The periodic linebacker-on-wide receiver match-ups, either in man-to-man or zone coverage, weren’t what the Steelers would have preferred against the Chargers.
“Who is ever comfortable with that?” defensive coordinator Keith Butler offered after practice today. “Nobody is.
“There were some things that happened to us that we couldn’t do anything about so we had to play the hand we were dealt at the time, and we did.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin had referenced the unavailability of safety Morgan Burnett (back) and defensive back Cam Sutton (personal reasons) as necessitating “some smoke-and-mirror play” on the part of the Steelers.
“Sometimes, you run out of smoke, and we did,” Tomlin acknowledged on Tuesday.
Burnett was a full participant in practice for a second consecutive day today.
And Sutton, who first showed up on the participation report last Friday (out/personal), isn’t being listed this week.
But the Chargers game wasn’t the first time this season the Steelers have relied upon linebacker-on-receiver coverages on occasion.
And it won’t be the last, defensive end Can Heyward said.
“There’s multiple games where we do it,” Heyward explained. “It didn’t work because we didn’t execute it well enough.
“You can look at game-to-game, there are times we execute it and times we don’t. We just have to be better and consistent, that’s it.”
The Steelers prepare for the week 14 matchup against the Oakland Raiders.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen beat linebacker Jon Bostic in one such coverage for a 12-yard reception on third-and-4 from the Steelers’ 34-yard line with 1:12 left in regulation.
The Chargers began kicking what became a succession of field goal attempts two snaps later.
“You just gotta stay inside-out,” Bostic said of his approach in such a challenging situation. “Don’t lose to your leverage side, hold your leverage side.
“You gotta run and tackle, hope the pass rush gets home.”
The pressure didn’t quite get to quarterback Philip Rivers quickly enough in that instance (defensive tackle Javon Hargrave got a quarterback it but not a sack).
There were others, Heyward maintained.
“We didn’t get home enough,” he said. “We gotta get our hands up. Our execution has to be flawless no matter who’s out there.”
Rivers found Allen on the Chargers’ first third down of the game with linebacker L.J. Fort in coverage, but the gain was for 10 yards on third-and-11.
A subsequent third-and-19 Rivers-to-Allen attempt fell incomplete, in part because outside linebacker T.J. Watt got a hit on Rivers.
The Chargers’ relative success on the ground was also a factor, in Heyward’s estimation.
They converted two of seven third downs while rushing for 2 yards in the first two quarters (five of the attempts were third-and-10 or longer).
In the second half the Chargers rushed for 83 yards and went 4-for-4 on third downs (converting distances of 2, 1, 14 and 4 yards).
“I know Keenan Allen converted a lot, but those were situations where it was third-and-5, third-and-6,” Heyward said. “We put ’em in third-and-10s, third-and-11s, they don’t pick that up.
“We have to make it harder on third downs by making it harder on first and second.”