Tomlin: Emphasis In Today’s NFL Is Sub-Package Football

We currently find ourselves at the critical mass of the front office’s media exposure during the early portions of the offseason leading up to the draft.

Especially this week at the annual Owner’s Meetings, we seem to be hearing from head coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert, or even owner Art Rooney II on a daily basis, and you won’t find me complaining about that.

Tomlin once again spoke to the media yesterday on a variety of topics, but one of the more interesting remarks came on the subject of scheme and how the differences between a 3-4 and a 4-3 are being somewhat mitigated by the increased usage of sub-packages with five or six defensive backs.

He went so far as to say that he thinks “the emphasis in today’s NFL is about sub-package football because of the number of multiple-receiver sets that you see. Significant discussion regarding schematics revolves around that”.

This is a particularly relevant comment following the 2013 season the Steelers had, after which their most frequently used defense was their ‘quarters’ package, which includes three cornerbacks and three safeties.

Between Steve McLendon and Al Woods combined, the Steelers only used a true nose tackle on the field on less than half of their total defensive snaps. Though he missed two games, McLendon himself played only 355 snaps.

In contrast, Will Allen, who saw his first action with the Steelers on defense in Week 10, played 378 snaps. Prior to that, rookie Shamarko Thomas logged close to 200 snaps on defense, primarily as a safety. Even Robert Golden logged over 50 snaps toward the beginning of the season as a third safety.

The Steelers also had three cornerbacks log over 700 snaps on defense, with Cortez Allen playing 718 snaps despite missing two and a half games. Both Ike Taylor and William Gay logged over 900 snaps.

When talking about cornerbacks, Tomlin was also quoted as saying “man, you better have four”.

That could be a problem, as the Steelers only appear to have three. But they basically only had three last season as well.

Given the lack of cornerback depth, we can probably assume that Thomas will continue to be asked to utilize his versatility by essentially being both the third safety and the fourth cornerback, with the ability to cover in the slot, which is a good attribute to have, given how important sub-packages are becoming around the league and specifically in Pittsburgh.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • dkoy85

    Since it sounds like this is going to be the thing of the future maybe they keep McLendon on the field for 3 downs and move him over to DE when they’re in the sub? Is that a crazy thought, or can it happen? I think, especially with us not getting Carrington(even though it’s not the end of the world), the more you get McLendon on the field the better.

  • steeltown

    Just one more reason the emphasis should be on CB, I know I know we have Shark Thomas who can move around and play nickel, but this Team needs CBs, Taylor is done after this season and WillieG is only signed through ’15 and will be 30yrs old by then… time to restock the cupboard

  • Steelers12328882

    I think we’re going to see LeBeau’s defense at its finest once again as he gets this sub-package defense dialed in.

  • steeltown

    I think that’s why McLendon is so intriguing, he brings something different to the table, not your traditional two gap NT, but for 320lbs he moves really well and can shift laterally with ease

  • Steelers12328882

    True, but we also need to create our own “multiple-receiver sets”, and drafting a WR early would definitely help that.

  • dkoy85

    I think it’s safe to say there is a good chance CB and WR go first and second round in no particular order- and more than likely double dip CB.

  • dkoy85

    He has the potential to be a beast at DE and would really help get that extra push. Good God the front 7 could wreak havoc on 3rd and longs once again.

  • srdan

    sub package football takes flexible players. Right now we have 3 on defense that are action ready Mclendon, Polumalu and Shark. I think this gives the team the ability to not sub a lot and play subpackage football. Which will allow us to keep up with the other trend, no huddle.

    On offense we have no position flexible players. But on offense it is less necessary.

  • steeltown

    Think about maybe getting Spence back in some form or fashion

    I try to temper my expectations with him, but THIS is the year, we shall see if he can contribute and be an effective player

  • srdan

    I really pull for that kid. I dont know why.

    But to be honest, I have put him in the same bucket as Woodley(but at a much lower cost lol). What I mean, when I analyze the team or specifically the LB core, I started to not take him into account. If he materializes, it would be a huge boost to our team, huge.

  • Axe Skot

    I was going to say the same thing. Initially when he was drafted, like a lot of people who were wondering if he would be moved to safety, I couldn’t see how they would use Spence. You don’t make Timmons a Buck and lose out on his ability to make plays and tackles for losses, so where do you put him? In the quarters he could potentially play the role of the strong safety or a number of different ways. The ‘tweener guys that can run but still hit have increasing value these days.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I would be truly surprised if we don’t draft 2 CBs in this draft. We used that “quarters” package mostly because last year we didn’t have 4 CBs who could cover, not because it was ideal.

  • SumnerYoung

    This is an interesting topic, and it makes me wonder if the current Steelers defense was similar to our great defenses of last decade if sub-packages would be so necessary. We have an average defense now, but last decade we had some great defenses with great players in their prime, players who had the endurance and skills to play every down and who did not want to come off the field. This makes me think of the best defenses currently in the NFL and Seattle comes immediately to mind. Their defense is loaded, and I believe they run a base 4-3. They rarely have to deviate from that, other than going to nickel or dime, because they have a highly talented and intelligent starting group of players. It makes me wonder if sub-package football is thus a way to make up for lack of talent on defense. Any thoughts???

  • Steelers12328882

    Yep, totally agree, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers grab a DE somewhere in between there too.

  • SumnerYoung

    Let’s not forget that this is currently Cortez Allen’s last season under contract too. Have to think he will be extended once the Woodley money becomes available in June, but that money also needs to be used for the draft class, and potential extensions to Pouncey, Heyward, Worilds, Marcus Gilbert. Somebody’s gonna be left out. Looks like Gilbert and/or Allen right now.

  • Ike Evans

    I think the role that troy is playing right now…that they bring Terrance Garvin to play this past season on dime coverage is exactly the position they intended Spence to play…hybrid safety but really s linebacker….troy essentially played linebacker this year, well at least lined up there

  • Game_Time

    Having 6 DB’s on the field for the majority of the time could also explain the problem in not being able to stop the run…. I think Pitt needs to get back to a strong front 7 and look for press cover corners now that they have a FS with speed who can cover hash mark to hash mark in true over the top fashion

  • 243546

    Or players who may not be a fit for the base D, but can play a role in sub packages. It also means having D lineman who can rush the passer.

  • Justin Barlow

    Maybe they are truly starting to look at the entire 3-4 DL stable as a unit comparable to the DTs in a 4 man front and they are stocking the cupboard accordingly. As of now we have 5 guys in the stable, but only 3 have significant experience. Maybe they think that is fine especially if Keisel can provide depth…