Found March 11, 2013 on SteelBlitz Steelers Blog:
A Pittsburgh Steelers fan sent me an email this morning about providing a better explanation of some of the positions on the Steelers roster. There are a lot of terms that get tossed around when talking about football players and the positions they play such as “Mike”, “Mack” and “Buck” linebacker. These different names refer to playing styles. For now I will try to give a better explanation of positions on the Steelers 3-4 defense. There are two primary defensive types used in NFL they are the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. The 4-3 defense uses four down lineman and the defensive ends are used to rush the passer. The outside linebackers in the 4-3 are used more in pass coverage and the middle linebacker has to cover the middle of the field. The Steelers run the 3-4 defense which implements three down lineman and four linebackers. Therefore, the outside linebackers are used as the primary pass rushers rather than the defensive ends and they also have to be athletic enough to cover in the passing game. This set also uses two middle linebackers that can cover, pass rush, and stop the running game.     Defensive End and Nose Tackle Above is a diagram of different types of defensive lineman techniques. Technique refers to where they play on the line depending on their size and abilities. The one-technique refers to the nose tackle position which has been held down in recent memory by Casey Hampton. A three-technique refers to a larger defensive end that is similar in size to a two-technique, but plays end in the 3-4 defense. However, in the 4-3 defense the two-technique, which is similar in size to the three-technique, plays over the guard. Also in the 4-3 defense is a five-technique defensive end that plays on the outside over the tackle and is a pass rusher much like the 3-4 outside linebacker. Two-techniques are refereed to by most as defensive tackles. What some don’t understand is that defensive tackle and nose tackle are not the same position. Between the one-technique and two-technique there is a big difference. For instance Ziggy Hood would play the two-technique in a 4-3 defense where Casey Hampton is a one-technique. There positions are much different and the talent and size required for each position differs greatly. During the 2012 season one of the top 4-3 defensive tackles was Geno Atkins, who is listed at 300 pounds. Hampton in 2012 was listed at 325 pounds, but is believed to be closer to 340 pounds. The goal of the nose tackle is to take up two blockers at a time and help shut down the running game. Outside Linebacker The outside linebacker positions also are much different between the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. In the 4-3 defense the outside linebacker is used much more in the passing game as a coverage linebacker. They also are used to shut down the run game on the edge. In the image above the outside linebackers are listed as WLB and SLB. These refer to weak-side and strong-side linebackers. Strong-side refers to the side that has the tight end, which is typically the right side of the offense. The tight ends are usually on the right side to help cover the weaker tackle as the left tackle is typically the best lineman of the offensive line group. A weak-side linebacker sometimes has to rush against only the tight end which gives them a better shot at the quarterback. Other times they go up against the right tackle or get a double-team from the tight end and right tackle. LaMarr Woodley is the Steelers strong-side outside linebacker, which is also referred to as left outside linebacker or LOLB. James Harrison held down the weak-side linebacker spot for the Steelers up until his recent release. That position is also called the right outside linebacker or ROLB. The strong-side linebacker typically is used more in the pass game as a coverage linebacker. Harrison, however, on the right side was used much more as a pass rusher. The outside linebackers in the 3-4 defense also have to be able to hold the edge and get to the running back in the run game. Inside Linebacker Inside linebacker is also used in the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, but each position is much different. The “Mike” linebacker is used in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. The “Mike” linebacker is a more athletic linebacker that is used to cover wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. This player also is used in the run game. He is a quicker linebacker that uses his speed to get to the edge around the outside linebacker and make the tackle in the run game. Lawrence Timmons has started at this position since taking over as a starter for the Steelers. His athleticism allows him to make plays in coverage, the run game, and as a pass rusher. Larry Foote in 2012 played inside linebacker alongside Timmons, but his position is referred to as the “Mack” linebacker position. The “Mack” linebacker is used as a cover linebacker, pass rusher, and against the run game as well. However, he is kept in the middle of the defense or the “A gaps” which are the two gaps on either side of the center. This linebacker has to be larger and stronger because he takes on the centers, full backs, and running backs head on in the middle of the defense. Corner Back Corner back is used similarly in the 3-4 and 4-3 defense, but there are two playing styles for corners. The first style is man-coverage. In man-coverage the corner plays one on one with the wide receiver across from them. These corners have to trail there receivers all over the field and make plays on the ball. The other type of corner style is zone coverage. The Steelers play both types of coverage at time, but they are typically in zone