Offensive, Defensive Game Plans for Cowboys vs Steelers
At Dallas Morning News, I published an analysis of the Steelers’ screen game.
On a 1st and 10 at the Chargers’ 39-yard line, the Steelers lined up in a bunch trips formation, isolating Brown to the boundary (top of the screen).
Already the third quarter, it was one of the few times a San Diego cornerback played off-coverage. The Steelers had a stretch run to the right called—you could tell by the way the linemen fired off of the ball. Nonetheless, when Ben Roethlisberger saw cornerback Antoine Cason’s position, he pulled the ball from the running back’s belly.
The Steelers have a lot of plays like this one in which Roethlisberger can abandon the running play and hit a receiver on a quick screen. This particular screen to Brown resembled a traditional play-action pass, but the original intention was really to run a stretch.
The Steelers’ screen game is a major reason they’re no longer considered a “balanced” football team; they’ve thrown the ball 60.2 percent of the time in 2012, including on 61.3 percent of plays through three quarters. It’s easy to get caught up in such numbers and say the Steelers are passing too often, but the screens they run are high-percentage passes that are really nothing more than an extended handoff.
The screen to Brown went for nine yards, setting up Pittsburgh in a desirable 2nd and 1 situation. That down-and-distance is the most valuable in all of football, possessing the opportunity to strike on a big play with minimal risk; if you don’t connect, you’re still left with two plays to get one yard. The Steelers have thrown the ball two more times on 2nd and 1 than they’ve run it this year, making them one of only five teams with pass-heavy 2nd and 1 play-calling. If you see Pittsburgh in a 2nd and 1 this week, especially near midfield, look out for the long ball.
Check out the whole post at DMN.
And at NBC, I examined how Jason Garrett should attack the Steelers’ defense.
Get Jason Witten on linebackers.
Earlier this week, I mentioned that the Cowboys should keep tight end Jason Witten in pass protection more often to help the offensive line and so that defenses can’t key him as effectively to diagnose the play. Well, those plans should be put off a week. The biggest advantage the Cowboys’ offense will have over Pittsburgh is over the middle of the field, for two reasons.
First, inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote simply can’t hang with Witten. Timmons has actually played well in coverage this year, but the Cowboys will take that matchup all day. Secondly, the Steelers rush their inside linebackers more than any team in the NFL, by far. Timmons and Foote have combined to rush on 251 snaps this year, which is remarkable. Foote alone has rushed the quarterback on 17.5 percent of his snaps; in comparison, Sean Lee checked in at 10.9 percent and Bruce Carter at 5.3 percent.