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 addition of Joe Schobert means the Steelers will play less dime than they otherwise would have.
Explanation: While dime defenses have become increasingly popular in response to offenses employing four- and five-receiver sets in obvious passing downs, the ability to have coverage-capable linebackers and safeties makes it less of a necessity.
Mike Tomlin was quick to volunteer the fact that the Steelers via their new linebacker, Joe Schobert, as a ‘sideline-to-sideline’ tackler, meaning they trust his range. And that’s why they drafted Devin Bush. And they have two safeties, especially in Minkah Fitzpatrick but also Terrell Edmunds, whom they are comfortable putting in man coverage.
This doesn’t mean that the Steelers are never going to put the dime defense on the field, but the better you feel about your off-ball linebackers and their ability to hold up in coverage, the less likely you are going to feel pressured into playing dime.
What we might see is the Steelers being more willing to use James Pierre in those obvious passing situations as the fifth defensive back, because it would be less of a disadvantage in such case to shift Cameron Sutton into the slot.
No matter how good your linebacker is in coverage, he’s not a defensive back, and you don’t want even Bush or Schobert covering Jarvis Landry. As we saw last year, even Mike Hilton had his hands full with that. If you’re in a situation that calls for coverage as the premium trait, you need to get your coverage players on the field, period.
In other words, having rangy linebackers is good for your base and nickel packages, and even for your dime, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to play time less just because your buck can handle himself against a tight end or a running back. And Schobert is no Bobby Wagner.