Ben Roethlisberger has been the starting quarterback of two Super Bowl championship teams. Throughout his career he has made plays that a lot of quarterbacks simply aren’t capable of making. He has the moxie and makeup along with the ever-elusive “intangibles” that put him on a short list of quarterbacks that have multiple rings (only 11 starting QBs have won multiple Super Bowls). For most of his career, the only issues he has had to deal with have been off the field.
This season, though, has been different. The Steelers have been inconsistent all year and a major reason why has been the relationships, or lack there of, between the team’s coach’s and players. Specifically, offensive coordinator Todd Haley has not been able to gain the trust and respect of Roethlisberger, who appears to not be on the same page as wide receiver Mike Wallace. These problems are weakening almost every play that is being called.
Pittsburgh’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Cowboys last Sunday is a perfect example. The Steelers won the toss in overtime and had a chance to march down the field for game-clinching touchdown—or at least the go-ahead field goal. Instead, on the second play of overtime, Roethlisberger was intercepted by Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr, who ran the ball back to the 1-yard line, setting up a game-winning Dan Bailey field goal.
In football, at all levels, the head coach and quarterback receive way too much credit when they win and way too much blame when they lose. This play is a perfect example. The stat column lists the interception under Roethlisberger’s name, but really it was his receiver, Mike Wallace, who gave gave Carr the chance to make the play.
As you can see in the diagram above, the Cowboys were playing a safe coverage on this play—the goal was to not give up a deep pass on the outside. On the snap, the strong safety rolls down and the free safety rolls to the middle of the field. The Cowboys are playing a “3 deep” coverage, meaning that the two corners and free safety are each splitting the field into thirds and defending any deep ball in their area. Carr is the corner with the biggest challenge on this play because he has to “stay on top” of Mike Wallace, one of the fastest receivers in the league.
Wallace runs an out route. My guess is that had the corner been in a press alignment or lined up closer to him, Wallace would have converted his route into a streak route down the sideline. Although you cannot see the entirety of the route on the video clip above, you can see enough to know that Wallace leaves his QB out to dry. Instead of breaking straight to the sideline at a 90-degree angle, or even at an angle back to the ball, Carr’s angle forces Wallace to drift away from the throw. Wallace’s poor angle allows Carr a good angle to pick the ball off.
The underneath zone coverage defender in this play is the playside (the defense’s left, Roethlisberger’s right) linebacker. Roethlisberger freezes him by peeking to the defense’s right at the beginning of the play. The linebacker does try to work hard to go left and get “underneath” the Wallace route but he is a non-factor on the play. Basically the corner is on his own.
Carr, though, is given time to get out of his backpedal, break on the route and get underneath to make the interception. The reason he was able to do this is because Wallace was either not running very hard or ran a very sloppy route, taking too much time to get out of his break point and get back to the ball. Roethlisberger appears to hang the ball inside a bit, because of the poor angle by Wallace. (Although in fairness to Wallace, quarterbacks are taught that if they must miss on an out-route, they should miss low and outside towards the sideline so that the ball can’t be picked off.)
The combination of the poor angle by Wallace and the slight miss inside by Roethlisberger gave the Dallas Cowboys a chance to get into the endzone—and maybe, into the playoffs. It also may end up keeping the Steelers out. Sometimes a season can come down to one play and, when coaches and players aren’t on the same page, the likelihood of these types of results occurring on important plays go way up.
Charlie Means is the wide receivers coach for the Denison (TX) High School football team and the author of TDdaily’s Coach’s Playbook series. Follow him on Twitter @coach_means.