The Pittsburgh Steelers dressed 24 defensive players on Sunday for their contest against the Baltimore Ravens. The only two inactives were rookie sixth defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs and the injured number three outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo. Of note was the decision to dress rookie third-round cornerback Justin Layne over veteran wide receiver Donte Moncrief.
Of the 24 defensive players who dressed, a full twenty one of them saw at least one snap of duty on defense over the course of the game. And all of them were meaningful snaps, including the sole play on which veteran safety Jordan Dangerfield was on the grass for a defensive opportunity.
That would be the one time that they used the goal line package, featuring four defensive linemen, five linebackers, and two safeties. In the past, they have used six linebackers and one safety, but started to adopt the two-safety look midway through 2017. On this snap, they replaced Minkah Fitzpatrick with Dangerfield, and the play resulted in a two-yard loss.
Even Jayrone Elliott briefly got on the field, seeing three snaps in a rotation on the right side with Bud Dupree. Those snaps game at the top of the second quarter, two of which were successful plays for the defense. But these were the minor defensive personnel adaptations.
Another admittedly less significant contribution came from Tyler Matakevich, who saw a handful of snaps in the game after Mark Barron left with an injury. He did appear to play reasonably well in his limited action, including a defensive stop on a pass, tackling Marquise Brown after a three-yard gain on first and 10.
Then there are the dime and dollar packages, with Cameron Sutton and Kameron Kelly getting on the field. Kelly, who recorded the first interception of his career, saw a total of 15 snaps, while Sutton was able to get up to nine.
Add in several snaps featuring a 3-5 defense with three inside linebackers on the field—Barron, Devin Bush, and Vince Williams, of course, with one snap for Matakevich after Bush had already left the game—and we see just how many different looks the Steelers are using, or attempting to use, on the defensive side of the ball this year.
What exactly does this mean? Perhaps not a whole lot, beyond the mere fact that they feel they have a number of players who are capable of contributing in some form or fashion in the right role. While we haven’t really seen a four-lineman front outside of the goal line yet, it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s coming, especially if Barron misses a game.