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The Demise of our Pass Defense in the Play-Offs

Originally posted by Beeker:
Here's what happened:

Justin Smith was injured.
Aldon Smith was injured.

Depth is needed.

Yup, injuries, fatigue will do that, I believe P. Haralson, D. Dobbs injury affected us too.
Originally posted by buck:
If by the poster, you mean the original poster when you take about what seems to be the premise, you should probably go back and read what t was written.

At no point, was the overall defense mentioned explicitly or implicitly. The post is about our past defense, which with or without the stats, was better during the 2012 regular season than it was in the 2011, and the demise of that improved pass defense in the play-offs.

Not only did the pass defense fall apart in the play-offs, it seemed to develop schizophrenia. It, the pass defense, was horrid in the first half of the Atlanta and the Baltimore games and then played much better in the second half.

That schizophrenic play simply can not be attributed to the injuries to Justin and Aldon Smith. They played in both halves of both games.

If the poor play of one or more of our defensive backs was the key factor in the demise, why did they play better in the second half of the Baltimore and Atlanta game. I do not have the answers.

Based upon what has been discussed in this thread, I would say that the demise of pass defense reflects a confluence of:

1. The injuries to Justin and Aldon Smith that nearly eliminated our pass rush.
2. Weaknesses in the defensive backfield.
3. Poor coaching on the part of Ed Donatell, the secondary coach and/or Vic Fangio, the defensive coordinator.
4. Lethargic, sleep walking play at the beginning of the game. (although seemed to a problem of the whole team, not just the pass defense.

Your point about the demise starting prior to the play offs is valid. The start of the demise sure seems to have started with the injury to Justin Smith.

However, the dichotomy between the regular season and the play-offs is standard in the NFL. The official statistics kept by the NFL, itself, make the distinction between the regular season and the play-offs. Common records, sacs, rushing yards, receiving yards, etc., are based solely on regular season play.


Sure, I was referring to the OP. Sorry for the confusion.

I think that we stopped being an intimidating world class defense at some point this season for a variety of reasons. Not just debilitating injuries to the Smiths, but general wear/tear/grind for many contributors.

When you play world class smashmouth defense up front, it covers a lot of holes in the back. The second half of the Giants playoff was one of the strongest physical performances of any defensive unit in the last couple decades. I think that happened often in 2011 so, I am not sure about the premise that our pass D was better this year than 2011 (due to front 7 play). Although, I respect stats and the ones you quoted say another story. I have to look into that further. All I am saying is that I find that surprising, and counter to my impressions of overall defensive play from 2011 to 2012.

As far as the playoff "schizophrenia," again I think the big difference was 3Q in ATL. We called some blitzes for Brooks, and they worked. I think that's it. I don't think we looked very controlling or dominating as the season went on, especially after New England. I see it as a continuous trend, if you take the ups and downs of good/bad opponents out of the equation. I have to go back over 2H of superbowl, but I think the big difference there was that our offense got rolling. Have to check the play chart.

In fairness to Fangio, we do have a bit of an odd defense. We call it a 3-4, but it's not really with ASmith on the field. He's not a real OLB. We really play a 4-3 with a two-point rusher on the right side most of the time. Smith isn't given a lot of responsibilities that you give traditional Steeler-style OLB's, imo. And that is an issue when you are trying to give different looks, and blitz from surprise locations.

But, you have to do something if what you're doing isn't working.

And you shouldn't have to be down by three touchdowns to figure that out.
[ Edited by brodiebluebanaszak on Apr 6, 2013 at 5:13 AM ]
This has become one of my favorite threads...excellent topic and even better analysis by everyone. Great work...lots to think about esp. with new additions (draft/FA) and losses and coaching/scheme.
I think, Aldon & Justin were both not even close to 100% and teams knew they couldnt run on the 9ers so they right away went to the air spreading out our defense and for whatever reason people wanna believe Patrick Willis is this Great cover LB which HE ISN"T!! Willis is a BEAST in the run game and as a BLIZTER ONLY in the passing game but he continueally got smoked by Pitta, Dickson, Gonzales in the playoffs. I felt we shoulda blitzed Willis more along with blitzing Donte more because neither can cover but theyre both good around the L.O.S. Bottom line, we need another studd passrusher and a cover type safety
1 of the main things between the season and the play-offs is the season is averaging in a lot of lesser competition versus the play-off caliber competition. So you would expect the defense's numbers to get a bit worse. It might be more telling to compare the play-off stats with the regular season stats of the defense against play-off caliber teams. For example, Brady torched us for a lot of yards in the regular season - so did the Giants, and the Packers stats were not bad against our defense.