coverage. Corners in zone coverage have to cover different parts of the field depending on if they have safety help over the top. If they have a safety over the top they may just cover the flat where they may cover a short receiver route, tight end or running back. If they don’t have a safety over top they may have to play more of a man coverage and track the receiver all the way down the field. In that instance if a running back came out into the flat a linebacker would likely be in charge of that zone to cover the flat as the corner went down field in coverage with the wide receiver. This is one of the concerns Keenan Lewis should be aware of if he decides to sign a free agent deal elsewhere. The Steelers defense is very good because of Dick LeBeau’s scheme and Lewis may struggled in a full man-coverage scheme or another defensive scheme that uses him differently. For example both Bryant McFadden and William Gay left the Steelers as free agents for more money and both struggled as members of the Arizona Cardinals. Safety There are two safety positions on defense. Free safety is the position that Ryan Clark plays for the Steelers which is more of a coverage position. On the other hand, Troy Polamalu plays strong safety for the Steelers which is almost closer to a linebacker position than the typical safety position that is used in most colleges and high schools. As a free safety Clark is at times used to cover a single player such as man-coverage against a receiver or tight end. Other times he is used as the deep zone safety which means he is the last line of defense if a receiver gets past their corner. That doesn’t mean Clark isn’t also responsible in the run game however, it is his job to take down the running back on run plays if the back gets by the linebackers and the strong safety. Often times the free safety is one of the few players who is not blocked on a run play, which means they need to get to the back and make the tackle. Polamalu at strong safety is used more in the box against the running game, but he is also used in coverage depending on who the Steelers are playing and whats happening in the game. At times both Polamalu and Clark will play deep coverage and each will have a half of the field that they are responsible for. This happened a lot during the Steelers overtime loss to the Cowboys because they were worried about their young corners getting beat deep. Due to keeping the safeties back the Steelers run defense was missing a body in the box and the Cowboys ran the ball well averaging 5.4 yards per carry on the ground. Positions to Fill the Off-Season Nose Tackle - Casey Hampton is expected to leave as a free agent. Hampton has held down the nose tackle spot for the Steelers for a long time, but with his departure the Steelers will need to find a quality nose tackle to take over for him. Steve McLendon seems to be ready and waiting, but he is a restricted free agent. The Steelers did place a tender on McLendon for the 2013 season, but if another team signs him to a deal the Steelers can match, but if they can’t or decide not to match due to salary cap issues McLendon can leave and the Steelers will get no compensation for him. Currently on the roster the Steelers have three nose tackles (including McLendon) with Alameda Ta’amu and Hebron Fangupo. One of these three players may be starting for the Steelers in 2013. If McLendon leaves in free agency, however, the Steelers would probably re-sign Hampton for another season and continue to groom either Ta’amu or Fangupo for the starting job in 2014. ROLB - The Steelers were forced to release James Harrison to alleviate some of their cap issues, but they now have a large hole to fill at right outside linebacker. As noted this position is primarily a pass rushing spot that sometimes drops into coverage. LaMarr Woodley may be more suited for the right side, which would fix the Steelers problems. Moving Woodley would allow Worilds to take over at left outside linebacker. Worilds has played well on the left side and would be less of a liability starting on the left than the right if the Steelers are thinking about using him to replace Harrison. “Mack” Linebacker - It is expected that the Steelers will bring back Larry Foote for one more season, but after that the Steelers still will need a new “Mack” linebacker for the future. Sean Spence was drafted last season as a middle linebacker, but Spence is a smaller more athletic linebacker who would make more sense as “Mike” linebacker. Perhaps the Steelers were thinking about moving Timmons to the “Mack” spot, but he has played well at “Mike” so there is no point in moving him now. This linebacker is going to have to be big enough to play in the A gap and stop the run, but in this NFL he will also have to be athletic enough to cover tight ends and running backs. The Steelers will likely be looking for their future linebacker in the 2013 NFL Draft. Lucky for them this draft is pretty deep at inside linebacker. Free Safety - The Steelers have to find at least one future safety in the 2013 draft. Clark and Polamalu are both getting older and Clark will be a free agent after the 2013 season. A free safety has to have good coverage skills and be able to make plays in the running game. The problem is finding the right safety for the job. The Steelers can’t just draft any safety they have to find a free safety to replace Clark next year unless they want to bring back Clark and release Polamalu, which is also a possibility if Polamalu has another injury plagued year and if Clark continues to play well. The post A Better Understanding of the Pittsburgh Steelers Defense and the Positions They Need to Fill appeared first on SteelBlitz Steelers Blog.

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