Scouting for Steelers: Defensive Backs


I’m focusing on the defense because I’m hoping that most of what we’ve seen from the offense isn’t what we will be seeing with the actual first team on the field. And since the defensive backs are probably the position group that has generated the most angst (I’m guessing TE is a distant second) it’s worth having a look.

As I discovered, it can be pretty hard to figure out who lined up where and who was actually on the field. So I’m just going to approach the group as a whole, making some assumptions about who was likely to have been playing, based upon when the front-line starters mostly packed it in.

First, the good news. The defensive backfield has accounted for very few penalties. In general penalties were kept under control—the Eagles had 12 penalties for 96 yard, the Steelers 6 for 36 yards. And of those six, they were divided as follows:

  • 7:37, Q1: Offensive Pass Interference, Sammie Coates [-10 yards.]
  • 13:02, Q2:  False Start, David Johnson [-5 yards]
  • :29, Q2, Neutral Zone Infraction, Travis Feeney, [-5 yards]
  • 3:39, Q3: Cobi Hamilton, Face Mask (it was an offset penalty.)
  • 3:25, Q3: Illegal Block Above the Waist, “D. Johnson,” during a punt return by PIT [-6 yards.] The game book incorrectly identified the transgressor as David Johnson but in fact it was Tyler Matakevich, who wears the same number.
  • 1:02, Q3: Illegal formation, Demarcus Ayers [-5 yards]
  • 1:25, Q4: False Start, Cody Wallace [-5 yards]

It’s ironic that the two false starts were by very veteran players. The others were by the young guys, though. But as you can see, there are no penalties against the defensive backs.

It is perhaps fair to note that the Eagles’ passing game tended to be of the West Coast variety, with quick strikes for short yardage. This doesn’t give a lot of opportunities for pass interference.

So let’s see if there is any more good news. I thought it would be interesting to try to determine how well the DBs did when the ball got past the front seven, and hopefully figure out who was doing well. Certainly there was a lot more passing than running, especially in the first half of the game, when the starters were in. There were a total of 27 rushing plays and 39 pass attempts. Of those 27 runs, 19 of them occurred in the second half of the game. There was also a quarterback scramble, but I didn’t count it.)

So the first question is, how many passing yards were accumulated in the first half, and of those, how many were given up by the secondary?

The Eagles managed 115 net yards on 19 attempts, 14 of which were completions. However, the Eagles managed only three points offensively during the 10:40 in which they possessed the ball, so there’s that.

I went and looked to see what was happening on the first half passing plays, since there aren’t a huge number of them to look at. Here’s the tally.

  • First Quarter:
  • 10:23, 3-11. Bradford throws a little screen pass. The receiver tries to cut it outside but is taken down by Robert Golden, William Gay, and Sean Davis, who doesn’t get credit in the game book. It forced a punt.
  • :40, 1-10. Short pass to Darren Sproles, who was taken down immediately  by Lawrence Timmons. Ross Cockrell backed him up. (4 yards.)
  •  Second Quarter
  • 15:00, 2-6, short pass, [Agholor], taken down immediately by William Gay (Robert Golden in support.) (8 yards)
  • 13:14, 3-1, pass, incomplete, forcing a punt. Timmons knocked it away from the receiver.
  • 11:29, 1-10, short pass to TE, taken down immediately by Ross Cockrell, which is impressive, as Celek is a big boy. Robert Golden was there right away once again. (17 yards)
  • 9:43, 3-2, pass to Sproles (3 yards) Timmons tackled Sproles, but the interesting part is, William Gay was looking to jump the route for Bradford’s intended receiver, so he had to regroup and take the three yards.
  • 9:13, 1-10, Bradford sacked (Arthur Moats.) (-12 yards)
  • 8:29, 2-22, short pass to Sproles in backfield, gained a few yards before Ryan Shazier pulled him down. (1 yard)
  • 7:51, 3-21,  incomplete pass. There was a lot of pressure on Bradford, and Celek was covered by Tuitt and either Cockrell or Golden—I couldn’t tell whether it was a 2 or a 3.
  • At this point the starters were pulled, so you will see some different names:
  • 2:26, 1-10, short left, immediately tackled by Shamarko Thomas. (4 yards)
  • 2:02, 2-6, short right, immediately tackled by Montel Garner, who’s making some noise. (4 yards)
  • 1:56, 3-2, short left, (12 yards), but offensive pass interference was called on Zack Ertz.
  • 1:49, 3-12, pass deep left. Agholor made an amazing, highlight-reel sort of catch. There were several DBs in the area, and Donald Washington made the tackle with no YAC. (22 yards)
  • 1:34, 1-10, incomplete. Vince Williams was covering.
  • 1:30, 2-10, short left to Sproles, but holding penalty on the offense.
  • 1:21, 2-20, short right to Ertz, pushed out of bounds immediately by Washington. (4 yards)
  • 1:16, 3-15, short right to Ertz, tackled almost immediately by Vince Williams. (9 yards)
  • :35, 1-10, pass deep right, incomplete, Doran Grant was right there and brought down the receiver, who couldn’t hold on to the ball.
  • :29, 2-5 (because of PIT penalty), short middle to Ertz. He tries to escape from Shamarko Thomas, but Thomas brings him down for no additional yardage. How, I don’t know. It looked like a baby brown bear trying to bring down a grizzly… [10 yards]
  • :23, 1-10, short right, tackled by Garner, who got away with his hand being on the wrong side of the receiver’s neck, it looked like. Essentially no YAC. [17 yards]
  • :16, 1-10, short right, tackled immediately by Grant [6 yards]
  • :11, 2-4, incomplete, deep middle. Ertz was well-covered by L.J. Fort.

So as far as I can see the backfield wasn’t giving up much. Those quick strikes for four yards are annoying, but if the quarterback can get the ball off, at least tackle the receiver right away.


I think we can assume that the defensive backfield is going to be William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Sean Davis as the slot corner, and Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden. But there are some intriguing guys vying for the last two corner slots and the back-up safety. We’ll look more closely at them tomorrow.

to be continued


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