But to your point about 1st half versus 2nd half - we give our coaches a lot of credit for half time adjustments, but frankly, it would appear that they are not very good at in game first half adjustments. There can be all kinds of reasons for this:

1. They may be reluctant to change the game plan off a small sample of early plays in the first quarter / half - worrying that the other team is trying to get us to react to something.
2. Stubborness that the team should execute the original game plan better and be fine.
3. Maybe it is the players not making the right adjustments - I have seen early in a few games that the secondary looks confused with their signals to each other.

Whatever it is, what you point out shows a need for improvement from the coaches to have the players more ready for the first half and prepared to make adjustments early as necessary.
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Originally posted by ElephantHaley:
I think, Aldon & Justin were both not even close to 100% and teams knew they couldnt run on the 9ers so they right away went to the air spreading out our defense and for whatever reason people wanna believe Patrick Willis is this Great cover LB which HE ISN"T!! Willis is a BEAST in the run game and as a BLIZTER ONLY in the passing game but he continueally got smoked by Pitta, Dickson, Gonzales in the playoffs. I felt we shoulda blitzed Willis more along with blitzing Donte more because neither can cover but theyre both good around the L.O.S. Bottom line, we need another studd passrusher and a cover type safety

If you cover in the NFL, you do get beat--it is just part of the job.

Willis is probably the best cover linebacker in the NFL.

In the last two years, Willis has defended 21 passes and has had three picks.

In comparison, in the last two years Chris Culliver has defended 20 passes and has had three picks.

I am one of those who think Willis is a great cover linebacker. The reason is he does the job better than other linebackers.
I actually believe he remains the best inside linebacker in the game.
[ Edited by buck on Apr 6, 2013 at 2:18 PM ]
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Originally posted by brodiebluebanaszak:
Sure, I was referring to the OP. Sorry for the confusion.


In fairness to Fangio, we do have a bit of an odd defense. We call it a 3-4, but it's not really with ASmith on the field. He's not a real OLB. We really play a 4-3 with a two-point rusher on the right side most of the time. Smith isn't given a lot of responsibilities that you give traditional Steeler-style OLB's, imo. And that is an issue when you are trying to give different looks, and blitz from surprise locations.

After Aldon Smith played primarily as a pass rushing defense end on passing downs many poster felt that he would not be able to become a full-time outside linebacker.

Last year, Aldon Smith played outside linebacker full-time. Now you claim that he is not a real outside linebacker because he is not given the responsibilities of a Steeler-style OLB.

In his first year as an outside linebacker, Aldon Smith:

1. led the team with had 19.5 sacks.
2. led the team with 3 forced fumbles.
3. was fourth on the team with 3 tackles for a loss.
4. was fifth on the team with 66 tackles (50 solo and 16 assists).

Perhaps, you can explain what responsibilities Aldon Smith has not been not given.

Under Dick LeBeau of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 3-4 OLB rushes the passer on the great majority of passing downs, and drops into coverage less.

As far as I can tell, Aldon Smith rushes the passer on the vast majority of passing plays and drops into coverage sometimes.

And exactly who has made the Steeler-style outside linebacker the norm for defining a real outside linebacker?

In my estimation, Aldon Smith a real outside linebacker.
[ Edited by buck on Apr 6, 2013 at 8:10 PM ]
Originally posted by buck:
Last year, in the 2012 regular season, our pass defense was the 4th rated pass defense in the league.

In the 2011 regular season our pass defense was the 17th rated pass defense in the league. That is a substantial improvement.

Even though the ranking of our pass defense improved substantially not all was positive; we had 9 fewer interceptions and 4 fewer sacks. The passer rating of opposing quarterbacks went up from 73 to 78. But, despite these shortcomings, our pass defense improved markedly.

We had minor, perhaps insignificant, gains in yards allowed, yards per game, average per reception, and touchdown. The percentage of plays that produced 1st downs went down by 1.4% from 32.8% to 31.4%.

In other aspects of pass defense, the team made significant advances.

