Big Nickel Against The Bengals? Tomlin Says He’s Looking At Alternative Defensive Packages

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now lost linebacker Larry Foote for the season to a torn biceps and according to head coach Mike Tomlin during his Tuesday press conference, Kion Wilson will now start the Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals in his place. Despite Wilson starting, however, it won’t be surprising to see him pulled out on sub packages.

In a Tuesday interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Tomlin hinted that could indeed be the case.

“It will provide an extra day for us to look at alternative defensive packages, particularly in some of our sub package stuff to neutralize a loss of a Larry Foote,” said Tomlin about having the extra day to prepare for the Bengals.

So why do the Steelers need new sub packages against the Bengals and what new sub package might they use?

For starters, the Bengals used two tight ends on 33-of-55 plays in their season opener against the Chicago Bears. They also used three tight ends on four other plays. Their two main tight ends, Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham both combined to catch 10 passes in the game for 82 yards and they were perfect too, as both were targeted five times each.

The Bengals like having the hybrid Eifert as they can move him around. They did just that against the Bears as he played on the line, in the slot and even out wide on a few plays. While not as versatile, Gresham certainly is no slouch and he can be moved around to some extent as well.

So why is this grouping of the Bengals tough for the Steelers to defend? For starters, if the Steelers play their base 3-4 against it, the Bengals will spread them out in a four-wide look and attempt to exploit a matchup. If the Steelers play their normal nickel against it, the Bengals will condense their formation and attempt to run if the right down and distance presents itself.

The best sub package defense for the Steelers to use against the Bengals hybrid offense is perhaps the big nickel package. In the case of the Steelers, they can pull off either their nose tackle or an inside linebacker and replace that player with a safety who can play the run as well as cover in the slot.

Keep in mind that cornerback Cortez Allen is currently dealing with an ankle injury this week and he certainly won’t be 100% if he plays Monday night. He is best slot cornerback the team has, so that adds yet another dilemma for the defense.

So who will the Steelers use if indeed they utilize some big nickel Monday night. Well, it should be either Shamarko Thomas or Robert Golden as both can play in the slot. Thomas, however, is the better run defender of the two and has a linebacker mentality.

The only problem with using Thomas is his 5-9 size and that could present a problem if he has to line up against the 6-6 Eifert in the slot. I’m not saying he can’t get the job done, but it should certainly be a battle to watch if indeed his number is called.

The Steelers don’t want to get into a situation where either Wilson or rookie Vince Williams have to cover a receiver or a tight end in the slot or a speedy running back such as Giovani Bernard out the backfield, so I will be surprised if we don’t see some big nickel Monday night in Cincinnati, especially if Allen isn’t able to play.

About the Author

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

    Get Shamarko Thomas on the field to play nickel.

  • dgh57

    If Cortez Allen can’t play that will be a problem because he was a big part in stopping Brady and his 2 TE sets two years ago! Thomas would have to be the guy and I’m sure they would be going after that match up as they’ll be forgetting about Shamarko’s 40″ vertical like everyone seemed to do in the draft.

  • steeltown

    Would be nice to have Cortez Allen back for this game.. but, yes I think Shark needs to see the field more in this contest..I would consider getting Garvin out there some as well, he seems to move well and has that hybrid frame with a Safety background

  • RMSteeler

    My thoughts exactly regarding Shamarko. Had the highest vertical of all DB’s at the combine. What were the Bengal’s tight end’s verticals. Do the math, those of you mathematicians and just how “tall” does Shamarko really play comparatively? Also believe Shamarko put up the most reps at 225lbs, so the combination of explosion and strength could work to his advantage against bigger tight ends and the teams that underestimate him. Will be interesting to watch how he does against them.

  • Jonas

    Exactly, Garvin could fill the SPUR-role with a LOT of training and perhaps in a few sub-packages in this season!
    But of course we all still hope for Spence to do it someday 😉

  • Pete

    Thomas is barely 5’9″. Eifert’s 6’6″ versus 5’9″ is still a mismatch. If I was the Bengals, I’ll take Eifert vs Thomas all day long. I still have AJ and another good TE in Gresham. The other problem this presents is that you probably can’t cover Eifert with a LB so going to the Big Nickle will give the Bengals an opportunity to run with Bernard also. I see the Steelers at a disadvantage here. Should be interesting to see what LeBeau cooks up for the Bengals.

