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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I am kinda torn on this. One part of me says since Jones is the future just let him do the whole thing the other part wants to wins games now and if putting Worlids out there on passing downs gives us a better chance at getting more pressure/sacks then do it. I think I will use hindsight on this one…lol

  • RW

    I love the idea. I’m all for it – clearly Worilds is the better pass rusher right now. Jones’ only move is to try to outrun the left tackle to the outside, but he’s not fast enough. He’s used a spin move a few times, but that’s all he’s got in his arsenal. Worilds might only have one or two more moves to showcase, but he’s got a heck of a lot more speed to beat tackles to the outside. He also seems to do really well when asked to stunt, often finding the open gap to rush the QB. I’m absolutely in favor of bringing him in on obvious passing downs as a nickel rush LB.

  • Bell Cow

    Jones is clearly the future and it seems very unlikely that Worilids will be resigned next year so my vote is to play Jones as much as possible this season. Also, if the general consensus is that Worilds will not be resigned, then I’d consider trading him right now for a draft pick next year. Maybe bring up Baxter and let him get some action as a back up to Jones and Woodley.

  • Virdin Barzey

    No one is saying this but I’m going to say it. When James Harrison came back humiliated by Baltimore’s decision to go elsewhere they stated they have moved on with Worilds. He was the next guy in line and they felt great about him. Really? So good that he couldn’t beat out a rookie that is still learning the position?

    Awful decision not to bring back James when he was desperate and needed a job. Even if just for one year, that would have given Jones plenty of time to learn from one of the best. And yes, I don’t care if he had a problem with Woodley or whoever. We sure can use him now. James started it by wanted more money (which he did not deserve) but it was a stupid decision by Colbert and company not to low ball him like Cincy.

  • Bell Cow

    Agreed. They clearly had doubts about Worlids from the beginning if they decided to draft an OLB in the first round to basically replace him anyways.

  • joed32

    James has no sacks either this year and only one tackle.

  • Xclewsive

    I just believe the Steelers should stop complicating things for Jones and just let him rush. There’s nothing wrong with him just lining up 4-5 plays in a row and just getting after the passer. I’ve watched him become passive in obvious passing situation because he doesn’t want to blow a assignment.

    For example last week against the Vikings Jones has either TE or RB responsibilities. If either releases Jones must cover them, but if they stay into block rush the passer. Jones patty caked with the TE not really rushing the passer because he didn’t want to rush and potentially give up the underneath route. JJ doesn’t have the concept that teams are using his inexperience against him, but they respect him because they are willing to sacrifice more passing options to protect the passer against him. JW is best used the way he’s being used and JJ is better off for it.

  • Callentown

    Why not play Worlids at inside LB instead of the rookie Williams this year???

  • chris ward

    I think Jarvis was a little overhyped when he made those big plays in the backfield during the preseason. Credit to Jarvis for being in position to make the play, but he was left free unblocked. Jarvis is still developing and has looked good at times, but hasn’t developed a variety of pass rush moves just yet.

  • Bell Cow

    They never use him. He’s completely out of place playing SLB in 43 defense.

  • joed32

    Why don’t they use him properly?

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    As I stand correct, he is your “prototypical OLB” not a pass-rusher. He belongs to inside, as Vince Williams is a good “classic buck” against running game but in today’s game he is almost useless, you should be only using him in goaline or short yardage situation. You ought to put your best 4 in starting line-up and I only see three. As much Worilds may be bad at run he is actually our second best pass-rusher. That’s not saying much but a lot about our lack of talent.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Technically while he is among the best pass-rusher in NFL, his overall game is still pretty good which is why Bengals used him as a Strongside LB, only aspect that’s being taken away is his pass-rushing.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    No, Jarvis Jones would be much better inside.

  • Michael Briscoe

    I was wondering , Woriilds has shown pretty much nothing this year rushing the pass , can he play inside? have a speed guy on the crossfire x blitz may be a good thing comments??

  • Virdin Barzey

    As stated, James is playing in a different position and he is playing in a completely different defense. The reason they don’t have him playing his position is the guy in front of him is a pro-bowl player. Not to mention James hasn’t really played in a 4-3 system. Look, to question James ability when he’s healthy is silly. The dude can still ball…and I’m betting a whole lot better than Worilds and Jones for now. It was a mistake on his part and a mistake on the Steelers part. If both put those egos aside, both would be in a better position.

  • Mike Carroll

    I agree. I think Jarvis has a lot of positive qualities, but rushing from the outside does not seem to be one of them. Maybe he can put on some muscle in the next couple of seasons to help, but then he might not be the same player. I think Farrior had the same issue when he was with the Jets, before moving inside with the Steelers. I see some similarities between the two of them.

  • PA2AK

    Didn’t they offer Harrison more then what he’s getting now? He and his agent are why he’s not a Steeler.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    This!!! He could easily become our next James Farrior!

