As is so often the case, you can create your own story about Steven Nelson’s 2018 season depending on what stats you want to look at. He had four interceptions and among the most passes defensed in the league. But he was also among the most targeted cornerbacks in the NFL on a defense that gave up the second-most passing yardage.
That was with the Kansas City Chiefs, and they fired their defensive coordinator after the season was over as they look to move on in a different direction. They already moved on from Marcus Peters the year before and now Nelson as well.
For Nelson, he has had his own issues with the whole process, from the fan perception of the cornerback play to the defensive scheme itself, which he talked about with Jeremy Fowler recently as the offseason program gets underway.
“I kind of felt like I was shaded” by the fan reaction to his play and other criticism, he said. “I just felt like it was a slap in the face. A lot of people didn’t really know what was going on there. A lot of players took the heat”.
That’s not necessarily always what you hear from players. Some like Cameron Heyward will take the direct opposite approach. Every year when he is asked to answer questions about the defense, he puts the blame on the players for failure to execute the play called.
It’s a bit different when you’re moving to a new team, however, and there are certainly some things that he hopes will be different about how the Pittsburgh Steelers run their defense. Interestingly, he will move from one of the teams that played the most man coverage to another, which is a recent development for the Steelers.
“You’re a target to other teams, referees, fans. It’s just not a good thing”, he told Fowler. “You have to switch it up. It’s the National Football League. These offenses are smart. If you switch it up like these other offenses are doing, you can make plays”.
In other words, he felt that Bob Sutton’s defense for the Chiefs was too predictable, which resulted in putting its players—particularly the cornerbacks—in losing situations. When you know what a defender is going to do, it’s much easier to work around it.
As for his fit with the Steelers, he figures to start, of course, but Mike Tomlin also praised his versatility to play inside and outside, so it’s possible that he could be moved around as need. That would be one tool to help make the defense less predictable.