If you are a particularly observant spectator on game day for the Pittsburgh Steelers—or if you are a regular reader of this site—you may have noticed a shift over the course of the last several weeks of the 2015 regular season on the defensive side of the ball.
It was not a shift in terms of personnel—although that occurred as well—but rather a shift in personnel packages. And it was one that, should it continue, 10th-year inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons might not be very thrilled about.
In the regular season opener, new defensive coordinator Keith Butler looked to attack the spread New England offense by liberally sprinkling in instances of a dime defense, or what they refer to as a quarter defense, that includes three cornerbacks and three safeties.
The Steelers ran in this personnel for 20 plays in the opener with poor results, resulting in in the look being shelved for nearly the entire season until the team matched up with the Broncos in their Week 15 contest.
As he had before, Robert Golden entered the game, typically in obvious passing downs on third and long, only this time, it was Timmons, and not Ryan Shazier, who was taken off the field. Timmons had virtually not missed a snap until then.
Through the final three games of the regular season, Pittsburgh used their quarter package on 20 occasions, though the bulk of that came against Denver. Actually, in some instance in the opener, the Steelers used Shazier on the outside and removed an outside linebacker.
In an article regarding Timmons, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review yesterday quoted the now-30-year-old linebacker as saying, “I always feel that I should be on the field helping my team”, referring to the fact that, over the course of the last four weeks of the season, he was taken off the field for over 50 snaps.
Kaboly wrote that the fact “didn’t set particularly well for him”, but he may not have a choice as the Steelers continue to shift more and more in the direction of focusing on sub-package football. Given the continued investment in the secondary, one can probably safely assume that the dime and quarter packages will be a defensive fixture in 2016, provided that they have the personnel to run it.
And they have made sure that they will, to that end using first- or second-round draft picks over the course of the past two years on cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Artie Burns and on safety/cornerback Sean Davis, whom the team is looking at at the former position rather than the latter.
The manner in which Timmons’ role in the defense evolves over the course of the 2016 season will certainly be a storyline to watch, as it could be telling as to how they plan to approach his contract status as he enters the final year of his current contract. This is assuming, of course, that he is not given an extension during the summer.