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Has The Transformation of the Steelers Defense Under Mike Tomlin Officially Begun?

So we basically saw the Steelers play a bunch of 'Tampa-2' against the Seahawks this past week. Quick side note though: why the hell is it called the Tampa-2, when it really should be called the 'Pittsburgh-2' or the 'Curtain-2':

"My philosophy is really out of the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers playbook," said [Tony]Dungy during media interviews while at Super Bowl XLI. "That is why I have to laugh when I hear 'Tampa 2'. Chuck Noll and Bud Carson -- that is where it came from, I changed very little."

Anyway, when Mike Tomlin was lured away from Minnesota to assume the head coaching responsibilities of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was assumed that it was only a matter of time before Tomlin implemented a 4-3 'Tampa-2' scheme. Tomlin, however, has insisted that he plans to let DC Dick LeBeau continue calling the shots defensively.

Who knows who was responsible for our strategy this past Sunday? Was it Tomlin who suggested we blitz less and drop into a more simplified, protective zone? Or was it LeBeau who saw on film that this was the best thing to do against the Seahawks? I'd guess it was a collaboration of both defensive minds. Maybe Tomlin suggested the idea generally, and LeBeau went to work thinking of ways to disguise their intentions with idiosyncratic alignments and fake blitz looks.

Regardless of how the strategy came to life, it worked, and it made me wonder if we're going to see more of it the rest of the year. I need to do more thinking about this, because until this past weekend, we were blitzing like crazy in ways I hadn't seen very often in recent years. Many of these blitzes left our DBs in perilous man-to-man situations. But on initial thought, I'm beginning to think we may implement many more safe zones than in years past under LeBeau?

Before going any further, let me just say that we're not going to line up defensively in the 4-3 this year. Our personnel dictates that. Let me also say that the 'Tampa-2' is basically just a fancy pants name for a zone. It isn't rocket science, it's just not always the best game-plan defensively depending on who you're playing and more importantly, what type of personnel you have.

The argument could be made however that our personnel does in many ways match the necessary formula for the scheme. First off, you need big-hitting safetys that can cause turnovers with big hits over the middle and ball-hawking abilities on deep routes. I'd contend that Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu fit that description nicely. I'd also say that I think a lot of Troy's value is diminshed when he's constantly blitzing the quarterback. His instincts and anticipation in the secondary are superb, but he's often gobbled up at the line of scrimmage. Sure he may make opposing QBs get rid of the ball a split second earlier than they would like to, but he's far too often disengaged from the play once the ball leaves the QBs hand.

Might our cornerbacks be better off policing the flats and short patterns rather than down the field, as CBs in the scheme are typically asked to do? I'd say that Townsend and McFadden are much better when they're not asked to make man-to-man plays in the air against bigger, physical receivers 20+ yards down the field. I don't have any problem with their tackling abilities for the most part, so I wouldn't feel too nervous asking them to make open-field tackles against a WR screen for example. Our defense against the run wouldn't really be compromised either. Although Keisel, Hampton and Smith are all a bit oversized for your 'traditional' Tampa-2 linemen, they're all athletic enough to stop most team's running games while still being able to get to the QB without the help of continous blitz packages. Defensive backs assume a large role in the running game, but we all know Ike Taylor can hit. I'd say William Gay can tackle as well. Obviously ditto with Troy, Anthony Smith, and Ryan Clark. Deshea and McFadden have done a better job this year as well with their tackling.

Like I said, I'd like to think about this some more, and one game definitely does not signal a change in strategy. Only time will tell how/when Tomlin infuses his defensive philosophy into our weekly gameplans. I do feel comfortable assuming that we're not going to change our identity and strategy completely in the middle of this season, but I wouldn't be shocked to see us in a more conservative zone more often as the year goes on. Our cornerbacks simply aren't the most talented in the league, but I do think they're fairly cerebral. Maybe zone assignments make more sense for their strengths and weaknesses.

I'm not one to question the genius that is Dick LeBeau. I'm just saying that a 6-trick pony is better than a 5-trick pony. And if that 6th trick continues to work, like it did last Sunday, maybe just maybe we'll see Coach Tomlin step in and call for it more often.