By Matthew Marczi
Partially ignited by the injury to inside linebacker Larry Foote, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has acquiesced to the wishes of his free safety, Ryan Clark, by re-introducing the quarter sub-package into the defensive game plan, beginning with Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas as the extra defensive backs.
Now that Cortez Allen has returned to the lineup after missing two and a half of the first three games of the season, six defensive back personnel packages are continuing to grow in prominence.
In fact, in the team’s past game against the New York Jets, dime back Shamarko Thomas actually ended up seeing more total snaps on the field than did starting inside linebacker Vince Williams, 31 snaps to 26. The Steelers even opened the game in the dime package, with Williams on the sidelines.
It will be interesting to see how prominent this defensive back-heavy thinking becomes throughout the course of the rest of the season, and to see if the personnel used gets rotated much.
Last week, Curtis Brown began to get more work in practice, and it showed up on the field, as he did take one snap on defense late in the second quarter. The Steelers also recently re-signed safety Will Allen, who started several games for the team during the 2012 season in place of Troy Polamalu.
With Cortez Allen returning last week, Robert Golden was rotated out of the sub-package, with Shamarko Thomas alternating between playing the slot and deep safety. Perhaps Will Allen will eat some of those snaps at safety, given his experience with LeBeau’s system and his prior results.
Obviously, the opposing team’s personnel and the in-game circumstances have an awful lot to do with determining when to employ such a bottom-heavy defensive look.
For example, last week, the Jets were playing with a banged up group of wide receivers and had just gotten healthy at running back with Bilal Powell, Mike Goodson, and Chris Ivory. Yet their pass to run ratio was nearly two-to-one due to the fact that they were trailing for most of the game.
The Ravens are currently struggling mightily to run the ball, almost on par with the Steelers’ own struggles on the ground, and thus are also relying heavily on the passing game with Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Dallas Clark, and Ed Dickson. Tandon Doss and Marlon Brown also received significant playing time last week, while the Ravens ran the ball just 22 times for 47 yards.
Given that knowledge, expect the dime and quarter looks to remain a prominent part of the Steelers’ defensive look this week, especially if they are able to get out to an early lead.