The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Dime will be the Steelers’ most-used defensive personnel in 2020.
Explanation: The Steelers have heavily used dime before, including in 2013, when it was their most-used package. It was also frequently used in 2018 as well. With the loss of Javon Hargrave and Mark Barron, and with the secondary having depth, the ingredients are there for more dime.
Two clarifications: for these purposes, ‘dime’ is any defense with six defensive backs on the field. And being the most-used personnel doesn’t mean it’s used at least 50 percent of the time.
The Steelers already don’t have a nose tackle they can trust, so it’s very likely that they are not going to be in a 3-4 front as much as they would otherwise be. They have in the past looked to defend the run out of a nickel defense, and with Vince Williams back in the starting lineup, they will likely continue to do that.
And then in passing situations, Williams is coming off in favor of somebody who is likely to have more success in coverage, whether it’s Cameron Sutton or somebody else. Maybe Justin Layne. Maybe even Marcus Allen or Antoine Brooks, or some other wildcard. You need to match personnel for personnel, and teams are trotting out personnel that demands dime defenders these days.
There are enough Christian McCaffreys and George Kittles out there that they would rip apart a dime defense. You still need linebackers who can cover. Yes, Devin Bush can cover. But sometimes you need two, as the Steelers showed in 2018 when they started benching Jon Bostic in favor of L.J. Fort.
The L.J. Fort of the 2020 season is already on the roster: Ulysees Gilbert III. He is the reason the nickel is still going to be the most common package, because he will be their coverage linebacker in lieu of Williams as a situational player. The fact that they will also defend the run with more nickel strengthens the likelihood of the plurality of the team’s defensive snaps coming in nickel.