The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense doesn’t need to play man-to-man coverage 90% of the time. They don’t need to run a 4-3, 3-3-5, or move Ryan Shazier to safety. The key to their success, beyond obvious bullet points like a strong pass rush, is to be a varied defense. I think we’ve talked about it enough but for old time’s sake, what got this group into trouble last season was their predictability.
One of the biggest changes we’ve seen with this units is how varied they can be. Staying in base more often against 11 personnel, though for the record, they never came close to the 60% they hit in the first preseason game. Being able to play more man coverage when appropriate. Feeling less compelled to blitz in order to get pressure. And my favorite, showing more dime packages.
Over the last two weeks in the preseason, as Mike Hilton continued to prove himself and Cam Sutton returned, Pittsburgh ran dime 8% of the time. That’s up a couple percent from last year’s regular season and could increase as it proves itself.
After trying out Robert Golden the past two seasons, the Steelers have altered their approach. The 6th DB has been a corner and with the way things are shaping up, it’ll be William Gay Week One. Whether or not that will work is up for debate but it’s another tool in the toolbelt Keith Butler can depend upon.
That’s exactly what Butler said talking about how to beat the New England Patriots.
“So we’ve got to be able to change up and make Brady read the coverages and not show him the same thing all the time, if we are to beat them.”
No longer are the Steelers going to be a nickel-only defense. Heck, you might be able to argue their nickel defense will only be a plurality, not a majority, if they stay in base more often and dime defense works as intended. Don’t rule it out.
On run downs, staying in base will boost the run defense. On passing downs, dime will toss out an extra DB, someone more athletic than Vince Williams. The more this defense can do, the more unpredictable they’ll be, the less of an issue they’ll experience with self-scouting.
The more the Steelers defense can offer, even if it’s not the best in the league, could be the difference between going home in January or getting back to the Super Bowl.