After last season, who would have thought that the Pittsburgh Steelers would make it a regular, proactive feature of their offensive and defensive plans to utilize four wide receivers or four cornerbacks on the field together, respectively? Depth has been an issue at both spots in recent years, yet seemingly overnight they have the numbers to be effective.
Such numbers, in fact, that they even had to find opportunities to trade away a wide receiver and a cornerback, both of whom spent time functioning as a primary starter just last year, because they brought in or found other options to take their place.
For the first time in—honestly, I don’t even know when, perhaps the early 90s?—the Steelers defense has made it a regular feature of their down-and-distance scenarios to break out a true dime defense that features four cornerbacks. In recent years, they have primarily used an extra safety as the dime defender.
The dime got a bit of a burn during the 2011 season, the rookie year of Cortez Allen, but even he saw just a couple dozen snaps or so, and I don’t believe that all of them came in the dime defense. Yet this year, with William Gay and Mike Hilton both available as slot options, they have seen a healthy number of snaps together already.
Likewise, on the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers are likely close to matching, or have already matched, the total number of snaps that they have run with four wide receivers on the field together, doing so nine times in the season opener. While they only did so twice on Sunday—including an encroachment non-play—it has already been promised that it is here to stay.
With the bevy of options available to them, it is no surprise that they want to get work out of their receiving corps all together, featuring Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, and most recently, rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, who logged about half of the offensive snaps on Sunday.
Going forward, I have a feeling that the Steelers will be using this grouping more with Le’Veon Bell on the field, since Smith-Schuster has tight-end functionality. He even lined up a tight end a time or two on Sunday, which is not surprising.
Defensively, with Artie Burns and recent free agent acquisition Joe Haden securing the outside spots, the pairing of Gay and Haden in the middle of the field gives them a number of options to work with, given the physicality of the otherwise relatively diminutive defensive backs.
While neither package is probably ever going to see more than a dozen or so snaps per game under normal circumstances, both of them appear to be more than just a gimmick in their plans, and that is thanks almost entirely to the simple fact that they actually have the talent available to run it effectively.