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When it comes to defensive coverages, the Steelers are still a zone team, but can also play man

The Steelers’ fan base has long been disgusted with the team’s inability, or unwillingness, to play man coverage. Recent PFF stats show although they don’t play it often, they are capable.

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Pittsburgh Steelers Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The debate among Pittsburgh Steelers for years has been why the team relies on zone coverages on defense. Besides the fact Mike Tomlin is a Tampa-2 disciple, the coaching staff the team has hired has typically followed suit regarding zone coverage over man coverage.

Despite Tom Brady and the Patriots, among others, shredding the zone to pieces, the team almost has had a stubbornness regarding changing this approach. In a recent article on Pro Football Focus (PFF), they diagrammed all of the different man and zone schemes NFL teams utilize, but added some interesting data behind these coverages.

Check out what they had to say about the Steelers in regards to their schematic decisions on the defensive side of the football.

Man Coverage

Although the Steelers didn’t use man-coverage a lot, when they did they were extremely successful.

By completion percentage allowed, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the best defense in the NFL when they ran Cover-1, allowing just 44.8 percent of passes to be completed, but they ran it on just 13.4 percent of their snaps against the pass.

Zone Coverage

When it comes to playing zone coverage, only the Carolina Panthers used zone schemes more than the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Carolina Panthers – 72.5 percent

Pittsburgh Steelers – 70.1 percent

Buffalo Bills – 68.3 percent

Cleveland Browns – 66.9 percent

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 66.4 percent


What is unique about these statistics is how the Steelers rarely used man-coverages, but when they did they saw success. If you see something working, why go back to the alternative instead of seeing what you have with this specific scheme?

This is where the frustration usually kicks in for Steelers fans, but if one thing is different about 2018, compared to 2017, is there has been a tremendous amount of turnover from last year. Gone is Carnell Lake as the defensive backs coach, hired was Tom Bradley. Gone are Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden, and in their place is a great combination of athleticism, versatility and speed.

Will this be enough to actually for the Steelers to even be more of a 50/50 team in 2018 when it comes to man-to-zone coverage used? If I were a betting man I would bet against it, but you never know.