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The Optimist’s Take: Defensive Schemes And Paint Schemes

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Should the Steelers consider mixing up the paint scheme of their proverbial defensive barn?

If you don’t understand the question, then you’re probably not familiar with one of head coach Mike Tomlin’s favorite mannerisms as it pertains to defensive scheme, and it is one that he reiterated yet again yesterday, as he often does around draft time.

The general idea behind the saying is that it makes the most sense simply to use what you already have, rather than expend resources to try to do something different. In this scenario, the subject has a barn, and a bucket of red paint, so he paints his barn red.

As the analogy goes, the barn is the Steelers’ defense, or perhaps more specifically their defensive scheme, and the paint represents the team’s defensive roster. Their roster happens to be geared toward executing, for the most part, a traditional 3-4 defensive scheme—or red paint, as the analogy goes—and so that is the defense that they run.

Over the course of the past three-plus decades, the Steelers have time and time again restocked that red paint in the draft, and the barn has kept turning up red every Autumn, unsurprisingly.

I don’t have an appropriate analogy for it, but as time has passed, and the league has evolved, it has seemingly become less and less prudent to have a red barn, and I would argue that we’ve begun to see some different hues in the paint here and there as a result. Recent comments have suggested more than ever that the team might be open to mixing and blending colors a bit this time around.

Early this offseason, Kevin Colbert noted that the defense spends about 70 percent of its time with five defensive backs on the field, and typically four rushers, and that, because of that, they might be more open to drafting a legitimate defensive end for a four-man front.

That, to me, would represent a bit of nuance in that standard old red paint, or a move parallel to it, in the same spirit. Another case for experimenting with the paint is the idea that there is enough room for improvement yet on defense that the best strategy is simply to add the best talent and build around it, even if the ‘scheme fit’ doesn’t perfectly mesh.

Both are legitimate points, though the former may be in greater consideration than the latter, and it will be interesting to see how this might play out later in the week during the draft, which figures to skew heavily toward defensive players.

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