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: The Steelers will play more snaps out of a dime defense than out of a 3-4 front.
Explanation: As conventional ‘base’ defenses continue to increasingly give way to what have previously been known as ‘sub-packages’ with five or more defensive backs on the field, more and more teams are heavily employing six defensive backs at a time, something the Steelers have done in the past.
While they moved away from it a bit last season, the Steelers did fiddle fairly often with dime defenses in 2018, and more sporadically for a period of years prior. The 2013 season actually saw it as their most common defense, even if it was berthed out of necessity following Larry Foote’s season-ending injury in the opener that forced a rookie Vince Williams into a starting role.
While the team has paid lip service to its belief in Williams as a coverage player, history has still shown that they have a tendency to take him off the field in obvious passing situations. In today’s NFL more and more situations are becoming pass-heavy. In 2018, the team would play entire drives in dime. The personnel that they now have with Cameron Sutton as the sixth defensive back, or alternately perhaps Curtis Riley, will allow them to play this much more. And they should have the opportunity to play with more leads than they did last year, leading to more ‘obvious passing situations’.
Despite what you may have heard, the ‘base’ defense is not dead. It may not actually be the true base defense anymore, but any team that can’t play out of a 3-4 or 4-3 front is going to get screwed, and probably on the ground. Whatever you can’t defend is what teams are going to use to attack you.
And lest we forget, the Steelers did lose their starting nose tackle from last season. Teams are going to want to attack them up the middle, and that’s going to mean they have to counter with a nose tackle. It may not be what they want to do, but they have to respond to what the offenses do. And their dime defenses of the past have been run on. Teams still play ‘base’ more than dime on average, including the Steelers.