Steelers' Coaches, Not the Secondary, Should Be Blamed for Super Bowl Loss
For the coming weeks, I rid my self of all things football. I didn't watch Super Bowl highlights. I didn't read any articles. I avoided conversations regarding the game. I tried my best to almost forget the season and the loss.
It's the end of May now, and although it still hurts, I, like many Steelers fans, am recovering and am willing to talk about it.
It's become common to put blame for the Super Bowl loss on players like Bryant McFadden and the lack of depth in the secondary. The events of the Super Bowl even had many demanding a cornerback be picked in the first round of the NFL draft for the Steelers.
I'm here to tell you why you should put the blame on Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau, not Bryant McFadden and the secondary, for the 2011 Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers were spectacular on defense. However, a majority of the defensive struggles came against the great quarterbacks who led the spread offenses, now becoming common in the NFL. With losses against the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, it became apparent that there was a blueprint for beating defenses like the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This quick-pace, multiple-reciever option type of offense avoided running against and getting blitzed successfully by Pittsburgh, two basic fundamentals of the Steelers' style of defense. It turned Pittsburgh's aggressive style against the team and showed it to be the Steelers' glaring weakness.
The Steelers have acquired players for their team based on the style of defense they play best. Their corners are not typical cover corners who play a lot of man vs. man. However, in their games against Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers they were forced into many man-on-man coverages. They also typically rely on blitzing to put pressure on quarterbacks. When they sent more players on the blitz, mismatched man coverages became easily exposed.
During the Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers found much success with their spread offense. Aaron Rodgers faced little to no pressure. They lined up multiple receivers against the back-up corners and safeties of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A player like Jordy Nelson burns Pittsburgh for 140 yards and a touchdown. It became the same old story for the Pittsburgh Steelers facing the spread offense.
Bryant McFadden, William Gay and the rest of Pittsburgh's secondary took most of the blame. People mistakenly believed they were not good enough during the Super Bowl and never considered whether or not they were even put in the best position to succeed.
It was no secret, in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, that the Green Bay Packers were going to use multiple receivers and quick passes against the Steelers. Why I blame Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau, is because they employed that very same defense that has failed almost every time they've played these quick-pace, spread offenses.
In last year's playoffs, the New York Jets did two huge favors for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh Steelers took advantage of one of them. In a monumental upset, the New York Jets went into New England and eliminated one of Pittsburgh's biggest bullies from contention. In doing so they employed one of the greatest defensive strategies for beating quarterbacks like Brady, Brees and Rodgers.
In New England, the Jets used a brilliant game plan to beat Tom Brady. First, they switched from man-on-man to zone coverage. This not only brought a different defense that the Patriots had not planned for, but it allowed the Jets defense to disguise their coverage.
Quarterbacks like Rodgers and Brady often use the spread formation to look for mismatches and usually know who to throw even before the play. The zone helped avoid this.
Secondly, New York didn't blitz often. Another plan going against how the Jets typical operate, they rarely sent more than four players in this divisional round game. This allowed the Jets more players to play coverage against the pass. The most genius part of the game plan was how New York sent these players.
New England, like Green Bay, rely greatly on timing between QB and WR. One tactic against these teams is to get physical with the WRs on the line of scrimmage and use bump and run coverage by the players covering.
The inside slot guys are much more difficult to successfully play bump and run on since they are usually starting behind the line of scrimmage and have more field to play (closer to the middle of the field, they have more options). The players in the slots often have success in these schemes which is why Wes Welker is huge in New England, and Jordy Nelson looked like a hero in the Super Bowl.
Who deserves more blame for the Steelers' defensive struggles against Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl?
The New York Jets often used a zone-blitz against New England. But the players they did send after Tom Brady were used in a genius manner. First, their outside corners, Revis and Cromartie, played bump and run on the outside receivers.
For the slot receivers, relying more on timing, in between like Welker and the tight ends, a linebacker, who is much stronger and more physical, would bump these players at the line of scrimmage.
This threw off the timing to these inside receivers, but even better, the player bumping wasn't the player covering, thus allowing a player in zone coverage, who was quicker, to only have to play the role of coverage and was therefore in better position for the pass.
These outside players then blitzed a perplexed Tom Brady who was sacked multiple times, threw interceptions and incompletions, and eventually got eliminated at home in their first game of the playoffs.
The New York Jets finally figured out how to beat an offense like the Patriots and Tom Brady.
They figured out how to finally sack and pressure Tom Brady, without exposing coverage.
They showed a way to become physical with the receivers on the line without getting beat in mismatches.
They finally solved the riddle plaguing the Pittsburgh Steelers of how to finally beat offenses like the Patriots, Saints, Colts and Packers.
I thought after this display that Aaron Rodgers was in trouble in Dallas.
Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau didn't take the hint. A secondary and defense that excelled throughout the season got torched in the Super Bowl. A coaches job is to put their players in the best position to win.
The Steeler's coaches and game plan did not put the Steelers, and its secondary, in the best position to win. Nothing was borrowed from New York's magnificent game plan against a similar type of offense.
Going into Dallas, I truly believed that Pittsburgh had a better team. I hate to say it, but I put full blame on why there wasn't another Super Bowl parade in Pittsburgh on Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau.
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