Even with it being confirmed CB Cortez Allen will be the team's nickel back, there are still a few spots up in the air as far as the Steelers' 2012 defensive personnel goes.
The nickel packages, in particular, are likely still to be determined, and will evolve as the season goes. It will still be interesting tonight to see which players are on the field in which situations against a Colts team that should throw the ball a decent amount.
Depending on the situation, the Steelers can use either a 2-4-5 nickel package (two down linemen with four linebackers and five defensive backs) or a 4-2-5, and they will use both as the season progresses.
It's something to watch tonight, particularly, which Steelers players are in which formation. A four-down set could see Hampton and McLendon inside playing 3-techniques (inside shade of the guards) with Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood playing 7 techniques (outside shade of the tackles on weak side, inside shade of the tight end on the strong side).
A 2-4-5 look would probably be used against a heavy passing formation (4 WR), and the front seven alignment probably fits better in a 'dime' defense, meaning a sixth defensive back would be involved as opposed to a fourth linebacker. But it would likely feature McLendon and Keisel up front.
The linebackers used here is the compelling group to watch. Lawrence Timmons is clearly an exceptional athlete and does well in coverage and pursuit. OLB LaMarr Woodley would be in for pass rushing support. At this point, it would come down to the specific skill sets of the players on the other side of the ball.
A team like the New England Patriots attacks in a rhythmic, short scheme, and have large, talented pass-catching tight ends who split out wide in 4 and 5 receiver sets. Depending on how quick the Steelers' linebackers are, and whether they can keep up with those tight ends in coverage, the Steelers would possibly sub out a linebacker for another defensive back.
If those tight ends stay in line, like the Colts would probably be doing more often than not (something former Steelers and current Colts offensive coordinator did plenty often the last two years), the Steelers may choose to keep the fourth linebacker on the field to protect the hook-to-curl areas in zone. In that case, it would be interesting to see if the Steelers would use pass-rushing Chris Carter (in the absence of James Harrison and Jason Worilds, who are both still on the PUP list) and either Stevenson Sylvester, Larry Foote or the rookie Sean Spence.
Some combination of two of those four players would be on the field, and that's something we'll break down here in Monday's post-game defensive wrap-up.