The Pessimist’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 pessimist’s take on the following question.

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

With the 2016 NFL Draft fast approaching—as in, it kicks off tomorrow—it is no surprise that the Steelers’ draft plans are being widely discussed at all levels, including from the team’s general manager and head coach during a press conference on Monday.

During that press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin once again brought up the analogy of a barn that needs painting, suggesting that the simplest solution is to use the paint that you have on hand rather than go looking for some different paint.

In the Steelers’ case, they have been restocking their brand of red paint defensively in perpetuity, for better than three decades since the team converted to a 3-4 defense. And while they may not run out of their ‘base’ 3-4 front with great frequency any longer, they have, at least up until now, continued to draft with that scheme in mind.

Sure, there is a great deal of talk about the Steelers looking at Andrew Billings, who is seen as a nose tackle who can rush the passer and thus contribute in sub-packages. But, to be clear, the Steelers are looking at Billings, first and foremost, as a nose tackle. Yes, he needs to rush the passer, but they are not looking at him as a whole new bucket of paint, a diversion from their usual plans.

It’s not as though Pittsburgh hasn’t had, or tried to have, a pass-rushing option at the nose tackle position before. For the better part of a decade, they had the 6’2”, 300-pound Joel Steed, who registered nine-and-a-half career sacks, including three in his final season, and multiple sacks in three separate seasons. Steve McLendon was supposed to be a similar player, but his pass-rushing abilities never really materialized.

What I have yet to see is the Steelers actually really being meaningfully connected to a player that would legitimately indicate a willingness to fit scheme around player rather than incorporating scheme-capable players. There haven’t been any true 4-3 ends or indications of linebackers that are more geared toward a 4-3. No hybrid safety-linebacker types.

Until I see something like that, I remain agnostic regarding their seriousness about branching out, and realistically, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to do so except with the right player, and there are few players that are truly worth tweaking a stable scheme around that requires intricate communication. Those players are unlikely to be available to the Steelers in this draft.

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