Every year since the Pittsburgh Steelers have transitioned from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler, their defense has slowly added new wrinkles to look different. What was once the black and white LeBeau zone blitz is becoming the rainbow mix of Butler and his scheme. First, it was simplifying the defense to get younger names on the field quicker. Then, it was the variety of alignments and looking for athleticism rather than scheme fit in prospects. Now, the team may be transitioning into this new passing league by adding a wrinkle into their defense that has not been there in years past.
Pittsburgh Steelers Should Feature More Dime in 2017
Teams are passing the ball more than ever. That is why every team lined up in the nickel over 60 percent of the time last season. However, the Arizona Cardinals have found a formation using Deone Bucannon, a hybrid linebacker-safety to get more speed on the field and keep up with these loaded wide receiver sets. Bucannon is a safety who plays inside linebacker. He is a great matchup for tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Of course, not every team has a player of his caliber. To replicate this scheme, it would typically involve sticking an extra defensive back on the field; one you would be comfortable covering linebackers and safeties with. The Steelers have branched off of this idea and showed multiple dime looks with that extra defensive back in their third preseason game.
In the picture above, you can see what the Steelers starting unit would look like in dime. It is a 2-3-6 look. They are able to use the two defensive lineman and two pass rushing linebackers to try to get home and create pressure with four. They have one off-ball linebacker in Ryan Shazier. The two safeties are deep, and the outside cornerbacks are where they should be. However, the team has essentially brought in two nickel cornerbacks, pushing William Gay even further inside into the Deone Bucannon “rover” linebacker role. Mike Hilton takes the slot wide receiver and Gay takes the tight end. Gay is likely a better matchup for a receiving tight end than Vince Williams, so this is a good way for the team to get their best fits on the field.
Later in the game, the team showed the look again. This time it was Cameron Sutton taking snaps in the slot, and Mike Hilton playing in the box, right by the tight end.
Seeing the versatility of Hilton and his ability to play each role is promising. The Steelers have been keying in on versatility and with the group that they have, they can show a variety of looks, passing off receivers to each other, and confusing the quarterback.
The Steelers only ran dime in 5.6 percent of their defensive plays in 2016, and 5.5 percent of their defensive snaps in 2015. This is a very new concept for them. Still, in a league that is transitioning to these five wide receiver sets or looks with receiving tight ends, the Steelers have to keep up. It is good to see them figuring out what they can do in these looks and test the waters with them in the preseason.
Expect the Steelers to be a team that runs the dime defense a lot more in 2017 than the previous years. This also may lead to the team looking for that hybrid linebacker-safety in the very near future. The league is changing, and Keith Butler is making sure to keep up with it.