The Pittsburgh Steelers defense played extremely well in the team’s Sunday win over the Cleveland Browns and in case you missed it, the dime personnel used in that game included a grouping of players we’ve yet to see before ever as both safety Morgan Burnett and inside linebacker L.J. Fort were both part of it. By the way, that personnel grouping played quite well.
In total, Burnett and Fort were on the field together during Sunday’s game against the Browns for 21 plays and that included the failed two-point play at the end of the contest. On the other 20 plays that Burnett and Fort were both on the field for, the Steelers defense allowed 9 receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown on 18 total dropbacks by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. It’s probably worth pointing out, however, that 7 of those receptions for 75 yards and the touchdown came during the Browns final offensive drive, which was essentially meaningless.
Of the previous 11 meaningful dime personnel snaps that the Steelers defense played against the Browns offense in the first three quarters of Sunday’s game, only two passes were completed for 25 yards with the first one being the 21-yard pass from Mayfield to wide receiver Damion Ratley just five plays into the contest. That play is one that Alex Kozora recently broke down on the site and quite honestly, that one should have ended in a sack. The other completion I just noted came on a 3rd and 12 play and gained all of 4 yards.
The only other successful play that the Browns offense had on Sunday against the Steelers dime personnel in the first three quarters of the game came on a 3rd and 5 play with 8:55 left in the second quarter. That play, which you can see a gif of below, included Mayfield escaping the pocket and scrambling for a first down. In short, both of the successful plays the Browns offense had on Sunday against the Steelers dime personnel in meaningful playing time were a result of failed quarterback containment.
It is worth noting, however, that the Browns did convert another third down against the Steelers dime personnel on Sunday during meaningful playing time when Pittsburgh’s rookie safety Terrell Edmunds was flagged for pass interference on Cleveland tight end David Njoku in the end zone.
On Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin gave his dime sub package players the recognition they deserved for their play on Sunday against the Browns during his weekly press conference.
“Those sub-package defenders don’t get enough credit,” Tomlin said. “They might not be classified as starters, but guys like Mike Hilton and Morgan Burnett and L.J. Fort are significant contributors to our effort.
“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 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.”
As previously pointed out in this post, the Browns final offensive possession included four successful plays against the Steelers dime personnel grouping. One of those four plays, however, included some very poor tackling that resulted in a gain of 24 yards. The other explosive play on that final drive was the 24-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to tight end Seth DeValve with 13 seconds left in the game. Big whoop.
The Steelers are now preparing to play the Baltimore Ravens on the road in Week 9 and it will be interesting to see how the team’s new and improved dime defense personnel stacks up against an offense that converted 8 of 17 third down opportunities in the Week 4 game between the two teams. If the grouping that includes Burnett, Fort and Hilton can play as well on third downs against the Ravens as they did this past Sunday against the Browns, then perhaps there’s reason to have tremendous hope in the Steelers pass defense moving forward into the second half of their season that includes some key key games against teams with potent offenses such as the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots.