Big Ben’s sideline input keeps the Steelers in the playoff chase
Plenty of praise had been directed at Michael Vick after his 72-yard scoring bomb to Markus Wheaton, which sparked Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter comeback against San Diego on Monday night.
However, the veteran quarterback had made sure to give credit where credit was due following the Steelers’ 24-20 victory.
“The touchdown pass was all Ben,” Vick had told NFL Network’s Alex Flanagan about injured starting QB Ben Roethlisberger.
“He put the play together on the sideline, and that’s it. Based on what he was seeing — I was struggling — Ben put the play together, we executed, and now I see why he’s great.”
Vick deserved credit for staying resilient through three sub-par quarters and taking feedback from Roethlisberger.
Vick had been struggling because he hadn’t recognized what the Charger defense was doing.
He had had no answers, and neither had the Steelers’ offensive mind trust until Roethlisberger intervened. Vick had also posted a big-time move crediting Big Ben instead of accepting all the praise.
That kind of move won a player tons of positive equity in a locker room.
And credit should be given to Roethlisberger for remaining tuned in and spotting a defensive weakness.
That “team” dynamic had helped make Pittsburgh a dark horse Super Bowl contender if it could get healthy and click on offense and defense.
Keeping things together during that early season adversity should have helped the team harden for when the most significant games came down the road.
What Did Ben See?
Sideline counsel from an injured or inactive veteran player on the sideline was typical and came in many shapes and forms.
There was the simple encouragement, the individual technique advice of something a player might be doing that they weren’t aware of, the in-game tendency reminder, and the extra set of eyes to catch a specific opponent vulnerability the player on the field wasn’t seeing.
Specifically, what did Big Ben see in that San Diego defense that the Steelers could exploit?
“Their corners were press-bailing a little bit; we were going to hit some comebacks on them,” Roethlisberger had said. “If they were expecting that, I thought we would just fake it (comeback) and go deep.”
Additionally, Roethlisberger had wanted to get Vick moving on a rollout, believing it was good for the quarterback’s rhythm and could buy more time for that stutter to develop.
So, what was press bail coverage? Press-bail coverage was a hybrid that initially looked like press-man, then converted to an off-cover principal where the corner retreated to play deep to short.
Press-man coverage was where the corners played up close and looked to get their hands on the receivers to impede and disrupt the timing of the route. In press-man scope, the team was susceptible to the deep ball.
Off-coverage was a technique that protected against the deep ball. However, the team was susceptible to comeback routes and quick hitches because they overlapped vertical routes.
The press-bail made the offense believe they could beat the defense deep because the corner was in a pressed-man alignment, enticing the offense to go for deep balls.
But because the corner was bailing deep anyway, they could not only impede the wide receiver off the ball but stay in an ideal position on a deep throw.
What tipped Roethlisberger off was how available the deep comebacks had been to the Steelers, although the efficiency was off for Vick in hitting those routes.
Nevertheless, the corners had seen plenty of that route and none of its counter.
After seeing that, faking a comeback made the corner overreact to the shorter route, opening Wheaton up for the long ball.
As regularly emphasized on this site, quarterbacking wasn’t just throwing. The separation between top-tier quarterbacking and sub-par quarterbacking was often recognized.
It also showed why some quarterbacks with tremendous raw talent couldn’t make it and why QBs with marginal physical tangibles could succeed.
In a game of strategy, it was a matter of recognizing what the opponent was doing and adjusting accordingly.
The combination of Big Ben’s awareness and sideline input with Vick’s raw athletic ability had enabled the Steelers to stay in the playoff chase.