For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.
Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.
Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Is it a good idea for the Steelers to so heavily use the quarters package again this year?
Partially due to opportunity, but largely due to necessity, the Steelers broke out the quarters package on defense early and often last season, which is a six-defensive-back package that includes three safeties.
After losing Larry Foote in the first week of the season with only a trio of inexperienced players behind him to replace him, the team ultimately resolved to alleviate the issue of working with an inexperienced Buck linebacker by simply taking him off the field for large stretches of time in certain games.
The plan really started to take effect after the Steelers brought back Will Allen, who ended up playing more snaps than nose tackle Steve McLendon, and just a few dozen less than Vince Williams, despite only playing in eight games for the Steelers.
Given that the primary usage of the package coincided with the team’s 6-2 second half of the season, one would have to accept the premise that it was largely successful, in part because the Steelers rely on defensive backs that can also play the run.
A key facet of this package was, of course, Troy Polamalu having greater flexibility to play close to the line of scrimmage, where he is often at his most effective. It just so happened to translate in a career-high five forced fumbles.
As long as the Steelers have the personnel to successfully run it—which could take some work this offseason, due to the likely departure of free safety Ryan Clark—I see no reason why the Steelers would not continue to heavily utilize the quarters package, though perhaps not to the same extent as they did last season. It would also be preferable not to have to play Polamalu as a quasi-linebacker quite as frequently.
Every year it seems that some type of passing or receiving record is being broken, making a stronger secondary vital to defensive success. Even the Steelers saw one of their own records broken by their own Antonio Brown. As long as the package can still account for the run, it should continue to be a valuable tool for Dick LeBeau and the Steelers defense.