Tim Benz: Maybe we're talking about reconnecting wrong WiFi for Steelers
Maybe we’ve all been focusing on the wrong WiFi?
While the “restored connection” between Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown was a big story emerging from the Steelers’ win over Atlanta Sunday, another network might have been patched up as well.
And it’s on the other side of the ball.
The defensive communication — or lack thereof — has been a focal point of criticism for this Steelers team.
Last second substitutions, frantic pre-snap checks and constant confusion have been hallmarks of the Steelers defense this season.
That problem seemed to dissipate Sunday against the Falcons.
“We communicated so much better (Sunday),” defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. “It was multiple guys, using hand signals. We had so many guys in that game, especially with Vince (Williams) out at inside linebacker.”
That’s an interesting point.
Williams almost never comes off the field when he’s dressed.
Barring injury, he usually only goes to the sideline during the dollar package. He didn’t play yesterday, though, because of a hamstring injury.
Hence, one would think — especially because he assumed many of the signal-calling duties since Ryan Shazier was injured last December — that the chaos pre-snap would get worse. But according to many on defense, it didn’t.
“When (Williams is injured), everybody goes in there together, knowing we have to over-communicate,” cornerback Joe Haden explained. “We have to make sure everybody is on the same page for that simple reason.”
Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort had the “green dot” communication helmets. They combined to absorb Williams’ workload and his signal-calling.
Matakevich was mainly on the field in running situations, and Fort played during more pass-oriented situations. He blitzed a few times as well.
“Everybody was working in cahoots, echoing the calls,” Haden said.
Haden illustrated how essential communication could be in the secondary on one play in particular.
It was a third down with 2 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Falcons needed 9 yards for a first down.
Haden had been following Atlanta receiver Julio Jones most of the day.
In this situation, Jones went in short motion and stopped. At that moment, Haden made a hand signal and shouted something toward teammates Mike Hilton and Sean Davis.
After the snap, Haden guarded Mohamed Sanu instead and allowed Jones to run right into a bracket between Hilton and Davis. Matt Ryan tried to drop the ball into Jones between the defenders but misfired, and the Falcons were forced to punt.
Haden bounded off the field in excitement as if he had made a pass breakup himself. It was as if he was Mr. Miyagi, and Hilton and Davis were “The Karate Kids.”
The light just went on, and the secondary had collectively learned how to “wax on, wax off.”
“Whenever we had that situation, we knew what was coming,” a beaming Haden recounted. “It was us talking through what was going to happen, and it happened. From film study, we just talked it up. We knew what was coming, and we made the play. That’s why I was so excited.”
With Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green up next, maybe the Steelers can employ some of the same strategies and communication methods with equal effectiveness.
If Haden shadowed Jones, why not do it again with Green?
He’s tied with Antonio Brown and Eric Ebron for the AFC touchdown receptions lead with five.
Whatever the case, the Steelers need to bring the same WiFi hotspot to Cincy that they fired up at Heinz Field. It seemed to have enough bandwidth for A.B. and Big Ben, plus 11 guys on defense.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact at Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.