Tim Benz: Steelers go back to school on defending ’rub routes’
“Jet streaming” and “tailpipe.” Get used to those terms.
You’ll be hearing them a lot this week from the Pittsburgh Steelers defenders.
And probably a lot during the rest of the season.
Maybe the better they perform those techniques, the less you’ll hear these terms: “pick plays,” “rub routes” and “underneath crosses.”
The New England Patriots pass-catchers ran those plays to perfection on numerous occasions against the Steelers Sunday night en route to their 33-3 win.
Short passes over the middle. Crossing in front of the quarterback. Creating traffic. Making for easy pitch-and-catch opportunities.
#Patriots opened up the #Steelers defense with crossing patterns. Loved this little wrinkle by McDaniels. Empty with Burkhead (bottom) out wide. Rex motions closer to the formation which sets up Izzo to pick his man at the LOS. Easy catch and run to get the drive started. pic.twitter.com/phwHAIHFW1
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) September 9, 2019
New England executed those plays so effectively, so often, that one would be wise to assume that the Seattle Seahawks will try to do similar things Sunday in Week 2.
“I’ll let them state if they are proficient at it,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of the Seahawks. “We’ve got to get better at defending it based on our last performance.”
And that’s where the defensive back technique of the Steelers comes into play.
“‘Jet stream’ or ‘tailpipe,’ it’s called,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “When you see them dudes running those drag routes, you get directly behind them because that’s the only way you can’t get picked. If you are running right next to them, you can obviously get picked. So you try to just seal right behind your receiver.”
Then, when the receiver slows down a touch to brace for the reception, that’s when the defensive back reaches in to break up the pass at the catch point?
“Exactly,” Haden exclaimed. “Alert (each other). Know that it’s coming. And know that you have to jump into that position.”
There you go. Simple as that.
Unless you are playing against Tom Brady and Julian Edelman and the rest of the Patriots receiving corps who have been running those routes to perfection for years. Especially since Brady is often so precise on his throws that even if you “jet stream” well as a defender, the receiver can stay perfectly in stride without slowing down to receive the throw, thus limiting the defender into simply tackling after catch.
Not every team can operate with such precision as the Patriots. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll is acutely aware of that, having coached against New England in a Super Bowl loss. He admits a danger exists for some coaches when they get an opponent the week after the Patriots have made that team look bad.
In other words, just because New England can do something against Team X, that doesn’t mean you can.
“There’s some wisdom in that thought,” Carroll admitted. “That’s a unique experience playing (New England). And you can’t measure and compare other teams to them. They are very unique.”
But Haden insisted the Seahawks “do a lot of rub routes, too.” So look for quarterback Russell Wilson to test the Steelers’ ability to get up to speed on their technique after Brady exploited it.
Now, technically — technically — a lot of those pick plays are illegal. Both the Steelers and Patriots got flagged for one apiece last week. Both clubs, though, ran numerous others that didn’t get whistled.
Therefore, instead of complaining about what other teams get away with, shouldn’t the Steelers just run a few more of those plays themselves?
“We have schemes,” receiver James Washington said. “But it all depends on who we are going against. Against (the Patriots) it wasn’t what we really wanted to do. But once we go against teams that (will allow) crossing routes … to happen, we’ll do it.”
Washington said Seattle is about a 50-50 man-versus-zone defensive team, and they leave three linebackers on the field a lot.
That sounds like a chance for the Steelers to try some underneath rub routes, but not a chance to really lean on the idea.
Last week, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton managed 418 yards receiving on 8.2 yards per attempt against the Seahawks.
Ben Roethlisberger would gladly take those numbers Sunday. And the Steelers defense will gladly take anything less than Brady’s 24-of-36 passing, for 341 yards and three touchdowns.
If “jet streaming” and “tailpipe” coverage is the reason why, so be it.