Is The Quarter Sub-Package Limiting Lawrence Timmons?

By Matthew Marczi

There is no question that, since he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the 207 NFL Draft, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons has slowly become an integral piece in Dick LeBeau’s defensive arsenal. He has arguably been the team’s best defensive player over the course of the past three seasons.

Much of his success has been predicated upon being unburdened with the setting and play-calling responsibilities that go along with playing the Buck linebacker position, and he has been aided greatly by being paired with experienced and knowledgeable running mates such as James Farrior and Larry Foote.

This year, however, he is left with neither, as Foote sustained a season-ending injury in the opening game. As a result of the loss of one of the team’s key linebackers, LeBeau has resorted to utilizing the rarely seen quarter defensive package, which deploys six defensive backs in a three-safety look. In this sub-package, the Steelers morph into a 5-man front with two down linemen and three linebackers. Timmons plays middle linebacker in these situations, and assumes the Buck responsibilities.

When he is partnered with one of the young linebackers—Vince Williams and Kion Wilson—he is able to play in more familiar territory, as Williams and Wilson have early on displayed an ability to call the defense with little help from Timmons. Timmons is also more comfortable in the Mack role, which generally allows him to play more freely without worrying about beating blockers as much.

The situation led me to ponder whether or not the quarter package is in the best interests of Timmons, and is conducive to getting the most out of him. While the defense as a whole thus far has done reasonably well—not to mention they have spent nearly a quarter of the past two games in the sub-package—is it possible that LeBeau is somewhat neutering one of his best defensive weapons?

I tried to take note during the last game of Timmons’ performance while in the quarter look, and while he was able to make some plays, I did question at times whether or not he was playing as effectively as he could be, whether it is due to taking on more responsibilities or not being used to or as comfortable playing as the sole inside linebacker. The following play is just one example that leads me to wonder if Timmons still has some adjusting to do in order for the defense to be at its best in this sub-package.

Steelers Bears Lawrence Timmons

On this play, Timmons has two-gap responsibility, and he sells too hard to the one gap—the gap without the fullback leading the way—which leads to a key nine-yard run on second and 10. In the base defense, this would normally be a good read, because he would have the Buck inside linebacker filling the strong gap and taking on the blocker. But he doesn’t have that luxury here.

Troy Polamalu sometimes fills that role in the sub-package, but not on this play. In fact, Timmons directs Polamalu up to the line pre-snap. This play was on Timmons to make, and he got himself caught up in the wash. Sub-packages with defensive backs are obviously an asset, but, as can be seen here, they also have their drawbacks, especially if a player is not as comfortable running it.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • treeher

    I can see what Timmons was doing on the play. I have no idea what Polamalu was doing.

  • Matthew Marczi

    As I wrote, Timmons motions Polamalu over there before the snap, so Timmons knew what Polamalu was doing, and thus should have understood that he had two gaps to protect.

  • Ahmad

    It’s just something he will have to get used to. I’m not overly concerned about it. Also while it is technically a quarters package, one could call it a hybrid of their regular Nickel package because of Troy playing the hybrid quasi-linebacker role.

  • Steelc1ty

    No offense, but I’m pretty sure you have this play diagnosed wrong.

    Woodley has outside on the left and Heyward is playing to his right. Timmons starts by sliding to the left playing the gap in between. On the other side of the ball, Keisel, Worilds, and Polamalu play their men to the right as well.

    This leaves a single hole up the middle that Gay, playing in no man’s land behind Polamalu, should be filling. Basically it’s a “sucker punch” defensive alignment where you want the lead blocker / RB to go up the middle but the tackler comes in at an angle the blocker will not see, let alone pick up for short-to-no gain.

    However, Gay was slow getting over and so Timmons had to make a good play sliding back across trash, and through the lead blocker to slow the RB down enough for Gay to catch up to the play.

  • RW

    Whether or not he is comfortable, this is not a defense to use against Peterson and the Vikes.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I do not believe that is the case, based on pre-snap alignment indications, as Polamalu waves him off further to the defensive right side before the snap. If he had A Gap responsibility, that certainly would not have been the movement to make. Even if it were, however, Timmons should be occupying the fullback so that Gay is available to make the tackle.

  • charles

    Looks like the play is designed to go to the right of the Bears center. In which case Timmons is going where he should. Shamarko is blitzing outside of Woodley and the Bears running back adjusts and runs away from Thomas (29?).
    I do agree that it seems Timmons has been awfully quiet. A lot of people gave Williams a hard time on the Bush TD, but Timmons should have stuffed that by himself.
    Usually Ds fatigue as the season progresses. They come out strong but get weaker as the games pile up. This Steelers D has 4 or 5 new players and they are learning to work as a unit. They have the potential for large improvement as the season moves forward.
    Meanwhile I expect Timmons to psuedo shadow Peterson and we need for Mr. T to have a good game against the Vikings…