A year ago, due in part to injuries along the front seven, the Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately turned to six defensive back looks as a fixture of their defense, playing more dime and quarters than in their base package.
It’s been a rare sight for the Steelers to break out that many defensive backs this season, however, with the only significant time seeing that look coming in obvious passing situations against the New Orleans Saints a few weeks ago.
Of course, it’s been difficult to even get enough of the right personnel on the field. The team’s two starting cornerbacks at the beginning of the season, Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, have both struggled in their performance in addition to dealing with injuries.
Allen is already on injured reserve, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Taylor winds up there either if the Steelers were forced to make some kind of roster move in the near future. His presence for a potential playoff run, however, could dissuade them from taking that action.
This all comes in a season in which the Steelers elected to carry six defensive backs on the roster. They’ve struggled just to find six of them worthy of putting on the field, though 10 of the twelve now have on defense. The only two exceptions are Shamarko Thomas and Ross Ventrone.
B.W. Webb, the cornerback that the Steelers were awarded off waivers just prior to the beginning of the season, so his first time on defense of the year on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, seeing three snaps in the time defense as the fourth cornerback.
Last year, it was rare for the Steelers to use a fourth cornerback, as they preferred what Will Allen had given them as a third safety on the field. Much of that, however, was predicated on Troy Polamalu playing more of a linebacker role.
On three snaps against Matt Ryan and their explosive passing attack, however, the Steelers countered with the only four cornerbacks they had, Webb being one of them. On each of those three occasions, the Falcons were facing a third and long situation.
As Alex Kozora pointed out on Twitter, the first of those snaps came a third of the way through the first half, on the last play of the home team’s opening possession, which lasted eight plays before stalling on third and eight on the Steelers’ 44-yard line. Webb came on to shadow the running back out of the backfield as the defense forced Ryan to scramble and throw a poor pass for an incompletion.
He didn’t see the field again until the last play of the opening drive in the second half, which again came on a third and eight. Devin Hester this time was lined up in the backfield, and that is who he followed, though the pass went the opposite direction.
The next third and long situation came quickly, just three minutes later. This time Webb was in the slot, but Ryan completed for a first down. He didn’t see the field again for the rest of the game, but it’s something to watch for in the last two games of the season.