Steelers Sub-Packages Should See Improvement

Yesterday, ESPN’s John Clayton took a look at how players in sub-packages are beginning to command more respect by front offices, even if many of them are not technically starters, and thus are getting paid more.

Of course, the fact that teams are employing sub-packages more and more frequently has a lot to do with this, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception.

Last year, the Steelers spent more time in sub-packages than they did in their base defense—and the majority of that time was spent with six defensive backs on the field.

Clayton concluded his piece by looking at sub-package scenarios for five different teams that he believes will see improvement this season, including the Buccaneers, the Texans, the Raiders, the Rams, and the Redskins.

I think a case could be made that the Steelers’ sub-package play will improve this year as well, but I believe that we will see more traditional nickel deployments in 2014, as opposed to the frequently employed ‘quarters’ package.

The way it was run, in fact, the quarters package could be fairly called a ‘small nickel’, because safety Troy Polamalu frequently came up and played as a linebacker instead of a defensive back.

With the drafting of Ryan Shazier, the continued growth of Vince Williams, and the return of Sean Spence, I don’t expect to see Dick LeBeau calling upon six defensive back looks with nearly as much frequency this year.

So how exactly can we expect to see improvement from a sub-package that by and large returns the same pieces that struggled a year ago?

For starters, Cortez Allen should be expected to make a jump this year. He began his season a year ago bogged down by physical ailments, but he played well when he returned to the starting lineup late in the season.

That will allow William Gay to remain as the nickel back, where he was among the most reliable in the league last season, even though he performed admirably as a starter as well.

The one personnel change, of course, is new free safety Mike Mitchell, whose greatly superior range in comparison to Ryan Clark should help take some pressure off of the cornerbacks, and allow LeBeau to provide more help over the top for Ike Taylor this season.

And with Polamalu not asked to play linebacker as frequently, he can simply spend more time doing what he does best, as a roaming playmaker at all three levels.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the sub-packages that the Steelers present this year, however, is the sheer number of options that they can call upon as their fifth or sixth defensive back.

With Shamarko Thomas and Antwon Blake entering their second seasons with the team, and the additions of a veteran nickel back in Brice McCain and a tall bump-and-run corner in Shaquille Richardson—not to mention Will Allen, who was the primary dime back last year—LeBeau can really figure to mix and match depending on the situation if he so chooses.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • srdan

    I have been waiting for this article! Great stuff!

    I always say that there are far more than 22 starters in the NFL. That is the trend today.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the linebackers you listed. I also could see Tuitt getting on the field in nickle a lot due to his athleticism and pass rush ability from teh DE spot.

    Our offensive subpackages last year were hurt big time with Plex, LHS and Pouncey going down by the first week. We basically had no subpackages. We even intended on having Beachum play TE in week one as a wrinkle and that went down the tubes. I dont think Adams at TE was a fluke last year, we will see more of that.

    Gone are the days of lining up 5 maulers, a FB and bettis toting the rock behind them. Now the schemes are to try to exploit the weakest link on the defense. To do that you ahve to be able to do a lot of things all over the field.

    I’m pumped about the talent on the team now. I think Archer and Bryant will not be full time starters per say, but will play a big role in games through subpackages.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I think teams are starting to look at players not as starter or back up but by the number of downs they’ll play and how good they will be in those downs as opposed to someone else. Basically a down comparison instead of full season or game and a reflection of the game just getting broken down more and more as time goes on and teams look to exploit smaller and smaller advantages.

    I’m most intrigued by Shazier in in the sub package.

    I think out sub package will be well above average. Anyone that doubts doesn’t understand how much the team needed and what it can do with Shazier and his speed.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Personally I believe the game plan should change depending on the opponents strengths and weaknesses. They may wish to use more 2 TE sets and start games running the ball. Against others use more 3 WR and take advantage of speed or height mismatches. Wheaton on 3rd down with Moore mostly. Bryant more down in the red zone.

    Defensively I think we will rarely see 6 DBs provided Shazier knows his responsibilities since he could practically cover even WRs with his speed. This means unpredictability and LeBeau can call some crazy blitzes or whatever. The opponents could end up ripping their hair out. It will all be dependant on the pass rush. Hopefully they shuffle fresh guys in and out on the line once in a while as it might help

    Lots to look forward to this year.

  • Madi

    Cortez, Mitchell, Shamarko, all good reasons. Plus a full season of Cam Heyward + Steve McLendon + Jason Worilds + Jarvis Jones in his second year figure to get a better pass rush than what we had last year.
    But for me, the number one reason for improvement will be Shazier. He and Timmons at ILB is going to make a bigger difference than people realize, when it comes to throwing against us. An aging Farrior, Larry Foote, Vince Williams… The last time we had two athletic ILBs was 2008 with Farrior and Timmons – and that was only in sub-packages. Timmons/Shazier full time gives us a combination of athleticism I’ve never seen at the position.

  • Johnny Loose

    It make take some time to get the new guys acclimated and our defense firing on all cylinders, so be it. I don’t see this team going anywhere but up. After getting Tebowed and back to back 8-8 seasons, we could have done worse. Steeler Nation is HUNGRY for a playoff run, that much I know for sure.