change. Two days ago, coming off a spiffy preseason, the Steelers looked like one of the best teams in the league. After a 35-7 drubbing that including seven turnovers against the Ravens, they suddenly look old, vulnerable and middle-of-the-pack. And now it appears that they've lost their starting right tackle, who also missed the 2010 season with an Achilles injury.



Colon entered the offseason as a free agent and there was speculation that he wouldn't return to Pittsburgh. But the team ended up signing him to a five-year, $29 million deal.

As for what this means going forward, well, not much. The Steelers' offensive line has long been a weak link, and losing Colon, while clearly bad news, doesn't automatically doom their playoff hopes. The front office has several options: they can move rookie second-rounder Marcus Gilbert to right tackle (he played there and on the left side during the preseason), give the job to veteran Trai Essex, or get Flozell Adams, who manned the position capably last season, on the horn and gauge his interest in returning to Pittsburgh.

It's not exactly the start the Steelers were looking for, but they're also quite familiar with winning football games with an o-line held together by duct tape. The biggest issue will be if Ben Roethlisberger can withstand the weekly beatings coming his way.

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Posted on: August 19, 2011 9:15 am
Edited on: August 19, 2011 4:10 pm
 

PIT LTs should be fine after injuries against PHI

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Steelers lost their starting left tackle, Jonathan Scott, one play into Thursday night's preseason game against the Eagles. They lost Scott's backup, rookie Marcus Gilbert, two series later. This had the makings of a big deal because Pittsburgh's quarterback is Ben Roethlisberger and his game is built around holding the ball, shedding would-be tacklers and making big plays down the field. As a consequence of this style, Roethlisberger also takes a ton of hits.

But before you have a panic attack, there's some good news, via CBSSports.com's Rapid Reporter Chris Adamski: after the game, head coach Mike Tomlin said both Scott and Gilbert had hyperextended knees and should be okay.

"I have that inner feeling that everything's going to be all right," Scott added, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Just my inner Godly feeling that says I'll be OK. That's the initial thinking, but of course I'm not the experts. In the meantime, I'm just going to stay off of it and let the healing process take place. I'm resilient. I'll be ready to play next time."

Disaster averted, although when talking about Pittsburgh's o-line, it's all relative.

While Scott will never be mistaken for a Pro Bowl left tackle, he's the best the Steelers have, and he has experience playing in their system. He also plays a position with little depth and less room for error, and if Scott or Gilbert are lost for any appreciable time, Pittsburgh's postseason hopes could be in real jeopardy.

That may sound like an overreaction, but that's how tenuous the Steelers' offensive line situation is. A year ago, the team lost starting right tackle Willie Colon and had to hastily reshuffle the unit. The Steelers were fortunate to find Flozell Adams out of work, and he stepped in and played well in Colon's absence. And while Adams is again a free agent, and presumably still interested in working, he's no longer an NFL-caliber left tackle.

Fans and media annually lament the organization's refusal to draft offensive linemen early and often, although they've had to soften that stance in recent years; Maurkice Pouncey was the team's first-round pick in 2010 and he became a Pro Bowler as a rookie. And the Steelers drafted Gilbert in the second round in April.

But the perceived lack of urgency to protect Roethlisberger with the best o-line available goes back to something Tomlin said several years ago. We're paraphrasing, but he explained that there are two ways to protect a quarterback: with the offensive line and with dangerous playmakers.

The Steelers are improving on the former, but are already well stocked on the latter. Mike Wallace is the best deep threat in football. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are second-year wideouts who create matchup problems for defenses. Then there's Hines Ward, Jerricho Cotchery and Heath Miller -- zone-busting, down-the-seam pass-catchers and great blockers. Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman are both hard runners and underrated in the passing game.

It also helps to have a quarterback who can take a beating. For now, it appears that those backfield beatings will be minimized. But this is football. Injuries happen. It's just a question of when.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: May 8, 2011 2:31 pm
 

AFC North draft truths revealed

Posted by Andy Benoit

One of the best things about the draft is that from it we can find out what teams really think about their current players. Excluding examples of teams filling obvious needs, here are some of the more revealing draft picks from 2011, with a quick blurb of what the team was really saying by making this pick.

Baltimore Ravens

2nd round, Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
We’re not sure we want to re-sign T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and we need a downfield playmaker anyway. Plus, Derrick Mason can’t play forever…right?

3rd round, Jah Reid, OT, UCFA. Dalton (US Presswire)
Jared Gaither is far too flaky to bank on, and we prefer to play Marshall Yanda at guard.

4th round, Tandon Doss, WR, Indiana
We’re aware of the Torrey Smith-Darrius Heyward-Bey comparisons.

Cincinnati Bengals

1st round, A.J Green, WR, Georgia
We’re as sick of Chad Ochocinco as everyone else.

2nd round, Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
We’re not going to give an inch with Carson Palmer. Problem is, we don’t think he’ll give an inch with us either.

3rd round, Dontay Moch, OLB, Nevada
We’re not sure Michael Johnson has the ability or drive to be a stud starting linebacker. And we might be starting to realize the same thing about Keith Rivers.

Cleveland Browns

1st round, Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
We need defensive linemen in the worst of ways. Taylor is perfect because he’s Shaun Rogers without being Shaun Rogers.

2nd round, Greg Little, WR, North Carolina
Why spend a first-round pick on Julio Jones when you can get a handful of extra picks and a player who, talent-wise, is not all that far off from Jones? All it takes is a little maneuvering and a slight willingness to overlook character concerns.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2nd round, Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida
At some point offensive line coach Sean Kugler won’t have the patience of Job and will start pounding his fists on the table.

3rd round, Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
Yeah, yeah, we know about Green Bay’s spread formations in the Super Bowl. But a third-round pick isn’t going to do the trick. That’s why we’re praying we can re-sign Ike Taylor.

Check back throughout the week for other division’s Draft Truths Revealed. To see all Draft Truths Revealed, click the “Draft Truths” tag.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com