This isn’t your father’s defense. Actually, wait, yes it is. Departing is the Dick LeBeau defense and in its place, a more old-school approach. Cover 2 and man coverage with big, tall, physical-at-the-line receivers. And the Pittsburgh Steelers choosing Brian Allen over the weekend reinforces the point.
I’m not saying he will be Mel Blount, or anything remotely similar to him, but he certainly looks the part. And ideally, will play with a similar style. Allen has the size, length, and ball skills to be a strong man and Cover 2 corner, possibly the two most dominant coverages we’ll see Keith Butler play in 2017.
Let’s check out a couple examples. Here Allen is covering John Ross, the 9th overall pick of the draft and fastest man in football, on a corner route. He shows the ability to man-up, play to the inside hip, and force the throw over his head.
Sure, really good ball placement would give Ross a chance but Allen is in position to contest because of his height and length. Really tough to throw it on top of the receiver’s helmet, a popular aiming point, when you’re dealing with a corner five inches taller.
Similar story here against Indiana, completely dwarfing the receiver down field. There’s no window for the quarterback, Allen is blanketing the receiver, and safety Marcus Williams comes over to finish the play with a pick.
Finally, Allen is in man coverage here but you can see how the skillset translates in Cover 2. Jam the receiver at the bottom of the GIF and disrupt the timing of the route.
It’s too bad he falls out of frame but I like his feet and ability to step-kick, not opening his hip but mirroring the route while staying square. No hops, no giving ground, bumping the receiver until he gets outside his frame. Then, he has the speed and technique to stay in-phase and pin the receiver to the sideline, using his leverage.
Circle back to the loss to the New England Patriots. Where the defense’s preference to spot drop was exposed. Mike Tomlin made quick note of it at the league meetings, saying the team has to be able to play man when required, and it’s evident through the draft, taking Cameron Sutton and Allen.
“We’re going to instill a little more man this year, that’s apparent,” Carnell Lake confirmed after taking Sutton. “How we can improve our defense and get closer to defenders.”
Sutton and Allen are steps in changing the Steelers’ long-standing defensive philosophy.