In 2011, we gave up 60 big passing plays. In 2012, we gave up 35 big passing plays.
The number of passing plays of 20+ yards that we gave up went from 48 to 38.
The number of passing plays of 40+ yards dropped from 12 to 7.
In total, we gave up 15 fewer big passing plays in 2012; a 41.7% drop.
The number of passing plays that went for 1ST downs decreased from 190 to 178 (-12).

In 2011, we gave up 3.75 big passing plays per game; in 2012, 2.19.

The gains in our passing defense disappeared in our three play-off games.

In three games, we gave up 17 big passing plays; 14 of 20+ yards and 3 of 40+ yards.
In the play-offs, we gave 5.67 big passing plays per game.

The percentage of passing plays that went for first downs increased from 31.4 % to 39.5%.
The passer rating of opposition quarterbacks increased from 78 to 109.5.
Passing yards allowed per game increased from 200.2 per game to 306 per game.
Completion percentage increased from 59.4% to 68.4%.
Yards gained per pass attempt increased from 6.1 to 8.2.

The Atlanta and Baltimore play-off games complicate the task of understanding the discrepancy between our regular season pass defense and our play-off past defense. In the first half of both the Atlanta and the Baltimore game, our pass defense got its clock cleaned, but not in the second half.

In the first half of the Atlanta game, Matt Ryan competed 18 of 24 passes for 271 yards and 3 scores. He completed 75% of his passes and had a passer rating of 151.2. In the second half, he completed 12 of 18 passes for 125 yards and no scores. By the end of the game, his passer rating had dropped to 114.8.

In the Baltimore game, Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes, for 192 yards and 3 scores in the first half. He completed 65% of his passes and had a passer rating of 135.8. In the second half, he completed 9 of 13 passes for only 95 yards and no scores. By the end of the game, his passer rating fell to 124.2.

From the get go, it clearly appears that if our first half pass defense against Atlanta Baltimore had been close to as successful as our second pass half defense against them, we would have won the conference championship and the Super Bowl going away.

I keep asking myself what the'ell happened.

If I were more intelligent, I might be able to answer that question, but I am not.

I cannot come up with any rational answer. Without a doubt there is people out there are both more intelligent than I, and understand the game better than I do.

The only definite conclusion that I have been to reach is that the blame for the demise our pass defense cannot be placed on the debilities of the individuals in our defensive backfield. Goldson, Whitner, Rogers, Brown, and Culliver played in the regular season and the post season. They played in the first half and the second half of both the Atlanta and the Baltimore game. They were a constant and the results changed.

I would appreciate your thoughts.

Something else to think about is that as both games went along, our offense got more cohesive and sustained better and longer drives. That accompolished two things. It gave us more time of pocession and allowed the defense a chance to catch it's breath. I guess you could also throw in a little adrenaline push as well as the mometum swung into the 49er's favor. Also in both games our defense got two key takeaways which played right back into my original point about the time of pocession and offensive prowess.
Originally posted by buck:
After Aldon Smith played primarily as a pass rushing defense end on passing downs many poster felt that he would not be able to become a full-time outside linebacker.

Last year, Aldon Smith played outside linebacker full-time. Now you claim that he is not a real outside linebacker because he is not given the responsibilities of a Steeler-style OLB.

In his first year as an outside linebacker, Aldon Smith:

1. led the team with had 19.5 sacks.
2. led the team with 3 forced fumbles.
3. was fourth on the team with 3 tackles for a loss.
4. was fifth on the team with 66 tackles (50 solo and 16 assists).

Perhaps, you can explain what responsibilities Aldon Smith has not been not given.

Under Dick LeBeau of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 3-4 OLB rushes the passer on the great majority of passing downs, and drops into coverage less.

As far as I can tell, Aldon Smith rushes the passer on the vast majority of passing plays and drops into coverage sometimes.

And exactly who has made the Steeler-style outside linebacker the norm for defining a real outside linebacker?







In my estimation, Aldon Smith a real outside linebacker.


Well, I think if you look at the numbers you are quoting you will see that they don't resemble the kind of production you see from 3-4 OLB.

Most of the time OLB's tackle running backs. Aldon had 31 tackles vs non-QB's last season (sacks count as tackles). Harrison has 2x 3x that. That's not what OLB numbers look like.

OLB's cover a lot of ground, have lateral agility, get to and punish backs, receivers, tight ends. Smith is fast for a lineman but not necessarily mobile to the point of covering wide portions of the field. So, I don't think Fangio gives him a lot assignments there.

