Steelers Break Out 4-2-5 Big Nickel Versus Jets

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense unveiled a new Big Nickel look on Sunday in their 27-10 win over the New York Jets when they broke out their 4-2-5 personnel group that featured four defensive linemen and no outside linebackers on the field.

Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about this new sub-package grouping on Tuesday during his press conference. “We tend to lean on it from time to time because it provides versatility for us,” said Tomlin. “It allows us to match, from a personnel standpoint, in the secondary with skill but also maintain our big body presence in the run game.”

Now we have seen the other version of the Big Nickel last year against the New England Patriots when an extra safety and an extra cornerback were brought into the game in the form of Cortez Allen and Ryan Mundy to replace nose tackle Casey Hampton and inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester.

The grouping of the Big Nickel that we saw Sunday against the Jets saw both outside linebackers come off and an extra defensive linemen come on in addition to an extra cornerback, which in this case was Allen.

In total this was spotted on five plays throughout the game with one of them being the 3rd down pass play that ended with inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons getting flagged for his hit on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

While I am no Dick LeBeau, I am curious as to the reasoning why LaMarr Woodley was removed in that package. The same big front could have been achieved, and a much better pass rushing one at that, by leaving in Woodley as the 5,6, or 7 technique left end and kicking Ziggy Hood over to have left inside gap control.

2 of the 5 plays this grouping was used on came on 3rd downs and you would think that you would want your best pass rusher on the field. The fear of the run and the theory of the four man front I certainly understand, it is the personnel used in it that I have the biggest question about and perhaps LeBeau will be asked about this during his Thursday talk with the media.

I hope to have more on this later in the week as get deeper into my All-22 tape breakdown of the Jets game, but first wanted to get my early thoughts out on it as I continue to digest it.

Below are some stills from the 5 plays that the Steelers used the 4-2-5 on.

3-9-NYJ 11 (7:27) (Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass short right to S.Holmes to NYJ 22 for 11 yards (C.Allen).

3-3-NYJ 27 (13:51) (Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass incomplete short right to J.Kerley [L.Timmons].
PENALTY on PIT-L.Timmons, Personal Foul, 15 yards, enforced at NYJ 27 – No Play

2-3-NYJ 27 (14:21) S.Greene right guard to NYJ 29 for 2 yards (R.Clark).

1-10-PIT 39 (7:02) (Shotgun) S.Greene right tackle to PIT 45 for -6 yards (R.Clark).

2-7-NYJ 42 (14:08) M.Sanchez pass incomplete short right to S.Holmes (I.Taylor).

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • Buccos9

    I’m curious why they wouldn’t put Steve McLendon in the interior beside Hampton to really clog up the run lanes in this formation.

  • mghjr88

    A nickel($0.05) package consists of 5 defensive backs, 4 down lineman and 2 linebackers. 3-4 schemes using the nickel will typically see the outside linebackers(Woodley, Harrison) become defensive ends.

    The regular nickel package consists of 3 cornerbacks and 2 safeties.

    The “big nickel” is 3 safeties and 2 cornerbacks.

    If an extra safety AND an extra cornerback are brought onto the field to replace a linebacker and a defensive lineman, it brings the total number of defensive backs to 6 which is a “dime” defense. That is not a nickel package, let alone a big Nickel. If anything, it would be regarded as “smaller” than a regular nickel defense as an additional linebacker is removed in favor of a safety.

    Nickel = 5 db’s, Dime= 6 db’s, Quarter= 7 db’s

    The Steelers 4-2-5 formation against the Jets could possibly be described as a “big nickel” only because of the team’s choice to use 4 actual defensive lineman(Bigger than linebackers). If the Steelers deploy a nickel package that features the addition of a cornerback(like C. Allen), it is simply a “nickel” package and not a “big nickel” as the additional defensive back dictates whether it is “big” or not.

    I was also surprised that Woodley didn’t remain on the field for the 4-2-5 formation used against the Jets.

  • Pete

    The pics show the Steelers switch to a 4-man front in this package with Hampton and Heyward as the the tackles, Keisel and Hood as ends with added help in the secondary. Mundy is down in the box to help in run support or blitz.

    This looks to me as balanced to defend the pass while having run support. I wouldn’t say this front is designed to get max pressure on the QB. I would say it’s a balanced approach. But I am curious to hear the answer LeBeau may give if you get a chance to ask later this week.

  • Ahmad

    I like the formation but not the personnel. Woodley needs to be the LDE and replace Heyward with McLendon.