Breaking down the tape: A change of plans

A look back at the Steelers' 30-9 victory over the Browns via the magic of the DVR:


CHANGE OF PLAN:** The formation of choice on offense betrayed the change of approach that was enacted when the Steelers had to insert Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback for Landry Jones.

The Steelers used two tight ends and/or two running backs on six of seven snaps with Jones at the helm during their first two possessions, including two tight ends and two running backs twice. They went with three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back once.

They were going to run the ball with Jones, something they did on three of his seven snaps (42.9 percent).

Once Roethlisberger took over they went to a three-wide receivers, one-tight end, one-running back set 42 times (52 times including plays on which there were penalties and the Steelers' two-point conversion).

The idea was to spread 'em out and throw it more often with Big Ben (the Steelers ran just 32 percent of the time with Roethlisberger, not counting the two game-ending kneel downs).

Photos from the last matchup vs the Browns at Heinz Field on November 15th, 2015.

Alternative deployments with Roethlisberger included a two-wide receivers, two-tight ends, one-running back sets (six times), a four-wide receivers, one-tight end look (once) and a one-wide receiver, three-tight ends, one-running back alignment (once; No. 74, OL Chris Hubbard, was eligible).

Roethlisberger spent the majority of his day catching and releasing, accepting shotgun snaps and executing three- or five-step drops before getting the ball out of the pocket quickly, even after pump fakes. He operated from under center seven times (not including the kneel-downs) and resorted to a seven-step drop once (from under center).

Getting the ball out of the pocket quickly helped keep Roethlisberger upright. The only sack the Steelers absorbed occurred when he stepped up into LB Christian Kirksey's pressure on a tight end-screen that took too long to develop (Kirksey had been turned loose by OG David DeCastro).


GETTING THERE:** Head coach Mike Tomlin had said he wanted more pressure on the pass rush created by winning one-on-one matchups more often.

Exhibit A of the Steelers' defense giving their coach what he wanted occurred on first-and-goal from the Steelers' 16- yard line late in the third quarter. A four-man pressure beat a six-man protection because LB Ryan Shazier was able to beat RB Duke Johnson and get to QB Johnny Manziel for a 9-yard sack (had they been at St. Vincent College the play would have been scored as a resounding "Backs-on-'Backers" victory for Shazier).

Another among the Steelers' season-high six sacks resulted from DE Stephon Tuitt getting the best of LG Cameron Erving (a rookie making his first start in place of injured Joel Bitonio) on a five-man pressure against a seven-man protection (Johnson and TE Gary Barnidge were in the backfield).

DE Cam Heyward got a coverage sack when he was eventually able to get free from an Erving-C Alex Mack double-team and track Manziel down. Manziel had been forced to hold onto the ball because of outstanding coverage by LB Bud Dupree (on Barnidge), S Will Allen (on Johnson), CB William Gay (on TE Jim Dray), LB Lawrence Timmons (on FB Malcom Johnson) and CB Antwon Blake and then Shazier (on WR Marlon Moore).


The best photos of Safety Mike Mitchell from the 2015 season thus far.

GETTING BETTER:** Barnidge managed to find the end zone once but his afternoon running against the Steelers' defense wasn't an obstruction-free exercise.

SS Mike Mitchell had recently mentioned an inability to redirect opposing tight ends at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing of routes as intended as a contributing factor in the likes of New England's Rob Gronkowski (three) and San Diego's Antonio Gates (two) combining for five touchdown receptions against the Steelers.

Barnidge came in with six receiving TDs and finished with six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown but it didn't come easy.

Allen got a jam on Barnidge on second-and-6 from the Steelers' 7 in the fourth quarter that included getting a left hand up into Barnidge's face mask. But Barnidge was able to fight through it and catch a perfectly-placed throw from Manziel in the end zone.

Dupree had jammed Barnidge so effectively on what became the Heyward sack in the third quarter that Barnidge eventually pulled up to avoid being knocked out of bounds and never got into his route.

And on fourth-and-goal from the Steelers' 5 with 5:49 remaining in the fourth Barnidge was bumped by LB Jarvis Jones on a crossing route just inside the goal line and then engaged by Mitchell in the corner of the end zone on what became an incomplete pass.

"I initially tried to push him out of bounds," Mitchell said. "He was heavier than I thought, I couldn't push him out. Then I just happened to turn and see the ball, and just tried to put my hand up there, tipped it."

Kansas City TE Travis Kelce didn't catch a TD against the Steelers but he hauled in a critical 26-yard reception on third-and-2 in the fourth quarter that had helped the Chiefs complete a 23-13 victory on Oct. 25 in Kansas City.

"How many times this year are we going to play an elite tight end or a guy that's really good at the tight end position and let them beat us?" Mitchell explained of the approach against Barnidge after the Cleveland game. "I thought we did a good job hitting him when we needed to hit him and being alert when we needed to be alert."

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