The Pittsburgh Steelers have at different times over the course of the past few seasons seemingly attempted to dabble in incorporating more of their dime defense, though it has been met with mixed results. In the wake of the loss of Lawrence Timmons in free agency, however, one wonders if it once again becomes a bigger part of the plan.
The next man up at the buck linebacker position is Vince Williams, who bears many similarities to Timmons, though he has bigger question marks coming in about his coverage ability on a play-to-play basis, especially in taking over the more frequent Cover-2 responsibilities that have become more integral to the job in the past two seasons.
You might recall that the last time Williams was a regular ‘starter’ came during his rookie season, and during this time period the Steelers turned to the dime in order to help shoulder the load for the young linebacker. In fact, he regularly spent less than half of the time actually on the field, with Will Allen functioning as a third safety and quasi-linebacker, a role that has been labeled the ‘moneybacker’, or $LB.
It may be that the team is looking to more toward that, not just due to the loss of Timmons, but also because that is the direction that the league is continuing to head. It is interesting to note that the Steelers are already expressing interest in some potential first- and second-round players that could fill that sort of role pretty early on in their career.
When Keith Butler took over the reins, he wanted to make the dime package a presence early on. It took everyone who wasn’t privy to the team’s practices when the Steelers incorporated the ‘quarter’ look with Robert Golden as a third safety in the opener against the Patriots.
That didn’t work out too well and the idea was more or less scrapped at that point, but it did return late in the season and the defense did figure out how to make it work for them with success. There were some games late in the season in which they used that package on nearly every third-down and obvious passing situation.
The late-season success of the quarter package saw it carried over into the 2016 season, though it had to come with different personnel, including a couple of rookies. With Artie Burns and Sean Davis playing key roles in the look, they actually used it fairly often early in the season until Davis dealt with an injury, and then they shied away from it.
This may have been due largely to the fact that they wanted Davis to focus on safety, which led to him taking over the job from Golden in the second half of the season, but they never really returned to it again late in the year, perhaps with Timmons playing so well.
Now with the stalwart, silent captain of the defense gone, I will be very interested to see how the Steelers approach their sub-packages this year—though they are no longer really sub-packages. The personnel they acquire through the draft (and free agency, if anything) may lend a clue.