The Baltimore Ravens have been using the passing game at a bit higher rate this season than in years past. Like many other teams in the NFL, they're looking to spread the field and attack with quick-hitting passes to multiple receivers.
The Steelers countered that in Week 7 with something of a new wrinkle - call it the "Polamalu Nickel."
At its root, it's a dime package - meaning there are six defensive backs on the field - but four defensive linemen and one linebacker (one outside linebacker starts in 7-technique). Troy Polamalu essentially played the inside linebacker opposite Lawrence Timmons.
The package was highly successful against the Ravens, limiting them to 16 points and 287 yards.
It's not as if Steelers defensive coordinator invented this concept. Much like everything else in the NFL, it's a variation or a dusted off version of something that's been previously used. In this case, much of that package can be traced back to 2011, when the Steelers defeated the Patriots 25-18.
They used Polamalu in a similar fashion after outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley went down with a hamstring injury. Playing close to the line, Polamalu didn't commit to one area to defend, instead, reacting to the formation in front of him. In that 2011 game, Lawrence Timmons shifted outside to replace Woodley while Polamalu sat in Timmons' spot, opposite James Farrior.
It threw the Patriots for a loop - a team that was content with letting the Steelers' zone blitz from its base package attack, expecting quarterback Tom Brady to throw his way around it. Brady has done it plenty times against the Steelers in his career. He was largely stifled in 2011.
The Steelers will likely use this package against New England in Week 9, but the Patriots are sure to be prepared for it this time. Whether Pittsburgh will use the same press coverage style they did the last time they saw the Patriots remains to be seen, but Shamarko Thomas should expect to see the field more often, and Vince Williams should see it less. With the explosiveness of tight end Rob Gronkowski a threat on any down and distance, the Steelers will likely have to put a cornerback on him and trail him all over the field.
Having Polamalu in the middle and short flats areas can help justify press coverage inside, and try to slow down the rhythmic passing offense the Patriots usually look to establish.
Kickoff between the Patriots and Steelers is at 4:25 p.m. ET from Foxborough, Mass.
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