Steelers Defense Stabilizing With Shift Away From Rotations

From outward appearances, as the season progresses, it looks as though the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coaching staff is becoming more and more comfortable with their unit, and, as a result, it seems that they are shifting more and more away from the idea of rotating defenders at various positions as players stake a claim on jobs or roles.

There was a time earlier this year when it appeared that the Steelers were seriously considering working in a regular rotation at the inside linebacker position—at least one position, if not both of them—which was a situation that arose during Ryan Shazier’s injury, with Vince Williams playing quite well in his absence.

Williams even started the game that Shazier returned, and he at times even came in to spell Lawrence Timmons at the buck linebacker spot. But not only has that ceased—both Shazier and Timmons played every snap on Sunday—the team also seems to be off of the dime defense for now, which suggests that they are not looking to get Timmons on the sidelines.

For a few weeks coming out of the bye, the Steelers were also rotating at the strong safety position. Robert Golden entered the season as the starter, and rookie Sean Davis was actually at the time working in the slot as a cornerback. Since then, Davis began rotating with Golden at strong safety.

Over the course of the past few weeks, however, Davis has logged every snap, and Golden’s minute playing time came in the event of injury. He did not play a single defensive snap during the Steelers’ last game.

Take a look, even, at the outside linebacker position. Against the Giants, James Harrison played 75 percent of the team’s snaps, and that is taking into consideration the fact that he was not on the field late while the Steelers had a commanding lead.

In just his second game back in experiencing some level of meaningful playing time, former first-round draft pick Bud Dupree even logged nearly 60 percent of the team’s snaps opposite Harrison. The two combined played 80 of a possible 120 snaps, while three others tallied a combined 40 snaps.

We even see that the Steelers have abandoned the one position at which they actually expressed interest in promoting a rotation, which is along the defensive line, with Stephon Tuitt hardly ever coming off the field. He played 58 of 60 snaps on Sunday. Even Ricardo Mathews saw 70 percent of the team’s snaps, with some of that begin cut into prior to Javon Hargrave leaving the game after suffering a concussion.

Let’s put some numbers to this. Including all starters, which includes both the starting nose tackle and the starting slot receiver, we account for the snaps of 12 players. All those players had the potential to play a maximum of 660 snaps in the game on Sunday. They played 606.

That means that the Steelers have their fixed starters in place about 92 percent of the time. The sample size from the team’s last game, which seems likely to be a loose blueprint going forward, suggests they are over the rotations.

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