2017 Offseason Questions: How Much Man Coverage Will We Actually See?

The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.

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 offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: How much will the Steelers actually utilize man cover in the 2017 season compared to recent years?

It has been alluded to from multiple sources over the course of the offseason that the Steelers are aiming to become a more flexible defense going forward with respect to the variety of coverages that they employ in the secondary.

Given that they rely above specific zone schemes as much as any defense in the league, it goes without saying that the effort to diversify their coverages comes relative to the extent to which they intend to incorporate more man-coverage principles.

We have heard it from the head coach and the defensive backs coach—probably others too. After taking each cornerback, it was talked about in the context of how they will be able to help the Steelers execute more man coverage packages in order to diversify their looks.

But what will this actually all mean come September? What will it look like in the playoffs? Pittsburgh used man coverage rather sparsely, to say the least, last season. As a percentage of their total snaps, what sort of increase could we expect to see?

It doesn’t have to be significant, even if we will have to wait and see to get the answer. The Steelers not so much want to become a man-coverage team as they want to become a team that is more capable of utilizing man coverage in the situations that lend itself to that style.

If Pittsburgh is better able to defend certain in-game scenarios because they are better able to execute man coverages, and that only happens on, say, 15 or 20 percent of their defensive coverage snaps, then they no doubt will consider the process a success.

Still, I can’t help but be curious to see how and when they use it. Ike Taylor was allowed to do a lot of press-man because they knew he was capable of doing it. Will they start to throw Artie Burns more responsibility in man coverage this year as a stylistic choice?

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