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Rethinking The OLB Platoon

By Matthew Marczi

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, overall perhaps, has been able to acclimate himself reasonably well to a starting role so early on in his career. I have in the past taken a look at his success against the run in the team’s previous game against the Chicago Bears, for example.

What he has not been able to deliver thus far, however, is pressure against the pass, which was what had him climbing up the draft boards before the medical history and 40 times began to circulate.

The Steelers only have four sacks thus far through four games, with three of them coming from LaMarr Woodley. The last one could be considered a soft sack, as well, as he pursued Matt Cassel on a run, knocking the ball out for a fumble before he crossed the line of scrimmage. Brett Keisel accounts for the other sack.

Is it time that the Steelers start asking more of Jarvis Jones as a pass rusher? So early on, is it fair?

There are reasons that the Steelers and Dick LeBeau shy away from starting rookies on defense; quite simply, they do not always know what they are doing. Circumstances this year, however, have dictated that they have two rookies starting at linebacker, the other being Vince Williams, for now.

The Steelers felt that Jones outperformed Jason Worilds through the preseason, even though Worilds starting the first game of the season. A chest injury suffered in the third preseason game that caused Jones to miss time may have had something to do with Jones’ debut as a starter being delayed.

The problem is, however, that as poorly as Jones is doing as a pass rusher, Worilds has actually shown some ability to do so, both this year and in the past. In fact, he had five sacks just last season.

The team has been operating under a platoon system, but I am wondering if it is time to rethink that strategy—not to abandon the concept of the platoon, but rather to specialize it to optimize both players.

Along the defensive line, Cameron Heyward plays primarily in the nickel package, which, of course, is generally geared toward playing the pass. Through this utilization, the Steelers have found Heyward more snaps as he prepares for his role as a starter, likely starting next season.

What if the Steelers simply use Worilds the same way they use Heyward, with an eye toward playing the pass? Worilds and Heyward could come in at the same time in the same package, to fulfill the same purpose. That way, you maximize the abilities of each player more while gradually bringing Jones along as a pass rusher without as much pressure to perform. It is, at least, an option, and if the Steelers have already been doing it, it hasn’t been noticeable.

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