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Mike Tomlin: Playing More Nickel And Less Dime With Joe Schobert A ‘Hypothetical’ Discussion

Trades can often be a big part of the game of football. There may be somebody who you missed out on in the draft, or couldn’t afford in free agency, who becomes available later on down the road for a price you could afford.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers head into the 2021 season, they are now projected to have two starters on defense whom they originally acquired via trade. One is obviously Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has been a first-team All-Pro twice since he came to Pittsburgh in 2019. The latest is Joe Schobert, who will be lining up next to Devin Bush.

But while you may know enough about a guy to bring him in, that doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about how he fits into your system and your overall plans. That’s something head coach Mike Tomlin readily acknowledged while discussing Schobert’s effect on the defense on Sunday.

He was presented a slew of hypotheticals and probably got tired of responding to them by the time he was asked whether or not Schobert and his range on the field could lead them to play more nickel defense and less dime. “Again, we’ve got to get into game-planning”, he said. “We’re not even in that mode. That makes some of those discussions hypothetical. I like his versatility; I like the versatility he gives us”.

It is an interesting hypothetical discussion, though: Does having two off-ball linebackers with sideline-to-sideline range free you up from having to put a sixth defensive back on the field when you’re facing obvious passing situations against four- and five-receiver sets?

It is a question worth exploring deeper, but one that can only really be answered over the course of time, and it will probably take seeing how things actually unfold on the field during the regular season before we really get a handle on it.

It’s down to trial and error. If you leave both linebackers on the field in a situation in which you might ordinarily prefer to go dime, and it works, then maybe you keep doing it a little more. If it’s not working, then you adjust and move on accordingly.

Another part of this conversation, though, is the responsibility of setting the defense, because you’re going to want whoever is on the field as much as possible to be the one who has the speaker in his helmet. It’s been suggested that Schobert may have the green dot; but would the Steelers really take Bush off the field in dime?

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