I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: The increased deployment of the dime defense will be significant this season.
How can it not be when they have so many defensive backs that they want to get on the field? The Steelers already have Artie Burns and Joe Haden at cornerback with Mike Hilton in the slot, plus Sean Davis and now Morgan Burnett at safety. Cameron Sutton is ready to take over William Gay’s dime role from a year ago, but they also have to find a role for Terrell Edmunds as well.
The truth about life in the NFL is that second down is now almost as much a passing down as is third down. I could see them using a three-safety look on earlier downs for run support and move to a four-cornerback look to match down-and-distance decisions.
The fact that they have a buck linebacker that they already take off the field and a mack linebacker that hasn’t played for them yet, without great depth behind them, makes it all the more likely that they turn more toward their defensive backs this year.
But the dime defense didn’t see a sizable jump last year after Ryan Shazier went down, so we shouldn’t expect it to this year, either. Back in 2013 after Larry Foote went down, all the Steelers had as backups were a rookie Vince Williams and another first-year journeyman linebacker whom Williams pretty quickly surpassed.
They didn’t take Williams off the field that much last year, so I wouldn’t expect them to this year either. The 2013 change was a product of necessity. If it wasn’t necessary last year with Shazier and Tyler Matakevich both going down, it won’t be necessary now.
Instead, it will continue to be used primarily as a matchup tool, which generally means third down with obvious passing situations. Sometimes they use it more against pass-heavy teams in less obvious situations, but it will probably still hover around 25 percent.