Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had to do more with less in 2012 than perhaps any other year in recent memory. He was without a dependable edge rusher for much of the season, and rarely, he had two of them.
He had to find ways to dial up pressure despite being limited in terms of personnel.
While not always successful in that pursuit, one thing he did was bring the edge rush mentality toward the middle of the line of scrimmage. The results often were positive.
Now, with the return of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley from ankle and hamstring injuries that cost him roughly the last season and a half, and the combination of contract-year Jason Worilds and rookie Jarvis Jones, the Steelers can use the same creative mentality LeBeau utilized last season with the physical ability the Steelers will put on the field in 2013.
It could make for some typically unexpected pressure, and get the Steelers out of the doldrums they've been in in terms of sacks.
One particular blitz the Steelers ran last season against Oakland stands out.
You see in presnap inside linebackers Larry Foote (bottom) and Lawrence Timmons (top) inch toward the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Brett Keisel is standing up wide, and OLB Jason Worilds is inside him. A staple of LeBeau's defense is the fire blitz - the inside linebackers cross over the A-gap as the defensive linemen pinch a certain direction, looking to open a crease for the blitzer to come free up the middle.
In this particular case, Timmons drops into coverage, looking to get in the lane of the hot receiver (who didn't appear to break inside). Instead of crashing over the A-gap, Foote shades off Woodley, and cuts back inside, looking to force the guard to come all the way down to take him out as Woodley bends the tackle wide.
The guard does a good job of getting to Foote, but blocks him into the tackle, leaving Woodley free for the sack.
Take this same set-up, and add the bigger, longer and faster Jones, removing Foote. Lining up Woodley and Jones inside and outside the tackle, along with NT Steve McLendon shading over to that gap would put a tremendous amount of pressure on the outside protection scheme of any team.
The variations of this are many, and the results could be very much the same. Jones, an underrated cover linebacker, could fill the roles of Keisel, Worilds, Woodley, Foote or Timmons on this play, and when run in conjunction with the traditional fire blitz, an offensive line will need a very strong week of preparation to handle the versatility of that blitz package - whether it's run out of the Steelers' base defense or its nickel.