Over the last two weeks, Robert Spillane has seen an increased role in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. Not just because of injury, though he replaced Devin Bush in Week 5, but he’s carved out a role in some Steelers’ dime packages. Over the last two games, he’s logged 19 snaps in the Steelers’ dime defense. Most of that has been in the team’s new 1-4-6 defense, Spillane as the lone off-ball linebacker with three outside linebackers on the field: TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram. But he even picked up two snaps in the team’s 2-3-6 dime defense in Sunday’s win over Seattle.
Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Keith Butler explained the reason for the change via a tweet from The Trib’s Chris Adamski, linked below.
“Spillane’s done a good job for us in third down situations,” Butler told reporters. “A lot of times we want to run some stunts up front, he does a good job of that. He has a good feel for timing of when we want to hit the blitz and faking blitzes sometimes. He’s been around here as long as any of those guys. He knows a little bit more about it. Some things he’s a little bit better than they are. Some things, they’re a little bit better than he is.”
The Steelers’ 1-4-6 is a three-outside linebacker package that does involve more blitzes and games. Pittsburgh has blitzed 57.1% of the time out of those looks with Spillane on the field the last two weeks. But Spillane himself has hardly been part of the pressure, not blitzing once in the 1-4-6 and only once in the 2-3-6 dime package. So if Spillane is out there because he times blitzes better, as Butler says, they aren’t utilizing him that way. Faking and bluffing blitzes doesn’t seem like enough justification for putting him on the field over Devin Bush and Joe Schobert.
Pittsburgh’s invested heavily in the two guys who normally play ahead of Spillane. Devin Bush was the 10th overall pick and only the third first rounder Kevin Colbert has ever traded up to get. Joe Schobert was acquired this summer presumably because he was an upgrade over Spillane, who immediately went to the bench following the trade.
It’s worth pointing out Spillane primarily plays in this defensive wrinkle. In normal dime situations, obvious pass-situations at the end of halves and games, Schobert and Bush have rotated in as the dime defender. That’s context worth mentioning.
Still, even with Butler’s answer, it’s hard to determine the exact benefit Spillane gives over the other guys. But it seems to be the team’s plan going forward until Stephon Tuitt returns, when they will shelve or reduce the number of “amoeba” looks with just one defensive linemen on the field.