It seems that every year there is a group of people that scours offseason interviews in the hopes of finding a nugget that will allow them to believe that “changes” are coming to the defense and that all will be well. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin provided such comments yesterday, and you can expect that they will not result in the sort of changes some people want to see.
During a meeting with several local and national writers who cover the Steelers while at the Annual League Meeting, Tomlin was asked about whether he was open to making significant changes to the defensive side of the ball in terms of scheme in order to improve the unit. “I am not opposed to it”, he said.
“That is the mentality I go into each year with in terms of our evolution, or how we evolve from an Xs and Os standpoint, or a utilization of players standpoint”, Tomlin proceeded to say. “I am not opposed to dramatic changes. I think that is the appropriate mentality to have”.
Then he dropped the mother of all Tomlinisms, adding, “we may change in dramatic ways, we may not. It depends on what the totality of the variables of totality mean for us. But I think it’s great to have an attitude that’s not resistant to it”.
Of course what he says is right. Maybe things change. Maybe they don’t. A lot of that gets determined based on what they see on the practice field, and right now coaches are not even allowed to talk about football with their players, let alone have them running around hitting each other in pads.
He also laid out the obvious in saying that the league no longer plays in their ‘base’ defenses, or what would be more accurate, what used to be sub-packages are now the base defense, and what used to be the base defense is now a sub-package.
Tomlin estimated that they only run out of their 3-4 front about a quarter of the time, saying that “it’s about sub-package football, so the linebacker position is important in the 3-4, no doubt. But all of us globally are not running base defense that much anymore, and that is just the reality of it”.
Of course we have seen this reflected in the Steelers’ personnel numbers over the years. We have been tracking every snap of every game for several years now, and the percentage increase in the usage of the nickel has steadily risen in recent years, which reflects a leaguewide trend toward that.
And they have responded by spending more valuable resources on the back end, using first-, second-, and third-round picks on the secondary in each of the past three drafts. Many expect them to use another pick on a safety in the first two days of the draft this year.
As for what sorts of changes we might expect to see on the defensive side of the ball this year, the smart money would be on a greater usage of the dime defense, which only makes all the more sense given the loss of Ryan Shazier and with the addition of a versatile safety such as Morgan Burnett.