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2021 Offseason Questions: Will Steelers Use More Dime After Recent Secondary Additions?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?

These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.

Question: Will the Steelers run more dime defense following the additions of Ahkello Witherspoon and Karl Joseph?

While one move is still pending, the Steelers have already added two defensive backs who were not previously with the team to their 53-man since it was initially set. They first announced the signing safety Karl Joseph, who should be brought up from the practice squad this week, and then traded for cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was recently asked about playing dime, a variety of defensive sub-package that includes some combination of six defensive backs, during the 2021 season, and his responses one might say were pessimistic on the subject.

Both Witherspoon and Joseph are experienced veteran players, and head coach Mike Tomlin has plenty of history of using a third safety as his dime defender, from Tyrone Carter to Robert Golden. I think even J.J. Wilcox may have served that role a bit. Will Allen played as much as Vince Williams did in 2013 as the dime.

But when the subject was broached, Butler instead referred to their nickel defense with Devin Bush and the recently acquired Joe Schobert at inside linebacker. While he was suggesting that their coverage skills in the middle are sufficient enough to prevent them from playing a lot of dime, it also felt like a rebuke of their secondary depth.

But arguably, they have enough depth now. With Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, and Witherspoon at cornerback, paired with Minkah Fitzpatrick Terrell Edmunds, Joseph, and perhaps Tre Norwood, they at least have some options to explore.

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