The Oakland Raiders 34.

What went wrong with the Steelers defense on Sunday at the Coliseum?

The Coaches Tape shot from the sky doesn't lie, of course, so I put a few hours into studying the 56 plays Dick Lebeau's defense was on the field in their loss to Oakland on 9/23/12.

Here were some observations:

-Oakland and QB Carson Palmer really did damage on 1st-downs, especially in the second half, and they were pass-heavy on those downs. Of the 22 1st-down plays the Raiders snapped in the game (not including three snaps inside the Pittsburgh 10-yard line), Palmer threw it 16 times. That includes 12 of the game's final 13 1st-downs that went as pass plays, with Carson going 7 of 11 for 71 yards plus a defensive pass interference penalty. Completions of 5, 18, 9, 6, 7, 9, and 17 carved up the Pittsburgh D, and for the most part facing very little in the way of blitz pressure from the Steelers' base 'Okie' 3-4 D scheme. Palmer mostly had all day to throw on first down and took advantage.

-Perhaps the biggest of these 1st-down gains came in the game's final drive, with Oakland 1st-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 44-yard line and about 40 seconds on the clock in a tie game. Ike Taylor's man, Derek Hagan, was the lone WR left of the formation, and would drag across the field while crossing with the Oakland TE. Lawrence Timmons picked up the tight end, but Taylor seemed slow to react to the cross and Hagan ran for a 17-yard dagger-in-the-heart gain. The rest of the coverage on the play looked terrific, but Palmer easily spotted his wide open target just 5-yards downfield.

-3rd downs against were a mess for the Pittsburgh' defense, too, as the Raiders converted 7 of 8 3rds in the second half. Let's examine the 6 that weren't inside the Steelers' 10-yard line:

3rd-and-9 at the Pittsburgh 31:
Denarius Moore beats Cortez Allen for 12-yards. The Steelers showed 6 men at the line of scrimmage, but blitzed just 4. Carson Palmer started in shotgun, took 3 more steps back, and unloaded. Allen's eyes seemed to leave Moore for a moment of indecision as the zone scheme had him wondering if he should leave his man. That's all that was need for Moore to spring free on the curl, in front of a dropping LB Larry Foote.

3rd-and-9 at the Pittsburgh 33:
Rookie Rod Streeter beats Cortez Allen for 17-yards. Again, Palmer was in the shotgun formation. This time the Steelers blitzed only 4, dropping 7 in coverage with two deep Cover-2 safeties. The outside Steelers CBs had press coverage at the line of scrimmage, but Streeter's out pattern drew just enough separation and Palmer's throw was on the money. Carson also had pressure in his face as LaMarr Woodley pushed the Oakland RT into the QB on the throw. As was the case for just about the whole game, the opposite OLB (in this case Jason Worilds) was no problem for LT Jared Veldheer.

3rd-and-8 at the Pittsburgh 14-yard line:
Oakland TE Marcel Reese beats Worilds on a 10-yard out route with help from what should have been offensive pass interference. The replacement refs missed it, as Reese put his hand in Worilds' chest and pushed off. The Steelers were blitzing 5 on the play, including a CB fire, but as was the case for much of the day they tipped their hand too soon and Carson Palmer knew it was coming from his RT side. This was an easy, clean throw from the shotgun.

3rd-and-2 at the Pittsburgh 23-yard line:
Hagan beats Ike Taylor on a 3-yard out route. Simple, 3 step drop from Palmer against a 7-yard cushion from Ike T.

3rd-and-8 at the Pittsburgh 18-yard line:
Moore almost gets loose for a TD on another quick release on 3rd-down, this a WR screen, but Lawrence Timmons makes a fantastic play to get him by the ankle. Oakland settled for a 32-yard field goal.

3rd-and-10 at the Oakland 25-yard line:
Raiders TE Brandon Myers beats Timmons on a 15-yard pass up the seam. Great throw. Timmons had pretty good coverage, but not good enough. The TE here was lined up split wide in a 4-WR set. Again, a 5-man blitz but no pressure at all from it, including negative pressure from Worilds as he looked like he wasn't even trying.

In summary, it seemed like there was a different Steelers defender to blame on every play.

It also was an excellent performance from Carson Palmer, who not only made impressive sideline and stick throws (a few facing pressure) but also manipulated the Pittsburgh D to show their cards too early on several occasions. Using no-huddle was a big part of it. I'm convinced now Palmer's knowledge of Lebeau played a major role in this Oakland win.

It's also pretty clear that Oakland knew they could pass on early downs while facing less exotic blitz pressure, and on third downs they made an emphasis on getting rid of the ball quickly. It'll be interesting to see if this trend continues from opposing teams as the weeks go on.

On the positive side, I though Timmons, Larry Foote, and Ryan Clark did some good things in the run game and really played hard. Woodley had one sack and a few pressures, but continued to drop into coverage quick a bit, as well, as he is always playing on the strong side against tight ends. This team missed James Harrison very badly, more-so than even Troy Polamalu in my opinion.

One thing is for sure, nobody is used to seeing 30+ points put up by opposing teams facing Pittsburgh. During the 5+ years of the Mike Tomlin era, the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense has rarely allowed an opponent to score 30 or more points.

Through Tomlin's first five seasons, it had happened just seven times:
-Twice in 2007, to New England in the regular season and to Jacksonville in the playoffs
-Once to Tennessee late in 2008
-Surprisingly, just once in 2009 and in a victory at that: a wacky 37-36 last second win at Heinz Field over Green Bay. Even in the infamous five-game losing streak that preceded the Packers game no opponent racked up a 30-Burger.
-Twice in the Super Bowl runner-up season of 2010, with 39 allowed to New England and 31 to Green Bay in SB45
-And just once in 2011, the bloody 35-7 season opener in Baltimore

Already here in 2012, the 30-point threshold has been crossed twice.

Admittedly, a Ben Roethlisberger INT for a TD contributed to the Broncos 31 points scored in the season opener in Denver. Two lost fumbles by the Steelers' offense in Oakland also gave the Raiders O a boost.

However, as the tape clearly shows from this past weekend, Pittsburgh's D has some significant things to figure out over the bye week.

Posted in Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers

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