Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Inside the Play: Ben Being Ben Creates Wallace Touchdown

Even though the Steelers lost this week, I wanted to take a minute to look back at one of the biggest plays of the game. Sure I could have talked about the defensive failures on McFadden's TD run or our inability to defend a simple out-route all game. But there was one signature play that was quite special and I felt warranted a look at the X's and O's this week. That play was a vintage Ben Roethlisberger play where he uses his feet to extend the play then hits an open receiver downfield (in this case Mike Wallace) for a big play (in this case, a touchdown).

At the beginning of the play we see the Steelers are aligned with 5 wide, but it's really only a 3 WR personnel grouping as Heath Miller and Baron Batch are on the field as well. Wallace is lined up at the top of the screen with Batch in the slot. Miller is on the line in the slot to Ben's right with Sanders next to him and Brown out wide. The Raiders appear to have their outside corners in man coverage with two deep safeties on the play.

If you watch the tape, you can see the route patterns develop. At the top, the Steelers run a very simple route combo with Wallace going long and Batch running an out-route underneath him. On the bottom, Heath and Sanders are both running crossing routes and Brown is running a fly down the sideline. I believe Heath and Sanders are the first two options for Ben on the play, as their routes are designed to get them open across the middle right at the first down line. The Raiders throw a hitch into this plan with their defense as they drop 8 into coverage with one of the defensive tackles dropping right into the space where Heath runs his route.

At the snap of the ball, the Raiders tackle has dropped into coverage instead of rushing. At this point, there are three Raiders defenders (circled) all looking into the backfield to see where Ben is going with the ball.

The dropping DT makes a very nice defensive play by picking up Heath as he comes across the formation. This enables the linebacker who was in the middle to drop a bit deeper. The slot corner steps up to cover Sanders as he runs parallel to the line. At the top of the screen, we see the route concept working to perfection. Wallace is drawing the corner off by running deep and Batch is coming open underneath for Ben's "check-down" option.

Now Ben is starting to run out of time. Even though it was just a 3-man rush, the internal clock in his head is going off. His first option (Heath) is being shoved off his line by the defensive lineman that dropped into coverage and is essentially double-covered by the DT and slot corner. Sanders is also being blanketed. At the top of the screen, the Raiders make their first mistake. Rather than running with Wallace, the corner takes a peek into the backfield. For the moment, this prevents Ben from throwing it out to Batch on the check-down. This is a trademark move of a Cover-2 defense in that the corner will "hand off" the receiver to the safety over the top.

CBS showed this camera shot during the replay and it pretty much shows what I just described. Brown is essentially double-covered at the bottom of the screen. The Raiders have the two receivers in the middle covered. At the top, the corner is releasing Wallace back to the safety who should drop back to cover Wallace as he goes deep while the corner steps up to cover Batch.

With the corner releasing Wallace to the safety behind him, he has a bead on Batch who is still open at the first down sticks. Miller and Sanders are blanketed by 3 guys across the middle and there is no way Ben is getting the ball. So Ben does what Ben does best: he improvises. He rolls back to his right to create some time.

From the wide-angle, we see the bigger picture as Ben rolls to his right. The safety on Wallace's side is beginning to sprint towards him and the corner has turned his hips and is now turning back towards Batch. Ben's passing lanes to the two receivers over the middle are covered. The DT who dropped to cover Heath (black arrow) is right in the middle of the passing lane.

As Ben comes back to his right, Heath turns and tries to follow Ben back to get open. He may look open in this screenshot, but he really isn't, which forces Ben to look downfield.

As Ben rolls back to the right, the Raiders pretty much have perfect coverage. The eight defenders have Brown (bottom), Sanders (hash marks) and Heath (between hash marks and numbers) all double-covered. Only Wallace (top) and Batch (top sideline) are single-covered. But as Ben rolls back to his right, things start to open up.

From a slightly wider view we see that Heath and Sanders are pretty much surrounded by 4 defenders. Even if Ben could get the ball to Heath, it's a risky throw. So Ben just points Wallace to the middle of the end zone.

This is probably the strangest part of the play. The safety that came over the top to cover Wallace, rather than turning and running with him back towards the middle of the field, keeps running towards the sideline after Wallace makes his break. The safety is now out of the play and Wallace has the entire end zone to himself. The other safety makes a break towards Brown, tightening the double coverage as Ben rolls to the right.

Ben winds up an throws, just barely behind the line of scrimmage. All four defenders that had been covering Heath and Sanders are making a run towards Ben. I'm not sure if they would've gotten to him before he reached the sticks if he had tried to run for the first down, but it would've been close.

Looking at the wide angle, we see that the safety at the top is still standing by the sideline, completely out of the play. The corner that had been eyeing Batch is now desperately trying to make a beeline towards Wallace, who is wide open in the back of the end zone. The four Raiders defenders over the middle are closing in on Ben and there really aren't any passing lanes to get the ball to Heath or Sanders.

As a final screenshot, here's a look at the direction each of the Raiders players were moving at the end of the play. Only one, the corner who had originally been covering Wallace, spotted him running open in the end zone. This was a fantastic improvisation by Ben and Wallace for Mike to get open across the middle and for Ben to find him. This was only possible because Ben used his feet to keep the play alive and gave his receivers time to get open. Remember, at the moment when the pocket started to break down and Ben had to scramble back to his right, the Raiders had excellent coverage. It was only because of Ben's ability to move around and create time and space that Wallace was able to exploit a terrible play by the safety and get open for the touchdown.

You can watch the whole play for yourself here.

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