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Film Room: Bengals can exploit big issues in Steelers’ pass defense

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The Steelers have had plenty of trouble stopping the pass this season, which bodes well for Andy Dalton and the Bengals.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Jacksonville at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have had a lot of problems in their secondary this season. They have struggled to stay with receivers in man coverage, break on the ball in zone coverage, and at times seem to not have a clue what they are doing. With the Bengals’ pass game clicking, Pittsburgh could be in for a long Sunday.

The only teams who are allowing more passing yards per game this season than the Steelers are the Chiefs (the Bengals Week 7 opponent), the Buccaneers (Week 8 matchup for Cincy) and the Saints (who the Bengals play Week 10 following their bye). In short, if Dalton is available in your fantasy league you should pick him up, because he is likely to go H.A.M. over the next few weeks. Here is a look at why the Bengals will be throwing all over the Steelers.

The Steelers have looked absolutely lost in pass defense at times this season. I am not sure what reaction former Bengals head coach and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would have to this play. He may laugh at how clueless the Steelers (who moved on from him as DC) are, but my guess is as someone who loves great defense it probably makes him quite angry. It looks like it was supposed to be some version of Cover 3, but the deep safety looks to be playing a robber technique and the middle of the field is wide open for an easy Chiefs touchdown.

Here is another example of just how inept the Steelers defense can be. Not that I am trying to rub it in but... oh who am I kidding, it is the Steelers, I am definitely trying to rub it in. Joe Haden is the cornerback at the top of the screen with Cameron Sutton lined up just inside him. This looks like cover three, but both defensive backs on the top seem to not be sure if they are playing the deep third or the flat. They look like they are running a drill together as they move very similarly. They bracket Ravens wide receiver John Brown on his right and left, but they do not stay on top of him, and he runs right by them for the touchdown.

The Steelers run both Cover 2 and Cover 3. Zone coverages always have holes that an offense can take advantage of if the defense does not make proper reads, react on time, and make tackles. On this play Mohamed Sanu finds a nice little soft spot in the coverage and Matt Ryan finds him. Free safety Sean Davis and linebacker Jon Bostic both took awful pursuit angle allowing Sanu to turn this play into a touchdown.

Once again the Steelers allow the Falcons to gain yards after the catch. This time it is linebacker L.J. Fort who takes a bad angle and missed the tackle because he reaches and lunges. Falcons tight end Austin Hooper caught a short pass and was able to convert it to a 14 yard gain. The Steelers struggle to make tackles in the pass game.

It is Artie Burns who looks like an absolute fool on this one. Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans absolutely torches Burns on the vertical route on the top of the screen. This is a coverage in which Burns is responsible for a deep field zone, and he cannot stay on top of the route. This has been a recurring problem for the Steelers with deep routes in both zone and man coverages.

The Steelers bringing a 6-man pressure and are in Cover 1 with Davis playing deep and the linebackers and other defensive backs playing man coverage. On the top of the screen, cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, slips as Evans makes the cut on his dig route. With only deep safety help inside, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is able to deliver the ball to Evans for a first down. The Steelers frequently play man when they run their 5 and 6 man pressures and these types of occurrences are not uncommon.

Here the Steelers are in a coverage known as either cover 2 man or man under. In essence, the are playing with two high safeties as they would in cover 2, but playing man underneath this shell. This can be a difficult coverage to get a completion on, but throwing a ball to an inside receiver forcing him to turn and quickly adjust to a high hard pass will do the trick. The first clip shows how the Buccaneers accomplished this with wide receiver Chris Godwin, and the second shows the Bengals completing a similar ball to A.J. Green.

This is a play from the Bengals final drive to beat the Falcons in Week 4. They ran this same play twice on the drive, because the Falcons were running man and wide receiver Tyler Boyd was able to get open on this route both times. Boyd is the second receiver from the bottom of the screen and is lined up close to C.J. Uzomah who is the third receiver. Uzomah releases vertically and Boyd cuts underneath him. Uzomah’s route creates a pick that gives Boyd just enough room to make the play. Expect the Bengals to have “man-beaters” like this in the game play against the Steelers.


With all of the problems the Steelers have on defense, this could be a big week for Dalton Green, and Boyd. Expect the Bengals to take advantage of the Steelers’ poor reads and tackling in zone coverage. They will also have success with man-beating routes and passes to running backs Joe Mixon and Mark Walton out of the backfield.