Armchair GM
1

Armchair GM: What Will the Steelers ‘D’ Look Like in 2018?

May 14, 2018
447 Views
0 Comments
11 minutes read
Armchair GM: What Will the Steelers ‘D’ Look Like in 2018?

I almost called this article, “What are the Steelers Going to Do With Terrell Edmunds?”, because the two questions are so intertwined you can’t answer one without answering the other. Since the piece takes in more than the Steelers’ new Safety/Linebacker tweener I went for the more inclusive title.

The Steelers confused everybody by making Terrell Edmunds their 1st round pick but there may be method to their madness. Everybody was asking why the team had selected a large, athletic Safety when the biggest position of need was Inside Linebacker. The question people should’ve been asking is ‘how?’. How are the Steelers going to use Terrell Edmunds? In order to figure that out we have to look at what Coach Tomlin and Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler have been wanting to do on Defense. And that takes us into recent NFL Defensive trends.

NFL defenses are evolving from the standard starting 11 roster to a sub-package friendly roster with something more like a ‘starting’ 12, 13 or 14. In this  case Terrell Edmunds may have his roster spot as D-player #12.

The State of the Steelers ‘D’.

In 2017 the Steelers were 10th ranked against the rush, 5th against the pass, 7th in points allowed,  1st in Sacks (yes, you read that right. I was surprised, too) and 5th in total defense. All of this points to a Defense that should be dominating. It appears Pittsburgh was a bit of a paper tiger because they had breakdowns against good opponents, 4th quarter meltdowns and consistently got burned on the deep ball. So, there were problems and the good thing is, the Steelers realized this.

They began with getting rid of Free Safety Mike Mitchell and adding Morgan Burnett. Mike Mitchell never seemed to understand the duties of Free Safety. He was often out of position so he could make the big hit and strut around afterward. He would also abandon his post as the last line of defense to come down and ‘help’ on double teams. Getting rid of Mitchell and bringing in Burnett were the best decisions the Steelers made in the off season. Whether Burnett is here to play Free or Strong Safety is yet to be sorted. But there have also been rumors that Sean Davis may move to Free Safety where his range, intelligence and athleticism could be maximized and his terrible coverage could be minimized. Burnett is also a better cover player so having him at Strong Safety would make sense. They added journeyman Inside Linebacker, Jon Bostic to help fill the void left by the injury to Ryan Shazier, #Shalieve. They are not counting on Bostic, alone, to handle that job. All of their moves point to scheme flexibility with some defensive positions being shared. That’s where Terrell Edmunds comes in.

Though the Steelers play a base 3-4 defense, like most modern NFL teams they  typically run a Nickel package, substituting an ILB for a Slot Corner or Safety, around 45% of the time. About 12% of the plays they employ Dime packages where two to Three Linebackers leave and are replaced by a combination of Defensive Backs and more mobile Dime Backers.

The examples all show zone coverages and are  just for illustration of personnel packages.

Standard 3-4-4 Cover 2, The ‘Cover 2’ indicates 2 deep Safeties and for illustration purposes looks like this.

In this configuration we have the standard 3-4 with 3 down linemen, 4 linebackers and 4 defensive backs. Terrell Edmunds might be in at Strong Safety depending on the matchup. We could also see him as the WILL on passing downs if the opposing Offense is in a standard two wideout, one Tight End set. The personnel package should look something like this.

T – DE – Stephon Tuitt

N – NT – Javon Hargraves

E – DE – Cam Heyward

B – Weak side OLB – T.J. Watt

W – Weak side ILB – Jon Bostic – (Terrell Edmunds on passing downs)

M – Mack/ILB – Vince Williams

R – Strong side OLB – Bud Dupree

FC – CB – Artie Burns

BC – CB – Joe Haden

BS – SS – Morgan Burnett or Sean Davis/Terrell Edmunds

FS – Sean Davis or Morgan Burnett

The Nickel Package or 3-3-5, Cover 3. This brings 5 Defensive Backs and Bostic should head to the sidelines. We should see CB, Mike Hilton or Cam Sutton, if a Slot Receiver is on the field or Safety, Terrell Edmunds, if it’s an off line Tight End or a bigger more physical receiver.

In this configuration we should see this package.

T – DE – Stephon Tuitt

N – NT – Javon Hargraves

E – DE – Cam Heyward

B – WLB – T.J. Watt

W – Slot/Safety – Mike Hilton or Cam Sutton or Terrell Edmunds

M – Mack – Vince Williams

R – SLB – Bud Dupree

FC – CB – Artie Burns

BC – CB – Joe Haden

BS – SS – Morgan Burnett or Sean Davis orTerrell Edmunds

FS – Sean Davis or Morgan Burnett

3-2-6, Cover 4 or Dime package – This brings 6 Defensive Backs on the field. Here Bostic, Bud Dupree  and Vince Williams would all be off the field. Terrell Edmunds would remain, now as the Dime Backer. I’m leaving T.J. Watt in there because he is one of the better pass rushers and that should be his job in this configuration.

T – DE – Stephon Tuitt

N – NT – Javon Hargraves

E – DE – Cam Heyward

B – WLB – T.J. Watt

W – Dime Backer – Terrell Edmunds

M – DB – Cam Sutton

R – Slot – Mike Hilton

FC – CB – Artie Burns

BC – CB – Joe Haden

BS – SS – Morgan Burnett or Sean Davis

FS – Sean Davis or Morgan Burnett

So, seeing these packages, the Terrell Edmunds pick begins to make a lot of sense. He makes it on the field as Strong Safety, Move TE cover guy and Dime Backer. He could be on the field almost 60% of the time, which in this day and age makes him a starter. This is projecting Edmunds as Safety/LB tweener with a tweener skill set. He may surprise everybody and emerge as a starter at SS or even FS but I didn’t see that kind of skill in his game tape and I don’t think that’s what the Steelers drafted him to do. They obviously loved Edmunds 4.47/40 which put him 2nd among linebackers as well as his 11’2 broad jump and 41.5 vertical that put him 1st among both Safeties and Linebackers. Edmunds is here to take up some of the slack the loss of Ryan has brought about and to be a scheme specific sub-package player.

Final Thoughts

I kept the focus of this article on the starting lineup personnel packages for sake of clarity. There are some things the Steelers’ Defense needs to do to have a successful 2018. This is Bud Dupree’s final ‘prove it’ year. If he doesn’t look good in camp and preseason the Steelers have to start giving some time to Anthony Chickillo. All Chick does is make plays whenever he’s put in. I’m hoping they are serious about moving Sean Davis to Free Safety. He is a liability in pass coverage as Strong Safety and might excel with a change of position.

They’ve got to get off their over-reliance on Cover/Zone packages. Brady made them all look like a pitch and catch and any good QB can shred these outdated defensive schemes. Keith Butler has to stop calling the game not to lose and start getting bolder in his play calling. It seems crazy the Steelers have assembled Linebackers who can get after the QB only to have them dropping back in coverage. They’re heading in the WRONG direction!

If the Steelers move to a more aggressive man coverage and pass rushing scheme this team could be AWESOME. It’s hard not to get excited about the talent they’ve assembled. That includes Terrell Edmunds, who could be seeing a lot of playing time in his first season and end up being a dynamic new player!

Go Steelers!!!

Jeffrey Burton

95 posts
19 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.