After the Steelers’ loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship last year, all you heard from fans was a lot of moaning about the team’s inability to adjust and abandon their zone defensive schemes and play more man coverage.
The vast majority realized the team didn’t possess the defensive backs to perform such a task but, in 2017, after the acquisition of Joe Haden, they certainly have the personnel to get the job done.
But they aren’t.
The team is still leans heavily on the zone schemes which Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler have become comfortable with, and fans shouldn’t expect a change anytime soon. Why? There are several different theories regarding this.
One is to suggest they don’t want to tip their hand before playing the Patriots at Heinz Field in a few weeks. This might sound silly to some, but this theory has more credence than anyone wants to admit.
Another theory holds that the team isn’t prepared for man concepts. This is based on the view that the acquisition of Haden, plus the relative youth and inexperience of Artie Burns and Sean Davis, might make the transition more difficult than some realize. But I don’t necessarily buy that philosophy.
Lastly, some feel the coaching staff is so confident in the zone schemes that they don’t feel the need for man coverage. To this I wonder if maybe we all squint our eyes hard enough we’ll forget the vision of Matthew Stafford carving up the pass-defense for more than 400 yards.
Either way you look at it, the ability to play both schemes is vital to the defense’s success. Will they keep this in their back pocket for just the right time, or pin their hopes on the front four being able to get to someone like Tom Brady to succeed.
Let the debate begin, and it’s time to check on the Steelers news going on outside the walls of BTSC:
Remember all of the talk about the Steelers needing to play more man-to-man coverage if they wanted to get to the Super Bowl?
Or how about discussions suggesting the Steelers had to change strategies after Tom Brady picked apart their zone-based scheme for 384 yards and three touchdowns in the AFC championship game in January?
Midway through the season, it hasn’t happened yet, and armed with an AFC-best 6-2 record as evidence, defensive coordinator Keith Butler isn't in a rush to change anything.
“I'm not going to worry about it,” Butler said on Thursday. “The only thing that matters is the amount of points they score and whether we win or lose. Changing to man or changing zones, we're going to do what we feel like it takes to win and get in the tournament and try to win the tournament.
“Whether it's by zone, whether it's by man, we'll do whatever we have to do.”
What the Steelers have done through the first half of the season is to play more zone coverage than last season, if that’s possible. In 2016, the Steelers played zone on 75 percent of their defensive snaps, more than any team aside from the Carolina Panthers (80 percent).
According to Pro Football Focus rankings, the Steelers this season deployed zone coverage on 89 percent of their defensive snaps through the first six weeks as per the website's most recent computation. No other team had played more zone.
“Whatever it calls for us to win the game, that's what we are going to use,” second-year corner Artie Burns said.
On Wednesday, Ben Roethlisberger was asked what role the no-huddle held in the Steelers' offense.
“I don't know,” the Steelers' quarterback said. “That's up to Todd.”
Todd, of course, is offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
So on Thursday, Haley was asked what dictates the Steelers' usage of the no-huddle. His answer was vague.
“We are a game-plan team. Each week is a new week for us,” Haley said. “Obviously we have our language that we speak, our terminology we have, a library of plays that we work going all the way back to the spring. But each week we sit down, and we game-plan against the defense we are playing, so a lot of factors go into making all those decisions — not just no-huddle but what runs we are going to run, what passes we run, what play actions and then situational football.”
Alejandro Villanueva distributed helmet decals to each of his teammates this week, each one representing an army division. A former Army Ranger and West Point alum, Villanueva reached out to the school to send him the decals, which he took care in attempting to match up with a teammate who best fit each division's mission or geographic location.
Villanueva said the logo of your unit carries special significance and meaning to a veteran.
“On Sundays, people who are watching the game, they are going to see the patch,” Villanueva said. “(Veterans) will see the patch, and I don't have to say anything. They're going to identify with that patch.”
Like all other teams during the NFL's “Salute to Service” in November, the backs of Steelers helmets also will be adorned by logos of various military branches.
If you expected Brown to take the side of his counterpart after the on-field fight between Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey last week, you would be wrong.
“I don't care. (Green is) not a Steeler,” Brown said. “Doesn't matter to me, right?”
Green reportedly was fined $42,000 for an incident with Ramsey during last Sunday's game in which Green put Ramsey in a choke hold and punched him after being shoved by Ramsey. Both players were ejected from the game. Green has been contrite since then, although he referred to cheap shots from Ramsey—which fueled a slew of verbal counter-jabs from Ramsey (via the media).
Brown didn't have any empathy for Green's ejection or fine.
“You can't ever lose your head,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, you're a football player, and you can't lose the fact of doing your job and can't get outside that realm.”