The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced an uncommon amount of roster turnover over the last few seasons, which just so happened to coincide with consecutive years without a postseason berth.
As a result, we’re finding an unusual amount of new faces in the starting lineup compared just to last season, when the season before already introduced several new starters.
The rapid turnover in successive seasons certainly has much to do with the organization’s personnel management over the previous years. Time, as always, came out the victor as they felt the ramifications of trying to hold together a championship roster that could no longer perform like one.
Considering how different the projected starting lineup for the start of the 2014 season is from just two seasons ago, I think it would be interesting to revisit the roster from the 2010 season—the last time the Steelers competed for a championship—to see how different this new team truly is.
For some time now, the dime package had not been a big part of the Steelers’ defensive game plans up until last season, in part made necessary due to injuries to the front seven. In fact, the defensive front had been so stout for so long that it rarely made sense for Dick LeBeau to take two of them off the field for extra defensive backs.
That has changed gradually over time, but it’s only come to prominence when the Steelers had the requisite talent to make it worth their while.
During their last trip to the Super Bowl, for example, that had hoped that Keenan Lewis would be ready to contribute, but he managed few snaps. It was career special teamer Anthony Madison playing the role of dime back that season when necessary. He even managed to record a sack and an interception.
But in 2011, the Steelers felt it necessary to address their cornerback depth, so they drafted two of them in the middle rounds, and the second of the two, Cortez Allen, quickly developed a role for himself as the dime back in his rookie season.
Though he only played 60 snaps as a rookie, he showed that he could handle the job. Safety Ryan Mundy and cornerback Bryant McFadden also received limited reps as the sixth defensive back, but it was Allen who was favored, and he was upgraded to the nickel back in his second season.
In contrast, 2012 saw very little usage of the package. This was in part due to the extensive time missed by Troy Polamalu, which forced first Mundy and then Will Allen into the starting lineup. The Steelers had also lost William Gay in free agency, while Curtis Brown never developed.
But last season, more by necessity than design, the six defensive back look took on a far more integral role in the defense. With the return of Gay and the quick study that Shamarko Thomas proved to be, the Steelers again had the personnel to run the package.
Even Robert Golden saw early time as the third safety, but that role later fell upon Allen, who returned to the Steelers mid-season. Polamalu staying healthy for the duration of the season was also key in running the package.
The dime and quarters looks became so ubiquitous that by the end of the year, the Steelers had spent more time on the field with six defensive backs than with four. With the addition of Ryan Shazier, however, the plan is likely to reduce the necessity for such a back-heavy look going forward. Still, there are a number of candidates for that role, including Thomas, Allen, Golden, Antwon Blake, Brice McCain, and Shaquille Richardson.