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Steelers lean on nickel packages, Harrison in loss to Tampa Bay

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It was Brice McCain and not Antwon Blake getting extensive playing time in the Steelers' 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay, as Pittsburgh used sub-packages often - a deviation from their course so far this season. James Harrison and Arthur Moats split time at outside linebacker.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We said last week recently signed outside linebacker James Harrison may be playing possum with the media leading into the Steelers' Week 4 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Harrison suggested his playing time would be low, considering football shape is different than game shape.

Harrison was in on 27 of the Steelers' 65 defensive snaps in the loss to the Buccaneers, with starter Arthur Moats logging 38 snaps. Both players appeared drained by the end of the game, as the defense remained on the field for 9:18 of the 15-minute fourth quarter.

Also seeing extensive action was cornerback Brice McCain. Assuming the team's nickel-back role as William Gay moved into the starting position due to the injury to Ike Taylor. McCain, not Antwon Blake, who had replaced Taylor during the game last week, got the snaps on the outside against Tampa Bay. He hadn't seen much action outside of special teams this season, but he got 26 snaps. That's a higher amount than the Steelers' nickel back has been getting this season, showing how injuries have affected them.

Last season, the Steelers spent a large amount of time in sub-packages, attempting to counter the pass-catching tight ends in the 3-WR sets they were seeing. The selection of linebacker Ryan Shazier and the athleticism he brings helps them stay in their base-package against such offensive alignments. Shazier was also hurt in the Week 3 win over Carolina, likely a factor in their decision to go with five defensive backs against the Buccaneers.

It didn't work for the most part. The Steelers' pass defense was the fortunate benefactor of a lot of poorly thrown Mike Glennon passes, but their inability to pressure him and to make plays on the ball eventually led to a late touchdown drive. McCain had his failures in the game as well, being victimized on a late, deep-crossing pattern by Louis Murphy that would eventually set up the game-winning touchdown.

Shazier isn't expected to be back when the Steelers take on Jacksonville in Week 5, and it will likely be unknown until the first defensive series whether it will be McCain again at nickel this week. It's a good bet, though, the Jaguars will want to get the Steelers in sub-packages and continue pressing their coverage as much as possible.

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