  • Lucus Rodriguez

    I have been talking about this all season. It seems like every time worilds is in the game he his 5 yards off the line every time. Either in the backfield getting pressures, Or getting mugged in the run game. Jarvis always just seems to hold to same point if not get a yard or two push. That is srrong against the run. But there is not qb in the league that is gonna get sacked two yards off the line.

  • Bill Eltringham

    How about the corners don’t give 15 yard cushions thus eliminating the quick pass and then maybe somebody might have time to get a sack?

  • charles

    The real issue is twofold. One is the complication of LeBeau’s cute little schemes. Ray Charles can see that they are no longer effective. Of course fantasy football thinkers point to a statistically number one D. Anybody watching Steelers football for any length of time realizes that this D has no teeth and dentures that don’t stick so well either. The defenses are too complex and remove EVERY PLAYERS INATE TALENTS AND INSTALLS LEBEAUS DEFENSE using the cliche ‘the NFL is so much faster’. So what, the players themselves are faster.
    The second problem is the Steelers ‘old boys’ coaching platoon. RB, DL, linebacker, and of course DC are harder to remove than union bosses. That is Tomlin’s achilles heel.
    Oddly, Tomlin, IMO, would make a classic Steelers DC. And Haley appears better suited to the management issues that a Head Coach would face. And Carnell Lake should be DFO.

  • Pete

    His agent said they agreed to him playing spot role as 43 outside LB during contract negotiations. So he knew heading into the season that they did not plan on playing him much, and when they do play him he drops back into coverage a lot more than rushing the passer. The Bengals front 4 do most of the pass rushing. James will not have great numbers this year for that reason.

  • Pete

    If Woodley keeps going at his current pace he’ll get 12 sacks this season. Not bad for a guy who is healthy but for what he’s paid I think 16 or more sacks would be more like it. Worilds? Let me know when he has his first sack. So much for Worilds being a competent replacement for Harrison. I never thought he would be. Jones needs time to adjust to the NFL. I wouldn’t grade him yet. It’s too soon.

  • joed32

    Yes and I think it was a mistake on the Bengals part if they’re not going to use him at what he does best.

  • B Crenshway

    I agree. Jones has not been effective as a pass rusher thus far.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    We did try to keep Harrison… Harrison didn’t want to take a pay cut so he was released. This is on Harrison.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    When you have to keep Polo close to the line to stop the run you have to have the CB’s back to stop the big play because they have no support behind them.You do not want them to get burned for a big TD then everyone will be complaining that we are allowing big pass plays although it made no difference in the Viks game.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The problem with LeBeau’s defense isn’t LeBeau it is 10 years of crappy drafting and having no talent to play defense with.

  • charles

    Lack of talent on the Dline and an abundance of LBs seems to have led to this scheme. Your point about talent is a further indictment though since Colbert doesn’t draft in a vacuum. LeBeau’s 10 cents worth in the draft ain’t worth 10 cents.
    Cmon Shannon 0 TOs and 3 sacks through 4 games is just as bad as 2 fumbles and 4 holding calls in the red zone. Don’t you think? Jake Locker ordering his eggs over easy before looking to throw borders on classic NFL worst.
    Also you may have noticed that our blitzers seem to engage someone when they blitz. They are not supposed to be engaging like our D linemen do, they are supposed to be engaging the qb with the dirt. This indicates two things. One the opposition knew what was coming and TWO John Mitchell needs to be asked to retire ALSO, since everyone knows that a large part of the battle CAN be won on the line of scrimmage.
    I do think some offensive pressure would help and our O seems to be fast approaching click mode with Bell entering the picture. Hoping Brown is to LT as Velasco was to C.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    LeBeau has had great success for years and even has been inducted into the HOF as a coordinator! I do not think he forgot to coach over the summer.Does what he did in the past give him a get out of jail free card? Heck no! He does have some of the blame but my point is you cant make the farm grow if you dont have water. Mitchell has been a sensational coach and has great success coaching the DL since 94 for the Steelers. He does have his work ahead and may have put his neck out there with putting McLendon at a position where he may not be strong/big enough to be an everydown player.

  • Callentown

    I dunno. It’s his first season. Doesn’t mean he won’t pick up a couple of good moves to start getting past LT’s.

    And it’s more than just him. The rest of the D has to do its job as well and then let’s see if he starts to look like an OLB.

    I think he will.

  • charles

    I just think that some of the novel ideas of the 3-4 have been solved by the opposition. For instance, the DL tieing up blockers to give LBs a lane is simply not working and we are actually tieing up our guys and giving offenses nothing to worry about on the pass rush. Hence 4 sacks on the year.
    Do you remember against Chicago the Bush td? Timmons AND Williams, the very heart of our defense, could not stuff him. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mitchell .
    We are not done yet, but the Jets have to be seen as a must win and any serious football fan has to see MUCH better play from our front 7.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I never disregarded him as possibly our next great OLB (if that’s what it seem, just saying) but I already disregarded him as the next james harrison, who excel in all aspects as our overall OLB. I concured that when drafting Jarvis Jones I expected him to have Carlo Emmons-like impact during his rookie year (in case anyone didn’t remember, Emmons is the reason why we let Chad Brown go, Greg Lloyd too, not just financial issues) but and then the defensive coordinator was Tim Lewis at the time. Sure our secondary was atrocious but our LBs were pretty effeciently.

