4WR, 4CB Packages No Gimmicks For Steelers

After last season, who would have thought that the Pittsburgh Steelers would make it a regular, proactive feature of their offensive and defensive plans to utilize four wide receivers or four cornerbacks on the field together, respectively? Depth has been an issue at both spots in recent years, yet seemingly overnight they have the numbers to be effective.

Such numbers, in fact, that they even had to find opportunities to trade away a wide receiver and a cornerback, both of whom spent time functioning as a primary starter just last year, because they brought in or found other options to take their place.

For the first time in—honestly, I don’t even know when, perhaps the early 90s?—the Steelers defense has made it a regular feature of their down-and-distance scenarios to break out a true dime defense that features four cornerbacks. In recent years, they have primarily used an extra safety as the dime defender.

The dime got a bit of a burn during the 2011 season, the rookie year of Cortez Allen, but even he saw just a couple dozen snaps or so, and I don’t believe that all of them came in the dime defense. Yet this year, with William Gay and Mike Hilton both available as slot options, they have seen a healthy number of snaps together already.

Likewise, on the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers are likely close to matching, or have already matched, the total number of snaps that they have run with four wide receivers on the field together, doing so nine times in the season opener. While they only did so twice on Sunday—including an encroachment non-play—it has already been promised that it is here to stay.

With the bevy of options available to them, it is no surprise that they want to get work out of their receiving corps all together, featuring Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, and most recently, rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, who logged about half of the offensive snaps on Sunday.

Going forward, I have a feeling that the Steelers will be using this grouping more with Le’Veon Bell on the field, since Smith-Schuster has tight-end functionality. He even lined up a tight end a time or two on Sunday, which is not surprising.

Defensively, with Artie Burns and recent free agent acquisition Joe Haden securing the outside spots, the pairing of Gay and Haden in the middle of the field gives them a number of options to work with, given the physicality of the otherwise relatively diminutive defensive backs.

While neither package is probably ever going to see more than a dozen or so snaps per game under normal circumstances, both of them appear to be more than just a gimmick in their plans, and that is thanks almost entirely to the simple fact that they actually have the talent available to run it effectively.

About the Author

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

    I can’t remember the exact number, but they had 10 or 11 dime snaps in the opener, and 16 or 17 against the Vikes. All with 4 CBs and 2 S, rather than 3 and 3. I’ll double check it later tho.

  • Boots

    This is definitely the deepest team Colbert and Co have put together in quite some time and it’s already proving it’s value.

  • Pack

    I think the Steelers have really been liking the idea of jujus physicality that they’re trying to incorporate him into the offense. He’s a presence we haven’t had since Hines Ward and it shows. That block on Harrison Smith was crazy but I think when he matures more. he won’t just make a good block and celebrate he’ll make a good block and move onto the next tackler. I think if he did that in the game the run might have produced some more yards.

  • Av232

    Props to the front office for making this possible. So many skilled players on the outside, and so stout along the line. They’ve put together a really balanced roster.

  • steelburg

    I think the coaches are force feeding juju to us right now. I think they are trying to accelerate his growth as a WR. I didn’t think he out played Hunter during camp not to mention he was hardly healthy during the preseason games. I’m hoping that it pays off later on in the season because right now I see him as JAG out there on the field, who is taking snaps away from Eli Rogers who I think is clicking really well with Ben right now.

  • falconsaftey43

    I’d agree. They want JuJu to be a factor down the road this season, so they are getting him involved now.

    Passing game in general needs to hit on the intermediate throws a little more. Seems a high% of passing attempts are either really deep or bubble screens. Both are fine, but I think the % needs to come back a little. I’m sure they’ll start all clicking soon.

  • razaard2

    It is. Next year draft might not have any need if Vince and Jesse prove themselves

  • Boots

    There will always be needs. Mitchell will be in the last year of his contract and isn’t getting younger. ILB and OL could both be in need of some infusions of young talent as well. And then there’s the Ben factor, so the needs might not be as glaring or immediate as some recent drafts but they will still be there!

  • Matthew Marczi

    They’re using Smith-Schuster in roles they can’t use other wide receivers. Sometimes basically as a tight end.

  • steelburg

    Agreed. I love the idea of using juju down and around the red zone. But I think a little more of Eli and will help both on 3rd downs and in that intermediate area your talking about.

  • steelburg

    I agree they are definitely using him that way. I don’t believe it’s working as well as they would like it to. Juju needs to improve on his blocking IMO. We have absolutely no running room on the edges where they are asking him to block. Not to mention he has picked up a few penalties in the process. At this point I would rather see them drop Grimble who I’m a fan of by the way and bring Mcgee on board from the practice squad to open some lanes out there on the edge like he did in the preseason.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I haven’t seen any issues with his blocking. He drew two holds in the first game, one of which was questionable at best, but I’m not going to let that define him. Honestly the bottom line is if they thought Hunter was better they would be dressing him.

  • steelburg

    I don’t think that should define him either. I personally like the approach they took with Bryant although he was also hurt his rookie year. But they let him sit and watch for a few games before he started logging snaps. I would say that this year they actually have the luxury to be able to do that when you consider how deep the position group is. But we both know your last statement is completely false. A players draft status can dictate him playing over a guy who is better did you miss the whole Jarvis Jones era? There is no way Jarvis at any pick in his career was better then Deebo.

  • Matthew Marczi

    A key difference between Smith-Schuster and Bryant during his rookie season is that the latter barely knew what he was doing at the wide receiver position. Despite his young age, Smith-Schuster actually understands how to play, which is why he is playing.

    Why would they not dress Hunter over Smith-Schuster if they thought he was more valuable? The Harrison analogy makes little sense because Harrison never failed to dress and almost always logged more snaps than Jones anyway. There are a lot of unique factors involved in that dynamic, including Harrison’s age and endurance. I don’t know if you noticed, but when he started playing more at the end of last year, he got winded a lot and had to come out of the game.

  • steelburg

    I’m asking your honest opinion here. Who had the better camp and preseason Juju or Hunter?

  • Matthew Marczi

    Ask Alex. I wasn’t in camp. But I’m not going to pat Hunter on the back for beating a depth guy on a cornerback-deficient team in the final preseason game. He’s a former second-round pick in his fifth season going up against an undrafted rookie in man coverage.

  • steelburg

    Nice question dodge lol. I’m sure you read the stuff that’s posted on this site. If you had to make an educated guess on who performed better during camp and preseason based off the information that was provided by this site who would it be? That’s neither here here or there though. IMO it’s obvious why Juju is in the fire they need to develop another WR fast because I think the know they still have to be cautious with Bryant. And Brown isn’t getting any younger. Take Bryant out of this group and your back to having Brown and a bunch of young and inconsistent WR’s. So the rush on his development makes sense to me i just felt like the are deeper tbis your and could still keep him in the mix but do it just a little bit slower.