Steelers film session: The 'buck' stops here
One of the big questions surrounding the Steelers is how to replace a linebacker the caliber of Larry Foote, who was lost for the season after suffering a ruptured right biceps during Sunday's 16-9 loss to Tennessee.
However, on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans had to be questioning how they could target the veteran linebacker even more than they did.
With some new toys at guard in free-agent Andy Levitre and rookie first-round pick Chance Warmack, the Titans sought out Foote and ran it right at him.
Foote, the ‘buck' linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 defense, is responsible for lining up on the strong side of the opponent's formation and being the No. 1 run-stopper.
What that meant was that Tennessee always knew where Foote would be, and the Titans decided to target him with a pair of pulling guards.
Tennessee rushed the ball 42 times for 112 yards and converted two key third-downs and one fourth down, with the majority of them coming on power runs (pulling guards).
Nineteen of the Titans' 42 runs and 59 of their rushing yards involved either Levitre or Warmack pulling in some capacity — typically at Foote. Levite pulled 12 times, including clearing the way for Tennessee's only touchdown of the game — a 3-yard run by Jackie Battle.
The concept was none more evident on the Titans' only scoring drive of the game.
On the 12-play, 49-yard touchdown-scoring drive in which 11 of the plays were run calls, nine involved a pulling guard meeting Foote in the hole.
Foote finished with eight tackles before he left with the injury, but there was no doubt that targeting the veteran linebacker was a big part of the Titans' game plan.
Don't blame all sacks on O-line
The offensive line didn't play well at all, but you can't blame many of the sacks on the unit.
Out of the five times quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked, only 1.5 were because of an interior lineman.
The issue was with the running backs. LaRod Stephens-Howling allowed a pair of sacks. Isaac Redman gave up one, and Felix Jones and tackle Marcus Gilbert split another. Mike Adams surrendered the fifth and final sack of Roethlisberger.
• There was plenty of offseason talk about the Steelers' new outside zone blocking scheme, which was installed in order to help a struggling offensive line. Well, so much for that. Sure, the Steelers ran the ball only 15 times for 32 yards, but only one was with an outside zone blocking scheme. Surely, the Steelers wish it was none. The only time they called the outside zone is when David DeCastro tried to cut block Tennessee defensive lineman Sammie Hill but misfired and took out teammate Maurkice Pouncey, who is out for the year with a torn ACL.
• Tennessee didn't really do anything out of the ordinary to put pressure on the Steelers' offensive line and Roethlisberger other than calling a simple blitz. When the Titans sent five or more rushers at Roethlisberger, he was 5 of 12 for 46 yards, a touchdown and sacked three times. When the Titans didn't blitz, the offense was much better. Roethlisberger completed 16 of 21 for 145 yards and was sacked twice.
• The Steelers went into the Tennessee game wanting to split snaps at right outside linebacker between Jason Worilds and rookie first-round pick Jarvis Jones. And that's what they did, for the most part. Worilds played 46 snaps and Jones 30.
• Redman's second fumble early in the second quarter was caused by Tennessee's Jurrell Casey getting quick penetration before Adams and/or Kelvin Beachum were able to get a hand on him. Casey shot the gap left void by the pulling Ramon Foster that tied up David Johnson who was pulling behind Foster from left to right. Typically that play is one of the Steelers bread-and-butter run plays.
• Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley didn't like dropping into coverage as much as he did last year, as he felt that it affected his sack numbers. Against the Titans, Woodley rushed quarterback Jake Locker on half of his dropbacks and dropped into coverage 10 times. Woodley picked up his first sack of the year by beating David Stewart with a speed rush in the first quarter.
• How much do the Steelers miss Heath Miller? The short answer is: A lot. Fill-in David Paulson was in the pass pattern on all 38 of Roethlisberger's dropbacks and wasn't thrown at once. Miller was thrown to an average of 6.2 times per game. Also, Paulson was one of the reasons why the running game never got untracked because of his blocking.