Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to play a lot of sub package football on defense and that figures to be the case once again in 2014 thanks to more and more teams using multiple-receiver formations on early downs in order to spread defenses out. During the Steelers Monday pre draft press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if the increase of defensive sub package usage now requires a new kind of hybrid defensive lineman that can not only play inside, but outside as well.
“It does and not only that, but it highlights some of the skills of certain men,” said Tomlin. “I think that there’s a premium on pass rushing capabilities and probably interior pass rushing capabilities. Probably a stronger case for that than it’s been in other years, simply because the number of snaps we’re playing in sub package football. And by sub package football, I mean that the offense has three or more receivers on the field – we have three or more corner-like bodies on the field.”
By the sound of things, the Steelers plan on using nose tackle Steve McLendon more this season as part of their sub packages. So that means we’re likely to see him and defensive end Cameron Heyward on the field together more in sub packages. In addition, the Steelers also signed Cam Thomas during the offseason and he can play both over the nose and on the end as well.
“He’s nose capable, he’s end capable,” said Tomlin of Thomas. “It’s about not only playing to his talents, but also the talents of the other men that we have to find the strongest combination that will give us an opportunity to play great defense. And it may change from situation to situation. I think his position flexibility will aid in that along with the flexibility of Steve and others.”
While the nose tackle position is still a very important position in the Steelers base 3-4 defense, moving forward, a player that can play the zero and one technique also needs to be versatile enough to play the two, three, four and five technique as well in order to maximize their value.
In case you’re curious, the Steelers only used their 3-4 base defense on 416 (40.2%) of the plays last season. In addition, they had six defensive backs on the field for 512 (49.5%) of the plays.