I don’t find the Mike Tomlin press conferences particularly important. And that’s fine, they don’t have to be. They can be as transparent as Tomlin wants. You do get the occasional transparent, useful answer but mostly, it’s just fluff. Don’t learn a lot.
There was one really interesting moment from yesterday though, not for how interestingly right it was but how interestingly wrong it was. Our David Todd, as he said he planned to do, asked Tomlin about leaving Lawrence Timmons on the field instead of moving to a dime defense, which they did throughout the latter stages of 2015.
“Why has [Timmons] been staying on the field when you have other options?”
“Often times, it’s a function of what we desire to do and a function of what our opponents are doing. For whatever reason, we saw a lot of four wide receiver sets at the latter part of last year that pushed not only us, but globally speaking, just about everybody into dime personnel groups and so forth. We’ve been seeing a lot of two and three wideout personnel groups particularity of late and that doesn’t necessarily dictate you go dime personnel…it’s been more of a choice, or an option, which is a little bit different then when you see the four wideout personnel groups that were in vogue at the end of 2015.”
The short answer: the Steelers saw a lot more four wide receiver sets last year that forced their hand into playing dime.
To be blunt, that is not true.
We can lean on our weekly defensive charting each week to quantify things. From Week 14 to the end of the 2015 season, including playoffs, the Steelers were in dime 59 times. Opposing defenses were in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) for 57 of those. Only once did the Steelers face a four wide receiver set, Week 15 against the Denver Broncos, and funny enough, the Broncos scored on that play.
To be fair, Tomlin did acknowledge the team can and has gone dime against 11 personnel, and that’s clearly true, but the four receiver element doesn’t hold water. It didn’t happen.
As usual, it’s better to show, not tell. Here are a bunch of examples of the Steelers in dime against 11 personnel. A large number of these are from the first time in the game the Steelers showed dime, which would help show they did out of their own desire, not anything the opposing offense did.
And I went back and looked at another dozen plus plays and those were all the same, 11 personnel vs dime.
And here, if you want to see it, is the one 4 WR set I found where the Steelers were in their dime defense.
Of course, in a lot of these pictures, you are seeing tight ends flexed out. Or for the tight ends attached, like Tyler Eifert, times where it would be reasonable to see a defensive back matched up instead of Timmons. Or, as is the case for almost all of these, obvious passing downs.
Those are all valid points. But none of that is what Tomlin’s actual response was. It was a red herring, which is weird considering all of the responses he could’ve given. And none of the actual answer responds to a legitimate question.
The answer for their dime defense last year was simple: they wanted to get their best athletes on the field on third and long. 45 of the 59 dime snaps came on third down or fourth down. 38 of them came with at least seven yards to go.
Why aren’t they doing it this year? Maybe it is because of the youth in the secondary. Or Timmons being healthier (he dealt with turf toe last year). Maybe because they haven’t faced the same talent at tight end. Or maybe they’ll do the same as the season closes, just as they did a year ago.
I don’t know. What I do know is when the Steelers go dime when they want to, not when offenses dictate it, like what Tomlin claimed.
I’m fine with the boring, expected non-answer. And sure, ultimately, this doesn’t really matter. But when an answer isn’t rooted in reality? Now that is interesting.