Perhaps no coach in football has been more vocal in recent years about the rise of sub-package play in today’s game than Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin. We have seen him address the topic on a number of occasions in a variety of settings, whether it’s in a press conference, an interview, or an informal setting at a league meeting.
Defensive sub-package play has become the standard for the Steelers, with significantly more time being spent with five or more defensive backs on the field than with a front seven consisting entirely of traditional linemen and linebackers.
That included Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, in which they unveiled their latest specialized dime package that featured L.J. Fort as the lone inside linebacker and safety Moran Burnett in the dimebacker role in favor of a third defensive lineman.
“Those sub-package defenders don’t get enough credit”, Tomlin said earlier today during his pre-game press conference. “They might not be classified as starters, but guys like Mike Hilton and Morgan Burnett and L.J. Fort, man, are significant contributors to our effort”.
That particular sub-package was used for nearly a couple dozen snaps on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, though that was largely dictated by the game circumstances, with the Steelers holding a two- or three-possession lead for much of the second half.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention we had all three of those sub-package defenders available to us last week, and that’s probably why our third-down performance probably in particular looked the way it looked. We haven’t had a lot of games this year where all three of those guys were available to us”.
Burnett missed the Steelers’ past four games, while Hilton and Fort have each missed one game apiece in separate instances. Burnett was intended to be the starting strong safety, but would move to the dimebacker role with six defensive backs on the field. Due to time missed, he is now only the dimebacker.
As for Fort, he is a new addition to sub-package ball, at least by design. He was used selectively late last season in passing situations following Ryan Shazier’s injury. When Vince Williams missed a contest earlier this year, he played in sub-packages while Tyler Matakevich played in the ‘base’ defense.
The Steelers were able to hold the Browns to just three conversions on third down Sunday on 13 attempts, though they did convert their lone opportunity on fourth down. That was on fourth and six from the 24-yard line with 13 seconds to play, a meaningless touchdown in a 33-12 game.