PITTSBURGH — Welcome to the PSN Film Study. In this space, we’ll break down some of the big plays and tactical mismatches from each Pitt football game.
If you’re new here, I tend to build onto concepts I’ve already explained in the past at times, so if you feel like you’re missing something, the archive is a good place to check.
Ever since Amir Watts landed a huge interception against Syracuse a few weeks back, Pitt has been utilizing the zone blitz more frequently.
On Saturday, the Blue Devils used that tendency to their advantage, as Pitt’s defensive linemen couldn’t get into space fast enough to deal with Duke’s tight ends and shifty slot receivers and Pitt’s linebackers didn’t get the pass rush home in time prevent Daniel Jones from making throws.
Here, in the first quarter, Elias Reynolds walks up to the line to blitz, but both defensive tackles bail into coverage. Rashad Wheeler can’t get back fast enough to prevent Jones from making an easy throw to his tight end. The zero-step drop and rhythm pass don’t give Pitt’s pass rush any opportunity to get to the quarterback.
By blitzing and playing off-ball coverage, Pitt has no opportunity to re-route the tight end. Wheeler and safety Damar Hamlin, who is nine yards off the ball and at the hash mark, are the only players available to help with No. 87.
Here’s another zone blitz where the Pitt linemen didn’t get into a passing lane quick enough. Rashad Weaver is going to peel off his pass rush to play a short zone to defend against the tight end or the slot receiver on his side of the field.
But by the time Weaver disengages with his block, the tight end has already cleared out of his coverage area and is in the soft area vacated by the blitzing Reynolds. Idowu has to hedge between the tight end and the slot, leaving the tight end mostly uncovered underneath.
With Duke in an empty set, Pitt is blitzing, but no even getting close to the quarterback before he’s ready to release the ball. Instead of blitzing, Pitt would be better off in press coverage to disrupt Duke’s timing and giving the four linemen more time to get to Jones.
Here’s a critical 4th and 3 in the first quarter. Duke is again in an empty set. Pitt doesn’t blitz, which means there are seven defensive players covering five men in routes. The problem is the personnel. Duke has four wide receivers on the field and Pitt has just subbed into its base defense.
A linebacker like Seun Idowu isn’t in any position to try for a re-direct on a receiver like TJ Rahming. As you can see, he couldn’t really stay with him in off coverage. If Pitt wanted to get a jam on Rahming and break up this route, they needed to have a defensive back covering him up.
Here’s another instance of Pitt playing off and not being able to stick with their men in coverage. Reynolds has the tight end, but just loses track of him at the sticks. This isn’t really a mismatch, but Reynolds doesn’t attempt a re-route and also isn’t able to stay with his man.
And again, here’s Cam Bright matched up against Rahming and it doesn’t go well. Another one-step drop means the pass rush has little chance and it’s hard to imagine Bright sticking with Rahming.
Looks, film of linebackers getting abused by slot receivers isn’t exactly anything new around these parts, but the fact that Duke took Pitt’s zone blitz and used it against them by going empty set and with a quick passing game exposed Pitt’s defense badly.
Pitt tried to shift out of their base into the nickel, but Duke had a ton of success running the ball right up the middle. Part of the problem with that could have been related to the absences of Quintin Wirginis and Keyshon Camp in the middle of the defense.
Narduzzi said his team did not do a good job of maintaining assignment discipline, with players trying to run everywhere to make a play instead of just staying at home and doing their job.
LIFE AND TIMES OF V. CARTER
V’Lique Carter was the buzz of Pitt’s win over Duke, coming out of nowhere to rush for over 100 yards and two touchdowns after spending the first eight weeks of the season as a depth cornerback.
Narduzzi was noncommittal on Monday when asked about Carter’s future role, and questioned whether it was Pitt’s play calling and blocking scheme or Carter’s ability that made him successful.
Here’s his first carry. Pitt’s running game prowess has both the weak-side defensive end and linebacker flowing toward the running back, so that part of this play’s success can be attributed to scheme, but Aaron Mathews uncharacteristically has a hard time with his block, leaving Carter with what could have been a 1- or 2-yard gain if he hadn’t slipped an arm tackle.
Here, Carter gets a nice block from Grant Carrigan at the point of attack, but sets it up by dipping inside before he goes outside to get him around No. 16 on the corner and then uses his speed to escape No. 90’s angle.
Carter is certainly not just a speed demon. He has the kind of running instincts that allow him to set up blocks and step through tackles, and that, combined with his speed, could make him a very dangerous weapon.
A NICE PLAY, SNUFFED OUT
Duke’s David Cutcliffe is a creative offensive mind, and he came up with a doozie for a 3rd and 2 against Pitt.
The Blue Devils lined up three receivers to the wide side of the field, and Pitt flipped boundary corner Dane Jackson over to match up. When a team goes “corners over” it leaves the boundary side of the field vulnerable to rushing plays on the edge.
Duke exploits that, taking the slot receiver in motion and running a read-option play with quarterback Daniel Jones. Defensive end Dewayne Hendrix maintained contain and jumped the sweep, forcing Jones to keep inside, where there was an opening, but Reynolds blew up the play and the Panthers swarmed in. Duke picked up the first down, but this is a creative play call that could have gone for a big play if not for solid gap presence by Pitt’s defense.