Arguably one of the moments that sticks out most in the memory of Pittsburgh Steelers fans relative to their struggles against the New England Patriots over the years is not necessarily all of the losses, or even key plays. It’s simply those moments on defense where Tom Brady calls an audible and gets the Steelers in bad looks, asking personnel to do things they’re not accustomed to do.
It’s been happening for years, and to be fair, they do it to everybody, but watching James Harrison get pushed outside the number in coverage is a hard image to forget, and the Steelers have been intently working on avoiding such situations in the future.
They’ve done that by stocking up on athletes and taking those athletes and expanding their versatility. That is what they intend to show during tonight’s game. Even when they audible, they will be comfortable that whoever is pitted in a specific matchup will be able to handle it.
Or as Kameron Kelly put it, “football is a game of chess, so we are trying to play chess with them too”, as the first-year safety told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We are going to try to move people around, just make sure everybody is versatile”.
With increased flexibility and versatility in particular in the secondary position, as well as at inside linebacker, the Steelers should be able to better match up with the Patriots offense when they change the look at the line of scrimmage.
“We have so many dudes who can cover”, said veteran cornerback Joe Haden, citing examples. “We have a lot of safeties that can cover, we have a lot of corners, just having a nickel, having a dime, having Kam Kelly being able to play nickel, dime and safety”.
He noted Cameron Sutton as being capable of doing the same things as Kelly, essentially being able to play all over in the secondary. He has played virtually every position at some point in his career, whether it be in-game or in practice, and he has started outside, in the slot, and as the dimebacker.
Even their prized new starting cornerback, Steven Nelson, is capable of playing inside and outside, so when the Patriots set their receivers to one side of the field, he can line up there and not feel out of place. Strong safety Terrell Edmunds is also capable of playing inside.
The Steelers tend to be their most aggressive and creative schematically when they face the Patriots, so expect to see this sort of mixing and matching throughout the game to correspond with what New England is doing on offense. That includes mixing in heavy personnel when the fullback comes out.