2016 South Side Questions: Will Defense Use More Dime This Week?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Will the Steelers go back to using more of their dime defense after dipping their toes back into it on Sunday?

Over the course of the first several weeks of the season, the Steelers defense picked up where they left off at the end of last season, frequently employing the dime defense—or the ‘quarter’ defense, using three safeties—about 10 to 15 snaps per game late in the year.

That is roughly what they were doing at the start of this season as well, but that quickly faded, and there was a long period of time in which they did not use it at all. There were a couple of variations—they even used just one safety at times—but it wasn’t until Sunday against the Bills that we saw them actually use the quarter defense again.

It was only for a small handful of snaps, of course, but on those snaps, as would be expected, the Steelers took Lawrence Timmons off the field from the inside linebacker position and replaced him with Robert Golden, who is now the third safety after he started the season as the starting strong safety.

The Steelers had varying degrees of success in running that defense earlier in the season, but they should be much better equipped to do so now. And that is not just because they have their ‘quarter’ player, Golden, back serving in that role, as he did last year.

Earlier in the season, the Steelers were bringing on rookie defensive backs Artie Burns and Sean Davis and asking them to come off the bench and execute specific tasks. Since then, both of them have worked themselves into the starting lineup on a full-time basis—with Davis now at safety, mind you, rather than in the slot—which makes a difference.

There are less moving parts involved now in executing the dime defense, which simply consists of taking Timmons off the field and essentially putting Golden in his place in a quasi-linebacker role. They have been inclined to do this in obvious passing situations no matter the opponent. I will be looking to see if they do so on Sunday against the Bengals.

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