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Training Camp Takeaways: Steelers Defensive Line Dominating

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PITTSBURGH – It was just one day in training camp. But man, it was an ugly one for the offense. After not having pads on for three days, the Steelers finally donned the pads. The defense seemed ready to roll, but the offensive line seemed ready to roll over. It was perhaps the worst day this offensive line has had in training camp thus far.

The team period where they ran the football, in particular, was ugly. The entire defense up and down the depth chart seemed to have highlights on Monday. Melvin Ingram was in the backfield more times than fans could count. Alex Highsmith had a great play where he swam by Zach Gentry to make a tackle for loss. Ingram’s three tackles for loss showcased his talent, but did not give much in the way of confidence for Chukwuma Okorafor. On the very next play, Cam Heyward was in the backfield after Ingram’s wrap up.

The second team then came in. Buddy Johnson, Isaiah Buggs, Carlos Davis, Shakur Brown, Marcus Allen, Quincy Roche, and others made splash plays in the run game. There was really only one successful run for the offense. It was where Pete Guerriero broke a Davis tackle attempt and used his burst to bounce it outside for fifteen yards.

Even still, the offensive line was often moving back on its feet or on the ground straight up. Their pass protection was not great either. Cassius Marsh, Highsmith, Roche, and Ingram consistently were in the backfield being disurptive. The pocket was collapsing around the quarterbacks and they had to make due out of pocket. It certainly seemed like the offensive line’s worst day in pads. The good news is it has not been consistently this bad. However, if this is the floor and they show up to any game playing like this, they might get run out of the stadium.

On the other side of this coin, this outside linebacker and defensive line groups are impressive. That was not just an aberration because the Steelers offenisve line might be below average, either. They were phenomenal agaisnt the Cowboys up and down the depth chart.

And they’re doing it without T.J. Watt. The fearsome pass rush Pittsburgh has had for years should not be going anywhere in 2021.

SEVEN SHOTS

Seven shots is a daily set of players from the two-yard line, featuring the Steelers No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense for three plays, No. 2 offense vs. No. 2 defense for two plays and the No. 3 offense vs. No. 3 defense for two plays.

🏈: With no Ben Roethlisberger today, Mason Rudolph ran with the first-team opportunities. Rudolph instantly lasered in on Diontae Johnson who was isolated against Joe Haden on the right side of the formation to the weakside. Johnson ran a slant and beat Haden off the line. However, Ingram was in a spot drop zone. He stuck his hand out to break up the pass.

🏈: Rudolph went into the pistol with Najee Harris to his back. The Steelers then ran a mid-zone out of what looked like a Sean McVay-esque scheme with jet motion to pair with it. Ingram came from the backside to meet Harris, but Harris pulled Ingram along for two yards and put the ball barely over the line for the touchdown.

🏈: It was great protection on this play. In particular, Okorafor really held his own. Rudolph was able to stand in, untouched, and scan the field both frontside and backside of the play. Johnson peeked open in the far left of the endzone and caught the ball for a touchdown.

🏈: The Steelers ran trips to the left side of the formation. Anthony Johnson came on a shallow cross over the middle of the field, but Buddy Johnson was there to meet him at the catch point. It was a pass breakup by the rookie lineabacker out of Texas A&M for the second consecutive day.

🏈: Dwayne Haskins clearly had a predetermined read on this play. James Pierre was lined up against Rico Bussey in a two by two formation. He used his length to press him more towards the sideline, and went up and over the much smaller Bussey to knock it away before it even touched his hands.

🏈: Josh Dobbs then got some rare seven shots reps with Roethlisberger off on Monday. With a two running back set with Tony Brooks-James and Jaylen Samuels in the game, they ran a shovel option. Dobbs hit Samuels who walked his through the middle of the line and into the endzone.

🏈: Another predetermined read where the Steelers clearly just wanted to test some of their defensive backs. With Eric Ebron isolated on Mark Gilbert to the far side of the field, Dobbs took a shot to Ebron. However, Gilbert had tight coverage and knocked it out of Ebron’s hands at the catch point.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM TEs vs OLBs 1-ON-1s

The tight ends gave some good fights in this drill. In particular, Kevin Rader is physical and has some serious thump behind his pads and hands. On one rep against Jamir Jones, Rader blew Jones off the football and stunned him back five yards. In another against Marsh, Rader kept control of the point of attack and did not allow him to stack and shed on the edge. It was a really solid showing for Rader in this drill.

On the other side of things, Highsmith had a rough rep where he essentially choked Marcus Baugh. Highsmith had him beat, but it would have been called a penalty. T.J. Watt from the sideline audibly yelled “Rip through, Alex!”. Other than that, Highsmith was flawless in this drill.

Marsh had a couple of solid reps. His chop-rip move was on full display today. Gentry, in particular, had no answers for what Marsh was bringing to the table. Marsh even ended up getting a win over Pat Freiermuth with the same move.

Roche is impressive. He has some real strength at the point of attack to win those reps on the edge. His rip and dip is his obvious move to win, but he is learning how to rip through and play with more elements of power. That might need a year to fully develop into his skillset, but he looks impressive already in that role as it stands.

FALSE STARTS GALORE

Outside of the offensive line, the offense was a pretty big mess today. There were five false start penalties across all the team periods. With all the motion that Matt Canada uses in his offense, it is easy for one guy to jump every now and then. However, that was an excessive amount of sloppiness and Mike Tomlin can not be pleased with his offense’s performance on Monday after that.

They were clean in the preseason game against Dallas from mistakes like this, but as the Steelers start to add more than just vanilla drapings to the offense, this has to be something to watch.

PISTOL COMING IN HOT

Over the past two days, the Steelers have started to implement a new formation into their offense, the pistol formation. Up to this point, it was all traditional shotgun stuff and working to master the under center concepts that the offense brings with it. However, Canada employed pistol twice in the past two days during seven shots and sprinkled it in during the team period.

It will be interesting to see how much more they implement this and if they actually use it on Thursday against the Eagles. More importantly, both of those plays have gone for touchdowns up to this point. It could lead to a more comfortable offense for Roethlisberger where the Steelers can work in a semi-under center manner but still give Roethlisberger a shotgun type of look.

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