It is a safe assumption to anticipate seeing a whole lot of all three of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top edge defenders—T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram—on a weekly basis throughout this season. It also feels like a safe assumption at this point that we can expect to see all three of them on the field at the same time on occasion.
The Steelers briefly and sparingly deployed a three-outside-linebacker package last season, and based on the comments this week from coaches and players, it sounds like these three will be incorporated into a new variation. We already saw hints of that this past Sunday, as each of them spent a brief period of time standing up and playing off the ball. It’s all to provide confusion to the offense, something defensive coordinator Keith Butler talked about on Thursday:
Most offensive linemen come up and identify what we call the Mike. Who’s the Mike linebacker. They do that in order to set their protection. We want to confuse them a little bit, make them think like, “Who is the Mike? Is that the Mike? Nah, that’s not the Mike. Is that guy the Mike?” We’re gonna do some things with them there as long as they can handle it mentally. If they handle it mentally, we’ll do it. But I’ll still tell you, and I’ll tell you until the day I die, mental mistakes and missed tackles get you beat on defense. We’ve got to give them enough where we can be versatile, but at the same time, we don’t want them making a lot of mental mistakes either.
As mentioned, Watt, Highsmith, and Ingram all stood up for at least a few snaps against the Buffalo Bills. In a three-OLB package, that will be a fixture. The good news is that guys like Ingram are already versed in that, and so should be able to avoid those ‘mental mistakes’.
“I know I can rush from anywhere. It’s just bringing more versatility to the defense. I feel like all of us can do that, and it’s something that’s gonna help us out a lot”, Ingram told reporters earlier during the week, even if he didn’t think it necessarily caught the Bills off-guard when they did it. “I don’t know if they were taken by surprise. I feel like we just came out there and rushed and we tried to win matchups”.
None of this would have been possible, after the Steelers lost Bud Dupree in the offseason, had Highsmith not lived up to his promise, which was no sure thing by any means. You don’t count on third-round compensatory picks out of small schools to play the way he is playing right now.
It wouldn’t have been possible if not for the opportunity to add a quality veteran like Ingram on the (relatively) cheap side just shy of training camp, either. The pieces fell into place, and now the Las Vegas Raiders will get a taste of the Steelers’ new package.