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Old 12-08-2010, 06:11 AM   #1
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Default Troy Polamalu: A Lesson In Design

Troy Polamalu: A Lesson In Design
Posted on December 8, 2010 by adam

(Note see article URL for the pictures and video that go with the article. - mesa)

Troy Polamalu made another signature play on Sunday night when he came flying off the edge and did a superman tomahawk to Joe Flacco’s blindside, forcing the fumble that would ultimately swing the game in the Steelers favor. The question that has to be asked (and has been asked by many, including Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs): How the hell did nobody account for the best player on the Steelers defense?

The answer: Dick LeBeau is crazy like a fox.

Greg Easterbrook writes the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN’s Page 2 and talked about this play in his latest 80,000 word novel. In it, he describes LeBeau’s defensive system as “choreography and confusion.”

He also challenges the belief that Polamalu made a great play by arguing that he actually did the easiest thing on the field: run in a straight line, unblocked, and hit a quarterback that had no idea he was coming. He’s not entirely wrong … to an extent. Polamalu was unblocked, and a lot of this plays success was based on design. That said, not every defensive coordinator can draw up a play like this because not every defensive coordinator has Troy Polamalu. Also: Polamalu’s quickness and athleticism is a huge factor here. A safety (or linebacker) that’s a split second slower doesn’t get to the quarterback in time to force the fumble (it probably goes as an incomplete pass).

So, yes, it was the result of design, but the player allows the design to work.

And here’s the design.

First, thanks to some great camera work from NBC, we can see what Flacco is looking at when the two teams line up. The two players to watch for the Steelers: James Harrison and Polamalu. Harrison is lined up outside of left tackle Michael Oher, while Polamalu is pacing like a caged tiger seven yards from the line of scrimmage.

Quickly, however, this alignment changes. Just before the Ravens snap the ball, Harrison shifts to his left (Oher’s right) and is now lined up inside of the Ravens tackle. Polamalu quickly gets up to the line of scrimmage and is next to Harrison. There’s a lot of different ways teams blitz to get at the quarterback. The Jets, for example, use numbers and bring as many people as they possibly can and try to outnumber the offense (bring more people than you can block).

The Steelers typically bring fewer numbers but do so in a manner that leaves players unblocked (choreography and confusion).

On this play, the Steelers bring six (which is a lot of them): Polamalu, Harrison, Brett Kiesel, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and Ziggy Hood. Six, of course, being the exact number of players the Ravens have protecting: their five offensive linemen, as well as running back Ray Rice. In theory, they should be able to match up with every player and have everyone accounted for. But, like communism, this only works in theory. In execution, it’s a disaster.

Here’s what the Steelers alignment looks like just before the snap.

Once the play begins, Harrison goes inside of Oher and completely takes him out of the play. Meanwhile, left guard Ben Grubbs and center Matt Birk are occupied by Kiesel, while the right side of the line and Rice are all matched up one-on-one with Hood, Woodley and Timmons. This leaves Polamalu unblocked with a clean shot at Flacco.

He doesn’t miss. And here’s what it looks like when all of the parts are moving…

The beauty of it is the Steelers defense is so complex that they’ll probably never show this front again. And if they do, they’ll have the freedom to — and probably will — bring an entirely different combination of rushers from different angles.

All about confusion.
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Old 12-08-2010, 09:36 AM   #2
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Default Re: Troy Polamalu: A Lesson In Design

great breakdown. everyone should click the link to see the purty pictures. also greg easterbrook is proven more wrong and a know-it-all, blowhard (while minimizing troys talent) in regards to this play-

Dick LeBeau's zone rush -- TMQ prefers that term because often it isn't a blitz when only four defenders cross the line of scrimmage -- is about choreography that creates confusion regarding who's rushing and who's dropping. When it works, one rusher comes through the line unblocked. Announcers and fans see that action and think, "He made a great play." Actually he's done the easiest thing in sports, simply run straight ahead. It is the rush choreography -- happening before the snap and resulting in a rusher who isn't blocked -- that's impressive. A quarterback who sees the blitz coming usually has a man open -- all that's needed is for blockers to slow the rush for an instant. For a blitz to be devastating, somebody's got to come unblocked -- otherwise the ball will be gone.

Baltimore leading 10-6 with 3:22 remaining, the Nevermores had second-and-5 on their 43. LeBeau correctly guessed that Baltimore would pass, since the Steelers had been stopping the run -- though given the pace of the game, two rushes to grind the clock, followed by a punt, might not have been bad for the home team that also has a power defense. Pittsburgh showed mega-blitz, with seven men walking up to the line and shifting positions twice. At the snap, five actually rushed; Troy Polamalu came through unblocked and tomahawked the ball out of Joe Flacco's hand. Elegant blitz choreography!

Now the Steelers have third-and-9 on the Ravens' 9, still trailing 10-6 with 2:58 remaining. A pass is likely, as Baltimore has also been stopping the Pittsburgh rush. The Ravens walk up six to the line, showing blitz, but there's no deception regarding who will come. At the snap, all six plow straight ahead, and six Pittsburgh blockers each get a piece of a man, slowing the rush just enough that Ben Roethlisberger can release a "hot read" toss to undrafted Isaac Redman of Division II Bowie State. Because six men rushed, the hot-read completion became a touchdown and the winning points. On Baltimore's final drive, Pittsburgh did nothing funky, simply rushing four. Flacco kept anticipating the blitz but not getting it -- which was, itself, effective, especially when Flacco threw short, hot-read type passes on the Ravens' last two downs, when they needed major yardage.
some of these national writers really need to do a bit of research before making such grand statements. tomlin and the players all acknowledged that they guessed baltimore would run the ball, thus had a run blitz called.

tomlin attributed the great play to troys freakish instincts and talents. troy attributed it to leabeau putting him in the right position.

either way, pinning it on a simple DC "guess' is pretty far off the mark of what always makes a great play happen.
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