Despite all the offseason talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers defense possibly playing more man-coverage this year, we really haven’t seen very much of it all in the team’s first eight games of 2017. Because of that lack of usage of man-coverage so far this season, Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was asked on Tuesday to discuss why the defense hasn’t used it very much during the first half of the season.
“I think starting back when we were talking about playing more man was just in the event that we would play man, we would at least practice it and have the ability to dial it up when we needed to,” Lake said. “And I think that’s still the plan.”
Lake was then asked what his current comfort level with man-coverage is should he need to use it later in the season against a team such as the New England Patriots.
“You know, I’m comfortable with it,” Lake said. “I really am and we’ll continually evolve in that area. The thing about it is, we have a full playbook at our disposal now and it helps to have Joe [Haden], someone that has man-to-man coverage ability and really, that’s what it’s all about. If you’ve got guys that can cover man-to-man, you feel more comfortable about playing it.”
The Steelers mostly played zone coverage in their Sunday night win over the Detroit Lions and their quarterback Matthew Stafford attacked it with relative ease on his way to throwing for 423 yards on 27 total completions. Thankfully, the Steelers defense tightened up inside the red zone as the Lions failed to convert any of their five trips in that area of the field into touchdowns.
Moving into the second half of the season, the Steelers defense isn’t likely to use much man-coverage against most of the teams they’ll play because of the quality of quarterbacks they’ll likely go against. However, when the Steelers face the Patriots in Week 15, one would think and hope that’s when we’re sure to see a high usage of man-coverage as their quarterback Tom Brady will likely just pick their zone defense right apart if they don’t.
After their bye week, the Steelers will play the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers. The seemingly toughest quarterback they’ll face in those three games is Titans signal-caller Marcus Mariota. After those first three second half games the Steelers will then face the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and the Patriots and all three of those offenses feature experienced quarterbacks who have faced the Steelers zone coverages several times during their careers.
While the Steelers pass rush has improved quite a bit this season, head coach Mike Tomlin can’t expect to constantly run zone coverages behind it the remainder of the season. In short, it sounds like we’ll see more man-coverage at some point during the final eight regular season games, we just don’t know exactly when that will be.
“We have to be able to mix it up. Man-to-man is going to be a part of that. It just is,” Lake said.