The Pittsburgh Steelers spent much of minicamp justifying their decision to flip Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. Dupree to the right side, Watt to the left. Honestly, it sounded sorta desperate but if it can actually make Dupree a move effective pass rusher, I’m all for it. The pressure from the outside linebackers have been underwhelming since James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were in their primes.
One problem with the change? In all three seasons Keith Butler has been the DC, the ROLB has dropped more than the left. And when you’re comparing Dupree and Watt, it’s clear the latter is better equipped to do so.
In 2015, his rookie season, Dupree dropped into coverage only 12.5% of the time, lowest of any of the Steelers’ outside linebackers. Jarvis Jones and James Harrison, the team’s primary ROLBs, dropped 28 and 21%, respectively.
For 2016, Dupree did get a significant increase, dropping 27% of the time. Still, Jones and Harrison dropped more often; 28% for Jones, 32% for Harrison.
Last year was no contest too. Dupree dropped just under 25% of the time. Watt’s rate was sky high, over 37%. Dupree again dropped less than any other OLB on the roster.
And with good reason. He’s a bigger guy, not nearly as comfortable going backwards, and mostly a curl/hook, zone defender, basic coverage responsibility. And if the Steelers want Dupree to improve his sack total, dropping him that much more isn’t going to help in that mission.
It isn’t just a Dupree-decision either. Compare the drop rates of Anthony Chickillo, T.J. Watt, or Jarvis Jones on the left side to the right, and it’s always a decrease to the left.
Maybe the Steelers scheme does change and Dupree rushes about the same as he has in the past. Ditto with Watt. I haven’t studied exactly why the ROLB drops more than the left but if I had to guess, it’s from facing the slot receiver to the left more than the right (tight end is usually on the strong, right side). So the right side drops more to reroute/funnel that guy. But like I said, just a guess. All I know is the raw data.
It’s something I am definitely going to pay attention to this year. Because if it doesn’t change and Dupree drops more, he’ll be a bigger liability in coverage and look even worse as a pass rusher. And that could make for his final season in Pittsburgh.