Can the Steelers Stop the Seahawks’ Tight Ends and Backs?

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“OHHHHHHH THE HUMANITY!”  I literally felt sick to my stomach as I watched Joe Flacco complete pass after pass to his Tight Ends and Running Backs last Sunday.  The worst part of the whole thing was that each completion was accompanied by either a Linebacker or a Safety failing miserably to cover the intended receiver or no Defender in the general vicinity of them at all!  The ineffective Defensive/Coverage schemes employed by LeBeau and the pathetic coverage overall by guys like Woodley, Farrior, Foote, Clark, and even Polamalu and Timmons led to 2nd year TEs Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson looking like Pro Bowlers and Ray Rice playing like the Pro Bowler he is.

Teams like New England have been burning the Steelers for years with the strategy of attacking the middle of the field and the Steelers’ LBs and DBs in pass coverage.  Now that the rest of the N.F.L. has really caught on after last week’s highly publicized beatdown, Pittsburgh needs to be on high alert this weekend against Seattle who should be ready to strike at their opponent’s visible weakness.  So in light of tomorrow’s game I thought I’d break down the passing game matchup between the Seahawks’ RBs/TEs and the Steelers’ Defenders, describe what the Steelers can do to win the matchup, and finally give a short personal forecast for the game as a whole.

What Went Wrong?/Key Matchup and Who Seattle Will Be Targeting

If I wanted to, I could discuss the numerous problems that the Steelers had on the Defensive side of the ball last Sunday.  The Steelers’ issues ranged from the Defensive Line getting manhandled at the L.O.S. all day long, to the lack of a pass rush (designed and achieved), and even Harrison and Polamalu getting nicked up.  Yet the biggest problem the Steelers Defense had against Baltimore was the one I referred to in the introduction: pass coverage against the Backs and TEs.

The Ravens did a masterful job at owning the middle of the field against the Steelers’ Defense by creating matchup nightmares with their TEs and Backs against the Steeler defenders in the passing game.  Cam Cameron had a tremendous game-plan where he matched Pitta and Dickson up against the Steelers’ LBs and Safeties that had no answer for them, and was able to design plays where Rice got the ball in space, the place where he does the most damage.  By the middle of the 2nd Quarter, Baltimore had the Steelers by the proverbial “short and curlies” when it came to the short and intermediate passing game as a whole, and used it effectively to convert 3rd Downs, sustain drives, and put points on the board against the hapless and aging Steelers Defense.  To really illustrate my point, Baltimore was 7-16 on 3rd Down Conversions and three of the ones that they didn’t make were due to the distance being 15+ yards.  Therefore, Baltimore was able to use these aforementioned guys to move the chains on manageable 3rd Downs all day long, and the Steelers had almost no answer to stop them.

Even without a complete game breakdown, the stats at first glance are evidence enough that the Ravens had success throwing to their Backs and TEs.  Ray Rice had 42 yards on 4 grabs with 1 TD, and had some stellar 3rd Down conversions in the passing game where nobody could even hang with him.  The two young TE’s had amazing games as well and simply ravaged the underbelly of the Steelers’ Defense.  Ed Dickson had 5 grabs for 59 yards, and Dennis Pitta had 4 catches for 42 yards!  The Steelers’ inability to account for, let alone cover these two made for some easy decision making for Borat last Sunday.  It’s really no wonder why Flacco targeted them so often and completed 13 passes to them in the game.  If Seattle doesn’t see the possible mismatches which I will describe below that they have in Week 2, they’re literally insane.

Some Seahawks fans are probably saying to themselves, “well Tarvaris Jackson doesn’t have to go to his Backs and TEs all day, because Seattle will find success in with their WR’s”  I hate to be a jerk, but let me state this clearly: feeding his Backs and TEs in the passing game will give Jackson and Seattle their best shot of winning the game.

With Sidney Rice out, the Seahawks have only one legitimate threat at the WR position in Mike Williams.  However, after a stellar showing last week where he limited Lee Evans to a 0, 0, 0 Stat Line, Ike Taylor for all intents and purposes should shut down Williams like he has quietly shut down every #1 WR in the League that he has faced over the last half decade.  Frankly, even the Steelers’ other less than serviceable CB’s are at an advantage against Seattle’s weak WR corps:  McFadden, Gay, Lewis, and the two Rookies Brown and Allen have favorable matchups against Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu, and Doug Baldwin.

Despite having arguably one of the worst WR corps in the League, Seattle has 4 players that can create matchup nightmares for the Steelers and were probably licking their chops while watching the film from last Sunday’s game in Baltimore.  The biggest matchup nightmare is by far TE Zach Miller.  Miller who made his first Pro Bowl in 2010, probably will be targeted early and often in this game if the Steelers decide to cover him man on man with Woodley, Farrior, or even Ryan Clark.  Miller is a much better pass receiver than Pitta or Dickson and has just enough speed to get away from any of the Steelers slow-as-molasses LBs that are trotted out for pass-coverage duties (excluding Timmons of course).

Seattle’s three Running Backs Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and Leon Washington also have the potential to wreak havoc on the Steelers’ Defense if they are allowed to get involved in the passing game.  Forsett and Washington are probably the two most dangerous weapons that T-Jack and the Seahawks have at their disposal in the underneath and checkdown game not named Miller.  It honestly wouldn’t surprise me at all if these two are targeted a combined 10 times on Sunday and they destroy Farrior and Woodley in pass coverage.

So how can/should the Steelers fix their mistakes and prepare for these players?  Granted I’m only a die-hard fan and have nowhere near the coaching experience or credentials that “Father Time” has.  However, I still have a couple of suggestions off the top of my head on how to remedy the supposed weaknesses of the Steelers’ Defense heading into Sunday afternoon’s game: