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Steelers defense expanding to new sub packages in an effort to make plays, and it’s working

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is changing, and in a good way.

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For anyone who might be reading this and still thinking the Pittsburgh Steelers are still a 3-4 defense, you might to come to the realization this just isn’t the case anymore. The Steelers do still call their 3-4 defense their ‘base’ defense, but they run sub packages the vast majority of the game, only relying on their base defense in specific situations.

In 2019, with an up-and-coming defense, the team hasn’t just been focusing on their ‘nickel’ and ‘dime’ sub packages, rather they have been expanding and putting in new wrinkles for specific opponents, and to keep the offense on their toes at all times.

“Before, it was just (nickel and ‘base’ defenses),” Tyler Matakevich told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, referring to the Steelers’ scheme of just a couple of years ago. “Now, it’s all different. We have (different, new) packages.”

These new wrinkles/packages were on full display vs. the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Heinz Field in Week 5. You saw situations where Mark Barron, Vince Williams and Devin Bush were all on the field together at the same time. When Barron left with a hamstring injury it was Matakevich who took over in that specific defensive package.

The inside linebacker position wasn’t the only position which saw some fresh ideas pop up. The other was at safety when Terrell Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kam Kelly were all on the field at the same time too. This package was used when Fitzpatrick broke up a pass which was intercepted by Kelly.

When the Steelers wanted to defend against the pass they did something they haven’t done since the start of 2018 — they took Edmunds off the field. Edmunds’ die hard streak of consecutive snaps played was snapped when Mike Hilton came in and had Edmunds come off the field. Hilton has shown the ability to flex to a safety if necessary, and this wrinkle certainly was one which caught people’s eye.

“Yeah, I did replace him; I do remember that, OK,” Hilton told Mark Kaboly of the Athletic. “Wow! That was a long time ago. The thing is, I don’t think it is too much for him. He is a second-year guy; he is very intelligent, and he is very coachable.”

“You don’t think about it,” Edmunds said. “I just want to stay on the field to help out and try to win. Regardless if I am playing 100 snaps per game or 70 snaps a game, as long as I get a win is all that matters to me.”

Similar to the Steelers’ offense, who has shown the ability to try anything on a weekly basis to win, the defense seems to be following suit. Is this team developing into a game-by-game, week-by-week team? Or are they a team who is just trying to find what works and stick with it?

Either way, the defense is tied for the most takeaways in the NFL with 12, and is currently third in the league with 19 sacks. They are a bright spot during a very dismal 1-4 start to the 2019 season.