Analyzing the Steelers Defense Against the Lions

It’s been a long time since we had actual Steelers game tape to watch and re-watch. Here’s what I saw in studying the game with a focus on the defense. What’s great to see is that more and more diehard fans/bloggers are doing the kind of in-depth watching of the game that can make us all more informed. I plan to do this all year, but I’d also point you to Dagger over at Post Game Heroes and the Steelers Depot if you like this kind of analysis.

The standard disclaimer applies: as an educated fan watching the game, we can’t know the play call. So feel free to read this with a little bit of skepticism, but over the years, the Steleers’ decision making has seemed to show that much of who is doing well and who is doing poorly are pretty apparent.

Players Who Impressed

Sunny Harris: If you asked me for a Steelers’ defensive star of the game, I’d probably single out Harris. Admittedly he was playing against second- and third-stringers, but Harris made an impact, which isn’t always easy in a defense that is set up for linebackers to make the big plays.

Here are a couple of the plays that stood out.

#1: 1-20-DET 29 (1:08 3Q). Harris simply ran over guard Roy Schuening, knocking Schuening onto his back. As he did, Schuening was left with no choice but to grab on to Harris. The resulting holding penalty wiped away a seven-yard pass play.

#2: 1-30-DET 19 (:39 3Q). On the next play, Harris got into the backfield to trip up DeDe Dorsey.

#3: 2-4-PIT43 (9:27): Unlike the previous two plays, on this one Harris didn’t get into the backfield. But he locked up his man at the line, then slid down the line to fill the hole and share the tackle of DeDe Dorsey with Thaddeus Gibson.

Thaddeus Gibson: Speaking of Gibson, he showed some flashes. His tackle of Dorsey on the play just mentioned was a good example of maintaining control and flowing to the ball. He also forced a holding penalty on a Lions tight end.

Keyaron Fox: I can’t say I’m the biggest proponent of Key Fox (Dagger at Post Game Heroes has the title wrapped up) but Fox is very productive whenever he gets a chance. He once again showed that on Saturday as he played better than his partner Larry Foote.

Both Foote and Fox entered the game quickly. Fox filled the hole nicely on a first and 10 run by Maurice Morris with 7:30 to go in the second quarter. Two plays later he was even better. Fox read the running play almost immediately, knifed through a gap in the line and tackled Morris for no gain on first down. Two plays after that, Fox flanked out in man-to-man coverage on DeDe Dorsey and blanketed Dorsey, forcing an incompletion and a punt. If you want to see more on Fox’s night, check out this post by Dagger over at PGH.

Crezdon Butler: He had to wait a long time to get into the game, but once Butler did he made some plays. If you watched the game, you probably remember Butler’s near interception late in the game, but on the play before that, Butler also made an impressive open-field tackle on a dump-off pass to Dorsey. Steelers’ defensive backs have to tackle, so the tackle may be nearly as important as the pass broken up for Butler’s roster chances.

Stevenson Sylvester: Sylvester did show plenty of athleticism. He covered plenty of ground in pass coverage and he showed some explosiveness when he blitzed (he got a quarterback hit when he dove over a block to hit Shaun Hill as he threw). But at the same time he did show some choppy steps as he seemed to take a little while to read running plays.

Players Who Didn’t Impress

Patrick Bailey: Because of injuries to Jason Worilds and Andre Frazier, and a desire to keep limit James Harrison’s snaps, Bailey got a lot of playing time Saturday (27 snaps according to Steelers Depot). It’s hard to say he did much to merit more time. Bailey may be a special teams ace, but he was either invisible or in trouble for much of his time at outside linebacker.

The play that most illustrates Bailey’s problems is Javon Best’s 15-yard run with 4:27 left in the first quarter. Bailey got stuck inside, leaving a wide lane to the outside for Best to run.

Bailey also showed little ability in rushing the passer. In general, he looked like an undersized linebacker who was overmatched.

Larry Foote: Foote played 19 snaps on defense (again, thanks to Steelers Depot for charting this so I didn’t have to), but he had a couple of screwups during that time. He was exposed in coverage on a Shaun Hill pass midway through the second quarter (6:58). Maurice Morris caught the swing pass, took a step and watched Foote fly by. That allowed Morris to gain eight yards to give Detroit a first down. Foote also got caught up in traffic on Best’s 15-yard run. And he missed the block on the opening kick return that may have been the difference between Stefan Logan putting together a big return and a mediocre one.

Mixed Results

Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith: The rookie safety was only signed when Tuff Harris was waived last week. But Cromartie-Smith showed some ability to come up and defend the run. On the second and third plays of the second half, he made a nice open-field tackle on a pass play then followed it up by coming up to make a tackle in run support. Later he recovered a fumble.

But Cromartie-Smith also was charged with a 15-yard face mask penalty and was beaten on what could have been a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter but Drew Stanton overthrew Tim Toone.

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  • RoB D

    Great work as usual JJ. I missed Crezdon’s OTHER play until you pointed it out. I think the kid has good instincts and reacts to the ball nicely.

    It looks like getting Sunny back was definately worth it. Very nice prospect who may crack the lineup one day. I also like Steve McLendon but he got injured. Maybe being injured will save him for next year and he’ll get another crack. We need younger bodies on the D-line for backup and spot duty. Hood is way ahead of where I thought he’d be at this point in time. Looking like a terrific draft pick at an area of need/

    I think Foote coming back will work out OK. He’s a run stopper..and not much else but we need that vet presence and he and Farrior work very very well together. Not sure about ARE..I think picking him up was understandable but not sure what he brings to the table anymore..I suppose we will find out soon!

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