FILM ROOM: A Closer Look at The Patriots Defensive Third Downs Against Pittsburgh

Ian Logue
October 31, 2011 at 07:15pm ET

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One area that the Steelers completely dominated during Sunday's win over New England was on third down, where they converted 10-of-16 against New England's defense.

Taking a look at the film it's incredible to see the spacing the Steelers created, which lead to a lot of open receptions.

Here's a breakdown of each one:

1) 3rd & 3 from the Steelers 48 yard line:

Pittsburgh spread New England out and Roethlisberger delivered a strike over the middle to Heath Miller, who managed to find an opening in between James Ihedigbo and Gary Guyton. You can see in the magnified block where moments before Roethlisberger threw the pass, Andre Carter was coming hard off the edge but got pushed out behind him.

2) 3rd & 11 from the Patriots 23

Miller once again found an opening in the middle of the field, with no one anywhere near him.  You can see the open space around him, with James Ihedigbo and Patrick Chung both playing too far off to be able to come up before he gets the first down.

3) 3rd & Goal From the New England 5-yard line:

The Steelers essentially run a pick play here, and they fire a quick pass to Mewelde Moore on a slant, who breaks in between James Ihedigbo and Antwaun Modlen for the touchdown.

4) 3rd & 5 from the Pittsburgh 18:

Later in the first quarter facing a 3rd & 5 from the Steelers own 18, Roethlisberger connects with Jerricho Cotchery, who catches a pass in front of Kyle Arrington for the first down.  You can see in the above shot that Cotchery got in between Mayo and Arrington, which happened because Antonio Brown lined up in front of Cotchery prior to the snap.  On the play Brown came out and took Arrington just enough outside to give Roethlisberger space to throw it to Cotchery after he cut back in for the first down.

5) 3rd & 3 from the Pittsburgh 35:

Once again Heath Miller finds an open space after beating Brandon Spikes on an inside release. He initially lined up on the right tight end spot, slipped behind Rob Ninkovich, and Spikes didn't pick him up quick enough. The result was a 13 yard completion by Roethlisberger for the first down.

6) 3rd & Goal from the Patriots 9:

New England needed a big play here after already trailing 7-0, and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork fought off two blockers to make the eventual sack on Ben Roethlisberger, which helped hold the Steelers to a field goal. On the play they also got pressure from Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, who both did a good job of forcing Roethlisberger out of the pocket and right into Wilfork's grasp.

7) 3rd & 17 from the Pittsburgh 14:

New England got another big play on their next third down, with linebacker Gary Guyton making a fantastic leaping grab on a pass attempt from Roethlisberger to Emmanual Sanders. That play helped set up New England's first touchdown, and stopped Pittsburgh's momentum.

8) 3rd & 4 from the Patriots 7:

New England had another shot at holding Pittsburgh to a field goal, but instead Roethlisberger found receiver Antonio Brown for a touchdown to increase their lead to 17-7 with about two and a half minutes to go in the first half. On the play both Ihedigbo and Molden got drawn back by Sanders and Arrington didn't slide over enough to be able to make the play. Both Ihedigbo and Molden came up and made the hit, but they were too late. One would actually have to wonder if Molden shouldn't have been the one to stay up on this play, as it was odd to see he and Ihedigbo doubling Sanders.

9) 3rd & 1 from the Steelers 36:
Nothing to show coverage-wise on this play. Pittsburgh simply ran Mendenhall up the middle for a 5-yard gain to convert the first down.

10) 3rd & 15 from the Patriots 48:

The Patriots blew a huge opportunity to stop Pittsburgh after allowing them to convert a 3rd and 15 play from New England's 48yd line. On the play Brandon Spikes blitzed up the middle and even swatted at Roethlisberger's arm, but he fired a laser over the middle to Emmanual Sanders - who got in between Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty, and Gary Guyton to make the 17-yard reception.

11) 3rd & 2 from the Patriots 3:

New England came up big on this play, forcing an incompletion by Ben Roethlisberger which helped hold the Steelers to a field goal. On the play Steelers receiver Mike Wallace lined up inside while Antonio Brown lined up outside, and Wallace tried to run a pick play but Brown ran right into Ihedigbo and Roethlisberger threw incomplete.

12) 3rd & 12 from the Pittsburgh 29:

This one was tough, because a 3rd down stop here could have given New England good field position as they still trailed 20-10 with 1:30 or so to go in the third quarter. On the play Roethlisberger found Brown on a deep in, with the receiver getting in between Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Roethlisberger made a great throw right on the money, and Brown came up with the 19yd catch and the first down.

13) 3rd & 10 from the Patriots 12:

After a false start penalty moved the Steelers back five yards, the Patriots held Pittsburgh to a field goal after Devin McCourty made the tackle on Antonio Brown. That kept the score to within a two score margin, as the Steelers went up 23-10 after the field goal. New England did a great job on the play to keep everything in front, and McCourty made a solid tackle.

14) 3rd & 3 at the Patriots 33 :
Nothing to show on this one. The Patriots had great coverage and everyone was covered, so Roethlisberger threw it high and over everyone. The Steelers would go on to miss the field goal, which was a big break for the Patriots.

15) 3rd & 1 from the Patriots 28:
Nothing to show on this play either, as Pittsburgh ran Isaac Redman for the first down on this play, which gave Pittsburgh their 9th conversion of the afternoon.

16) 3rd & 22 from the Patriots 39:

After an 11-yard sack by Kyle Love on the previous play set up another 3rd and long for the Steelers, New England made it two sacks in a row after Vince Wilfork and Mark Anderson dropped Roethlisberger and forced a punt with :29 left to play in regulation. You can see Anderson at Roethlisberger's feet, and Wilfork comes in and finishes him off.

The overall consensus is the middle of the field is a big area of concern right now, with what appears to really be a communication issue of guys not being directed to the right places. Many people make the argument that New England won Super Bowls with inexperienced guys in the secondary, but the difference between then and now is the fact there were plenty of veterans back there to make sure guys were lining up in the right place and covering the right people.

Clearly New England doesn't have that right now, and there were a lot of guys who appeared to be in the wrong spots throughout the game, not just on third down. Hopefully it improves as the season goes on, and it's definitely an area to keep an eye on in the coming weeks as they try to rebound from what was obviously a tough outing on Sunday.