  • Bob Graff

    First off this team needs some offensive packages that work. I thought during the draft that Eifert would have been an awesome pick for us. Seeing the need to put more weapons around Ben. Could you image a receiving crop of Brown , Sanders , Miller and Eifert it would really have been a difference maker. Seeing that our current needs are clearly offensive weapons. Anyways it will be interesting to see if we can match-up with the Bengals.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    I’m not really worried about defense. If the offense can’t stay on the field, then it won’t matter how we defend or what packages we use against them.

  • Luke Shabro

    Very good point. I felt like the defense actually had a B+ outing but they were on the field all day long. No breathers. 3 and out. 3 and out. First down and then 3 and out. All day. Normally I don’t want to play just ball control offense but Lord I think we had the ball about 10 mins the whole game.

  • PA2AK

    sometimes big trees fall hard. is Eifert good at catching while landing on his head? Shamarko is best exploited by testing his responsibilities and thinking as he is a young rookie…going right at him will be playing into his strengths. He doesn’t shy away from much. At 5’9″…don’t think it will be the first time he has a height disadvantage.

  • PA2AK

    IMO, i’m fine with picking Jarvis #17 in lieu of Eifert. As far as receiving weapons…is there really much wrong with Brown, Sanders, Cotch, Miller, & Wheaton? I’d say if anything we needed a better RB and a solid OL to actually use those weapons. OL needs healthy time together to become a legit unit. Unfortunately we have injuries and don’t have much time. The RB…well it was a real solid pick. Who would have thought that a guy who never missed a practice or game in 3 years while carrying his college team would be injured this early?! Also…regardless of receiving weapons, Ben will not be able to make use of them behind a struggling OL with an owner who wants to see more ‘3-yards and a cloud of dust’ offense. Art II’s football knowledge is doing us well!

  • PA2AK

    don’t forget the field position battle…rough. D played great, IMO. Certainly a bright spot on this team right now. Especially the DL play.

  • Luke Shabro

    McLendon brought the heat. Only problem is he doesn’t clog the middle like Big Snack and I felt like they were running the best up the gut. Especially with Jackie Battle.
    Field position blew big time. I was screaming at the TV when Wheaton took it out of the end zone.

  • Informed reader

    Exactly. Our receivers can compete with any in the league. And so can Ben. The real problem is the offensive line…it is the height of idiocy to invest $100 million in a QB contract and not have an O-Line in place that can protect him. The Rooneys are obsessed with running like it is 1975. Somebody needs to tell Art it is 2013 and the times have changed…and so have NFL rules. It’s a passing league now! You have a GREAT QB. USE HIM!!! And PROTECT HIM before the line gets him killed. THAT should be priority number one…not the running game.

  • PA2AK

    Yeah, Foote whiffed a few times too though, and so did Timmons. I was reading that LeBeau really likes McLendon as it will allow him to run the 3-4 as he prefers…much more flexibility with the athletic nose. McLendon held his own in the run…Hasn’t demanded the double team yet. The LB’s were slow to fill/or whiffed…and then Kion Wilson came in. I think McLendon was the third best thing on D that I saw….(#1 Clark being Clark, #2 Troy being Troy-lie…no turnovers ;-))

    And yes…that ‘return’ was terrible. I imagine it’s because the kid wants to help the team and never got the shot on O…why we kept Paulson on the field blew my mind. I think the field possession and time of possession were maybe the biggest factors in the up the guy run success. <—at least I hope…because we can overcome that moving forward.

  • Luke Shabro

    I’m not sure why Paulson wasn’t targeted hardly at all. I guess part of it could be that the line of scrimmage was so crowded I don’t think he could even get through traffic. Clearly a #2 and not a #1 TE. DJ is gone after the bye, Palmer is gone when Spaeth gets back. I’m hoping Velasco starts and we can use Beachum as he was originally intended to be used on Sun as a 6th OL/TE

  • PA2AK

    Agree just about 100%. I will say that the front office HAS been doing much more for the OL than in many years passed. Pouncy has been great (until injured), Foster was a great undrafted find. DeCastro should be great, but the injury last year definitely hurt development. Adams is going to continue to improve as long as he stays healthy. Gilbert…don’t like him…seems soft, but has potential if healthy as well. If we get those 5 together for any consistent period of time, we may actually see the fruit of those picks.

    I don’t think its the Rooneys collectively, rather just Art II. His predecessors let their coaches and hired hands handle the Football decisions and trusted them to do it. Art II wants use to turn back to our roots, but is selective in which ‘roots’ he chooses. Sure, anyone would take the 1970’s…problem is, that was a different NFL. Besides….Steelers roots are in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, & 60’s….we don’t want to dig up the REAL steeler roots, haha!

