Scouting for Steelers: Defensive Backs

via Steelers.com

I’m focusing on the defense because I’m hoping that most of what we’ve seen from the offense isn’t what we will be seeing with the actual first team on the field. And since the defensive backs are probably the position group that has generated the most angst (I’m guessing TE is a distant second) it’s worth having a look.

As I discovered, it can be pretty hard to figure out who lined up where and who was actually on the field. So I’m just going to approach the group as a whole, making some assumptions about who was likely to have been playing, based upon when the front-line starters mostly packed it in.

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Scouting for Steelers Part 3: Farther Back on the Defensive Front

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Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports

I covered the first half of the game from the standpoint of the defensive front in Part 2,  and we’ll move on to the second half of the game, where a host of young guys had a opportunity to catch the eye of the coaching staff.

 

Here’s the list of snap counts again, with just the second half snaps, courtesy of Dave Bryan at Steelers Depot.

 

  • Javon Hargrave: 25 defensive snaps, 5 ST snaps
  • Caushaud Lyons: 25 defensive snaps
  • Jermauria Rasco: 23 defensive snaps
  • Mike Reilly: 21 defensive snaps, 12 ST snaps
  • Devaunte Sigler: 20 defensive snaps
  • Ricardo Mathews: 16 defensive snaps, 12 ST snaps
  • Lavon Hooks: 15 Defensive snaps, 3 ST snaps
  • Giorgio Newberry: 13 defensive snaps, 3 ST snaps
  • Johnny Maxey: 11 defensive snaps, 3 ST snaps
  • Daniel McCullers: 9 defensive snaps
  • Khaynin Mosley-Smith: 3 defensive snaps

In case you’re wondering, I stated in the last post that McCullers didn’t play in the second half, but I lied. He had a few more snaps, because, as Charlie Batch said from the broadcast booth, the coaches want to get him in playing condition. How two more snaps does that, I don’t know. Which is possibly why I’m not coaching football…

For the first time in the game the Steelers defense was not up against Sam Bradford. Chase Daniels was the QB for most of  the second half. The final “real” series (as opposed to two kneel-downs) was quarterbacked by Mcleod Bethel-Thompson, which is quite a mouthful.

Not too surprisingly, the second half actual base package was a four-man front. This was perhaps a way to look at a lot of guys at once. Or perhaps a way to minimize the weaknesses. Or perhaps because Butler (or Tomlin, or whoever) actually prefers a 4-3 setup. I did notice that at least a couple of the guys the Steelers drafted were pegged as 4-3 linemen in their NFL draft profile.

Javon Hargrave played about half of the opening drive, which was over seven minutes long. Butler subbed out the guys around him from time to time, but he was always lined up as the left DT, except for a single snap in that drive where he was used as a DE in a 3-4. (Caushaud Lyons was the NT in this set, and Mike Reilly was at the right end.)

At least early in the series Hargrave was demonstrating the motor and speed we’ve heard about. Someone was worried about him, because his offensive lineman took a holding penalty which pushed the Philly offense back to their own seven yard line. On the next play, a ten-yard pass to the running back, Hargrave shed his block and ran down the back for a stop. During this part of the series the lineup was always, left to right, Jordan Zumwalt, Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews, and Travis Feeney. The sole exception was one play where Vince Williams was subbed out for Lyons, oddly.

During this series I wouldn’t say the defense was wildly successful. The Eagles gifted them two penalties which pushed the offense back to 1-20, practically in their own end zone, and two plays later it’s 1-10 at the PHI 24. By the time Hargrave was subbed out, both the running and passing game were working just fine for Philly, albeit in small increments.

Hargrave would split the next series with Daniel McCullers. All three of McCullers’ plays were 3-4 alignment with Devaunte Sigler to his left and Johnny Maxey to his right. Those three plays were a four-yard pass, a four-yard run, and a tackle for loss for -3 yards. Johnny Maxey was the man of the hour for that one.

The three snaps Hargrave had on that series were with Jordan Zumwalt to his left, Ricardo Mathews to his right, and Travis Feeney at right end. The results were pass for nine yards and two incompletions, forcing a punt.That series would be the last snaps for McCullers, for real this time. Hargrave played one more snap in the fourth quarter (incomplete pass.)

I will just note at this juncture that the signing of former Chargers DE Ricardo Mathews is looking rather better than the other former San Diego defensive player the Steelers signed, Cam Thomas… For that matter, they’ve gotten more value out of Mathews than Ladarius Green so far as well.

A guy who played a substantial amount of snaps but doesn’t appear on the list above for some reason is Jermauria Rasco, who the Steelers had signed only three days before. Rasco played defensive end at Louisiana State, and the Packers signed him as a UDFA in 2015. They cut him at the final cut to 53. Tampa Bay picked him up after the 2015 season but cut him in April. He has been listed in the NFL as an outside linebacker, which at 6’3, 252 pounds isn’t too surprising. The Steelers just have him listed as a linebacker. He played, according to my count, two snaps in the first half and 16 snaps in the second half on defense. He was always lined up on the left end of a four-man front.

As for the fourth-quarter guys, I’d love to say that someone really stood out, but the guy who stood out will come up when I cover the inside linebackers. Johnny Maxey was in for another stuffed run (along with Tyler Matakevich.) The sole Steelers turnover was a forced fumble, but that was courtesy of the defensive backs.

Jordan Zumwalt, the new guy (Rasco,) Caushaud Lyons, and Devaunte Sigler got the lion’s share of the snaps. Lavon Hooks got a half-dozen or so snaps, as did Giogio Newberry.