I think everyone understands SMith is VERY young -- he learning, he's growing. SO we'll see. But for now, his contributions are in the middle quarter of the field.

And, even if you forget the numbers, and you watch his movements, you can see that he's tall and linear, not compressed and powerful.

The way you sketch out the archetypal Steeler OLB to be.

Which the Steelers have been churning out since the early 90's. (I think they have a patent on it.)

For Aldon to feel more like a 3-4 edge player, he needs to have way more impact against backs, in the open spaces. IMO. And, I think this all affects our version of the 3-4, and what Fangio can do with it.

And, I think you answered you're own question about who is responsible for all of us speaking about STeeler-style OLB's -- Dick Lebeau, HoF par excellance, the Bill Walsh of linebacker coaches.
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Originally posted by brodiebluebanaszak:
Well, I think if you look at the numbers you are quoting you will see that they don't resemble the kind of production you see from 3-4 OLB.

Most of the time OLB's tackle running backs. Aldon had 31 tackles vs non-QB's last season (sacks count as tackles). Harrison has 2x 3x that. That's not what OLB numbers look like.

OLB's cover a lot of ground, have lateral agility, get to and punish backs, receivers, tight ends. Smith is fast for a lineman but not necessarily mobile to the point of covering wide portions of the field. So, I don't think Fangio gives him a lot assignments there.

I think everyone understands SMith is VERY young -- he learning, he's growing. SO we'll see. But for now, his contributions are in the middle quarter of the field.

And, even if you forget the numbers, and you watch his movements, you can see that he's tall and linear, not compressed and powerful.

The way you sketch out the archetypal Steeler OLB to be.

Which the Steelers have been churning out since the early 90's. (I think they have a patent on it.)

For Aldon to feel more like a 3-4 edge player, he needs to have way more impact against backs, in the open spaces. IMO. And, I think this all affects our version of the 3-4, and what Fangio can do with it.

And, I think you answered you're own question about who is responsible for all of us speaking about STeeler-style OLB's -- Dick Lebeau, HoF par excellance, the Bill Walsh of linebacker coaches.

Subtracting sacks from tackles in an attempt to prove that Aldon Smith is not a real outside linebacker makes no sense.

Aldon Smith had 66 tackles and 19.5 sacks.

Here are the numbers for the Steeler Linebackers last year.

James Harrison had 70 tackles and 6 sacks.
LaMarr Woodley had 38 tackles had 4 sacks.
Jason Worilds had 27 tackles and 5 sacks.

Look at the numbers from other 3-4 outside linebackers.

Von Miller had 68 tackles and 18.5 sacks
Justin Houston had 66 tackles and 10 sacks
DeMarcus Ware had 56 tackles and 11.5 sacks
Ryan Kerrigan had 54 tackles and 8.5 sacks

Aldon's numbers clearly resemble all of these 3-4 outside linebackers.

Using your logic, we would have to conclude that these four are not real outside linebackers.

Or if body type is the critical factor in being a Steeler-type OLB, it is logical to conclude there real outside linebackers that are not Steeler-types.

But, you are entitled to your opinion.
[ Edited by buck on Apr 6, 2013 at 8:21 PM ]
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Originally posted by HearstFan:
1 of the main things between the season and the play-offs is the season is averaging in a lot of lesser competition versus the play-off caliber competition. So you would expect the defense's numbers to get a bit worse. It might be more telling to compare the play-off stats with the regular season stats of the defense against play-off caliber teams. For example, Brady torched us for a lot of yards in the regular season - so did the Giants, and the Packers stats were not bad against our defense.

But to your point about 1st half versus 2nd half - we give our coaches a lot of credit for half time adjustments, but frankly, it would appear that they are not very good at in game first half adjustments. There can be all kinds of reasons for this:

1. They may be reluctant to change the game plan off a small sample of early plays in the first quarter / half - worrying that the other team is trying to get us to react to something.
2. Stubborness that the team should execute the original game plan better and be fine.
3. Maybe it is the players not making the right adjustments - I have seen early in a few games that the secondary looks confused with their signals to each other.

Whatever it is, what you point out shows a need for improvement from the coaches to have the players more ready for the first half and prepared to make adjustments early as necessary.

I agree that there is a clear need for improvement from the whole coaching staff and the need extends beyond the passing game..