  • PA2AK

    The Broncos put up 510 yards of total offense in week 1. 65 of them were rushing yards. It is nice to have a run game and can really take the pressure off your D…but if it isn’t working, or isn’t to the level of your passing weapons…you don’t need it to win. I will say that only 30 yards rushing will likely NEVER get the job done, lol

  • PA2AK

    Absolutely. I’m thinking Velasco still has time to move into the #1 job by monday night.

  • Informed reader

    Probably, but if you run for 200 yards per game and Ben gets knocked out with a season ending injury (or gets a lingering injury that keeps him from being effective the rest of the season), then you are going nowhere fast. I would be quite happy with a middle of the pack (of course this looks like a fantasy after week 1!! LOL)…or even bottom third running game…IF the line could pass protect well. The giants won the super bowl despite being the WORST rushing team in the league AND having a defense in the bottom 6. That tells you exactly how much can be done with a good QB who gets time to throw.

  • Informed reader

    Granted, I think they are making efforts to fix the line…I just fear (and I hope I’m wrong) it is too little too late. I fear Gilbert is a draft bust…he is backup quality but not a real starter. Adams…I hope will be decent but the jury is out. We have no depth…that is inexcusable. Some of the roster moves they made (or didn’t make) regarding the backup line positions are just pathetic…especially considering the injury history the past few years. Is anyone really shocked that we lost another lineman for the year? To me, it was just a question of who it would be and when. Somebody needs to make a blood sacrifice to the O-Line Injury God to appease him!!!

  • Pete

    To answer your question, yeah Eifert catches almost everything thrown his way. I’m glad we have Thomas. But Eifert is a freak. I still think it’s a mismatch. I’d rather see Allen on Eifert. Eifert is going to light this league up much like Gronkowski and I think Eifert can be better than Gronkowski. Just as Tomlin put Allen on Gronk, I’d go with putting Allen on Eifert, especially if Eifert is making Thomas look silly.

  • Bob Graff

    Our receivers aren’t as good as you might think .Sanders for one can not catch the ball while in contact with a defender and he’s not a deep threat at all.Miller is injured and the future only knows if he will be able to come back as the same player [i hope so]. Brown is a very nice intermediate receiver, After that there is some talent but so far it has gone unused. The Steelers have tried to invest in the o-line but so far only Pouncey has panned out [very poor drafting]. And here we are today weak o-line , poor RB’s, thin at receiver and no TE. BTW that would = 7 points against the Titans

  • PA2AK

    I don’t agree with much of anything you said. How many other teams expect to have 4 offensive starters and a backup be out of week one and longer?

  • Bob Graff

    The key words are potential starters. The Steelers are playing with what they have[they are in fact the starters]. As far as my statement goes it appears to be pretty accurate. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it untrue.How many catches is Miller going to have this week? how many rushing yards will Bell have? How many tackles does J. Jones have in his career. i believe the total to all three of those questions would be one. Saying someone is good doesn’t mean anything the only thing that will count this monday is what is on the field..

  • PA2AK

    Great questions. Thank you Mr. Obvious. My point is what the heck do you want the front office to do about the injuries. I’m not saying mistakes haven’t been made along the way…I say quite the opposite. Still, those starters -not potential, but anticipated- in miller, w. Johnson, bell, Pouncey and the backup in LSH, have quite an impact on how the offense could play. Name a team that could do without that many equally important pieces to their offense. Also, prior to the Pouncey injury and that fumble, the OL did fairly well for their first real game together. It doesn’t give the coaches a free pass, nor does it mean that Eifert would have been a smarter move on draft day, or that the current corps of wr’s isnt solid. It’s not that I don’t like it, I just think you missed the point and I don’t agree with what you are saying. Keep in mind there champ…just because it is your opinion (or mine for that matter) doesn’t mean you know what you are talking about.

  • Bob Graff

    I see what your saying.But whatta shouldda and couldda, have never won football games LSH AND Bell and W. Johnson are hardly difference makers. FYI prior to and including the fumble that’s how our offense has been operating for about 10 reg. season games now. [pretty lame]. The Steelers have always had a history of being able to plug and play there players it’s only with the last 4 years that our roster has gotten really thin. In my opinion releasing Harrison before he was able to mentor Jones is a huge mistake and also a break from our past and a reason our early rd. draft choices aren’t working out. you would be surprise how much veterans coach in practice and games. This cycle has been removed from many parts of this team As far as Bell goes no one knows if he is even a good player yet. Right now everyone seems to be waiting for a RB who hasn’t run in 2 months.