If I had to venture a guess, which I suppose is the point, I would say that, barring injuries, there really isn’t any question that Daniel McCullers is the official starter at DT. Lavon Hooks is listed as his backup, but I can’t help but think the Steelers would love to have Javon Hargrave take that job. It’s obviously a huge bonus if you have a guy you can put on the field on every down if necessary.

As for the DEs, Ricardo Mathews is listed as Cam Heyward’s backup, with Lyons behind him. I get the impression that the Steelers like Mathews, but they certainly gave Lyons a long hard look. L.T. Walton is listed as the backup, but he didn’t play due to a shoulder injury. You can’t make the club from the tub, and Johnny Maxey certainly took advantage of his snaps. He is, however, a very long shot. I’m hoping he makes it onto the practice squad.

In general, I don’t know how much to read into the enormous preponderance of four-man fronts. How many times it was a nickel package and how many times it was a true 4-3, I don’t know, and it may be tough to find out. I’ve discovered it’s even harder to see who is lined up behind the front line than who is in it. But the very first defensive snap was Tuitt, McCullers, Heyward and Harrison in the front, Moats, Shazier and Timmons behind them, and Gay, Cockrell, and two safeties, presumably Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden. I could not get a look at either guy, even in the milling about after the play. In case you’re wondering, that was a four-yard completion to Darren Sproles, who was taken down immediately by Timmons.

to be continued

 

Scouting for Steelers, Part II: Defensive Front

Nate Guldry/Post-Gazette

As I explained in Part I, I decided to go back and review the Steelers/Lions games from the standpoint of a scout, since the Steelers are clearly setting up their game plan with the idea of winning it as a very secondary concern. So let’s look at some of the guys on the bubble in the defensive front.

The first question is, who was getting the playing time, and where? I would go through and figure it out myself except that there’s no need to duplicate the fine work done by Dave Bryan at Steelers Depot. The big questions are, 1. Who starts at nose tackle in the 3-4 alignment, 2. Who backs up Tuitt and Heyward, and 3. Who plays in the sub-packages?

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Scouting for Steelers, Part 1

Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

My game recap of Steelers/Eagles was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. It’s pretty hard to get excited about a game in which the Steelers did not score a single point, and which featured four interceptions in the first half. But even as I watched, and even as I wrote it, I knew in my heart of hearts that impressing Steeler Nation was not the purpose of this, or any, preseason game. The coaching staff is looking for separation as they have to get serious about who to cut, and they are looking to avoid injuries, especially for the guys they can’t afford to lose.

This was brought home very clearly by a comment to the article by George Siegal, who said:

…the preseason is about individual performance, not team performance… [Craig] Wolfley said that if you watch a preseason game as a game, you’ll be disappointed, but if you watch it with a scouting eye, watching certain players to see how they play, it will be interesting. I’m paraphrasing, not direct quotes.

Both of those apply to this game in a big way. It seems to me that Coach T uses these games to evaluate players even more than most other teams. Other teams seem to get excited about the game, Tomlin gets excited (as excited as he gets anyway) about a player making a good play. He will get his backups in against the opponents first team as much as he can. Some coaches are concerned about winning because their teams need to learn how to win, that’s not the case in Pittsburgh. I’ve seen Coach T put second or third team players into bad situations to see how they do.

David Todd said in the post game show that in the last 15 preseason games the Steelers are 2-13. I have to approve of Tomlins methods, because it seems to work. He could keep the stars out for the entire preseason and they wouldn’t miss a beat and the players who need the reps are getting them. But it sure makes these games tough to watch..

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Random Post-Training Camp Observations: The Lombardi in August

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Charles LeClaire photo

by Ivan Cole

Some of us Steelers Nation folk who live in the Washington DC metro diaspora have found much amusement over the years as we have watched Washington fans celebrate capturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy in March. They have declared all sort of aggressive maneuvers, thus assuring themselves possession of that silver trophy and ignoring certain obvious realities. I would quickly add that followers of other teams do it as well. Many of the chronically clueless of Steelers Nation often lament the fact that Pittsburgh seems relatively uninterested in this sort of exercise.

But before we pat ourselves on the back for our wisdom, we might meditate upon the habit of doing something very similar in July/August. They don’t give out the Lombardi in August either. Or in September for that matter. There are things such as key injuries to concern ourselves about in preseason and the first quarter or so of the regular season, but for me the story doesn’t really begin until sometime around Columbus Day. And there is still plenty of mystery to deal with even then usually. So, while there are interesting issues afoot, forgive my relative lack of angst short of Labor Day.

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Steelers Fall Flat Vs. Eagles

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Training Camp

Eli Rogers: via USA Today Sports

Another week, another depressing report. I will look hard for bright spots, because the score of 17-0, Eagles, tells you the bright spots are not terribly obvious.

I took careful notes, and I could go through them for you, but actually the game can be condensed thusly:

First Half

  • The Good News: No three-and-outs
  • The Bad News: They weren’t necessary for the Eagles’ defense, as they intercepted Jones four times.

Second Half:

  • The Good News: No interceptions from Dustin Vaughan
  • The Bad News: No points from Dustin Vaughan either.

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Character (Ac)Counts: Scouting for Steelers

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Keith Srakocic, AP photo

I’ve gotten a bit behind on my reading. How far behind? I just got around to the May 9 edition of ESPN Magazine. I clicked on an article which seemed vaguely interesting  [no more paper subscriptions for me!] and struck gold.

The article in question is called In the age of analytics, putting the focus back on scouting.”  As you might suspect from the use of “analytics,” it’s about baseball. But bear with me.

The article is written about the Midwest Territory scout for the Minnesota Twins, Mike Ruth. As it begins he has shown up to a voluntary workout at Tulane, a week before official practices begin. As he stands in the cold, nearly alone except for a few university people, who should show up but a scout he recognizes immediately, because he is from another small-market team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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