Some of the needed coaching improvements extend beyond game planning; beyond the Xs and Os of coaching.

In the games against the Giants, the Falcons, the Raven, and the second game against the Seahawks, the whole team, not just the pass defense, came out flat. lethargic, sleep walking, off balance. Maybe, the players were too tense; more focused on the importance of the game, than on playing the game.

I am certain that events preceding the Super Bowl game had a negative impact on Chris Culliver's game. Had Chris Culliver been better prepared for the absolute craziness of Super Bowl week, he would known to respond to any controversial question with a simple, "Next question, please."

When Randy Moss started talking about being the greatest receiver of all time, I got worried, and a bit angry.
His focus should have been on the task at hand--winning the Super Bowl--not his legacy.









[ Edited by buck on Apr 7, 2013 at 4:31 AM ]
Hey that's not right. None of those guys are league leaders.

Those numbers are not normal forthe Steeler guys and I think that injuries are responsible.

If you go back over the years for Harrison, say, you will find a very different set of numbers.

Check out the 2012 stats for OLB's:

http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?archive=false&conference=null&statisticPositionCategory=LINEBACKER&season=2012&seasonType=REG&experience=&tabSeq=1&qualified=true&Submit=Go

You will find the OLB leaders with tackles/assists over 100 and not too many sacks.

The most impressive combo? Ok, not an OLB at all. It's ILB Washington with 9 sacks and still 100 tackles (ok, 99)

More importantly, I bet if you did a heat map like they do in soccer of the tackles and assists for the better OLB guys you will find a lot more hits outside the hash marks and in the defensive backfield than you do for Aldon.

Aldon was catagorized as a "nickel package specialist" as a rookie.

He was more than that last year but his game needs to upgear to achieve all star OLB production.

His assists are a little disappointing, 16 ranked 80th. And, again, if you subtract sacks from tackles you get an appalingly low number of non-qb tackles. 30.5 would rank about 100th.

Now, don't get me wrong. These numbers are skewed because Fangio is sending aldon in on practically every down. And likely , for other scheme related reasons. Brooks also has a pretty low number of tackles/assists. So I think that reducing statistical production for OLB's is part of Fangio's "scheme."

Also, those numbers essentially reflect the 75% of the season he was healthy. So they're not really so bad.

But its an issue to me that there aren't more things in the plan for Aldon to do on the field. The sack production is great, but I think no one says "hey we can't run over there. Our guys will get hurt." Or, "he's going to hit us in the backfield. Can't go wide."

And did it work out for him, being a 3 down player? He got ravaged. And played the last 6 games one armed.

I am not anti-Aldon. Aldon had a pretty good senior year in college last year. So I am looking forward to continued development.

But again, his responsibilities in the 3-4 affect what we can do in the formation. And I still say that we really play more of a 4-3 with a two point rusher at right end than a traditional Steeler-style 3-4 with lots of mean, mobile powerful athletes darting around the box, confusing lineman and swarming backs.
[ Edited by brodiebluebanaszak on Apr 7, 2013 at 6:26 AM ]
...having gone through all this long winded stuff, can we confirm whether a sack counts as a tackle too? I looked up the definition in various quasi-official sources, and it seemed that a sack was defined as a form of tackle. However, I have not found the official definition from NFL stats, or a statement of their practice. Is a sack included in the tackle statistics or not? It seems so, but I haven't found the definitive statement.
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Originally posted by brodiebluebanaszak:
...having gone through all this long winded stuff, can we confirm whether a sack counts as a tackle too? I looked up the definition in various quasi-official sources, and it seemed that a sack was defined as a form of tackle. However, I have not found the official definition from NFL stats, or a statement of their practice. Is a sack included in the tackle statistics or not? It seems so, but I haven't found the definitive statement.

Good question. I will look for an answer.

But, as I said before I think that subtracting sacks from tackles makes no sense when evaluating on 3-4 outside line.

We are taking up too much space in this thread; the thread is not about Aldon Smith.
[ Edited by buck on Apr 7, 2013 at 7:57 AM ]
Originally posted by buck:
Good question. I will look for an answer.

But, as I said before I think that subtracting sacks from tackles makes no sense when evaluating on 3-4 outside line.

We are taking up too much space in this thread; the thread is not about Aldon Smith.

For once we are in agreement.

The point of subtracting sacks from tackles is to get a sense of what else he is doing besides eating quarterbacks.