    Point being, there is really a thin line between James Farrior and Chad Brown as one is much more versatile and others just is more turnover enforcer. Jarvis Jones displays BOTH. Yes the rest of defense has to do better job but don’t you think putting Jarvis Jones at ILB instead of Kion Wilson/Vince Williams would be more productive for us? I do. Both of them aren’t starting-caliber LB, Jarvis Jones is. We just got to use him differently.

  • Callentown

    Yeah, but just look how long it took for J. Harrison to explode. He was cut a few times first. This is just Jones’ first 4 games.

    Why not play the future started at the position he will be playing at and move the LB who did not succeed in replacing Harrison to ILB? I have to admit, this isn’t my idea. I heard Dave Te mention this a couple of times and thought the four best LB’s were Jones, Timmons, Worllids and Woodley at the moment anyway.

    I don’t think this season is going to be anything special, so might as well get playing time in. If Spence can come back, same for him – get as much playing time in as possible so there might be competition next year.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Yes and no. You can’t really compared JJ to J Harrison, J Harrison is undrafted free agent who had attitude problem. Jarvis Jones is a 1st round pick, in that context- Jarvis Jones is SUPPOSED to bebetter than James Harrison only Jones WON’T be.

    The writers are entitled to their own opinions, I respect them for their passion and time invested in writing but I still disagree with the context that Jarvis Jones ought to stick to OLB, in matter of fact longer do this- longer our problem remains. I’m really high on Khalil Mack from Buffalo, he is the guy you want on team as a pass-rusher.

    Forget offensive linemen in 1st round, that was never the problem. We lack the preparedness and veteran presence among O-linemen right now, we can’t expect our O-linemen to improve when they face Jarvis Jones in practices thinking he is among top 2 best pass-rushing speciman on team because he’s not. Our D-linemen can’t even do their jobs properly including Keisel despite his QB pressures (you will notice that he’s already declined in running game).

    I want a heavy-defense draft again, we replaced the pro bowlers/future hall of famers with lesser talents and we can not do that. Only two look like true replacements: Shamarko Thomas and Cameron Heyward. Yes, just those two… we have some players with potential to be great (Brian Arnfelt, Ziggy Hood, Jarvis Jones, and Robert Golden) and noticed how I included Ziggy Hood? That’s right, its because he’s being utilitized WRONG. He is a nose tackle in an attacking 3-4 defense and Jarvis Jones would be an OLB in same scheme but here we are, not only we are using Ziggy wrong but Jarvis Jones too.

    I respect Kevin Colbert for his strong prestige within draft and finding hidden gems but the draft since 2008 has really hurt us badly and its showing the inferior talents. Since 08′ draft ONLY Antonio Brown has WOWed us… think about this now!

  • Steeler Wheeler

    Everyone is missing a really important…beating mike Adams in practice on every snap doesn’t help you improve.

  • Steeler Wheeler

    Somehow, 4-3 personnel have fallen into the Steelers lap…a severe lack of talent at LB, no 500 lb. nose tackle, DE who are better at getting into a gap than eating up blockers and some pretty good dept along the D-line. LeBeau has been so very, very good…no, great at the 3-4 I understand he’s reluctant to change….but, IMUQWAGO (In My Un-Qualified, Wild-Ass-Guess opinion) they should play 4-3 this year.

  • Callentown

    I think we are of similar but differing opinions. The Lebeau defense is still difficult to learn, and the leap to NFL outside LB is real.

    Too soon to know what J. Jones is, but he has showed some signs on a defense that suddenly is not the same as it had been.

    I get what you’re saying about Harrison’s disposition and we’ve always had someone like that, until now.

    Well, at least we have a whole year to work on this without it mattering. 0-4 start does offer some things to a rebuilding team with regards to options this year.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Yeah, I mean I really enjoy talking about this to you! You have convinced me that I’m not that crazy thinking about those things ha. I guess a part of me feel like… we will actually turn it around and get a mediocre record but the egos of our coaching staffs remain same.

    So in that instant, a part of me just want us to lose many games, sufficiently to change how we perceive this team because well, I’m a loyalty fan and this is coming from a loyal Pirates fan. Now you see how much appreciative Pirates fans are because we have been losers for SO long. We are a talented team, no question and we do have a good coaching staffs but I feel like everybody’s ego got in the way. If you know what I mean?

    Bad contracts… letting go really good players at worst time… not changing our schemes at all.

  • Callentown

    I can totally relate to sometimes wanting the team to lose worse so that no one thinks it’s working when it’s not 🙂

    That said, Go Steelers!

  • Arthur Branch

    Harrison is not getting playing time in Cincy. It is obvious that the coaches think he has lost a step. Him not playing on passing downs in Cincy makes me think he has definitely lost a step.