Will Dick LeBeau’s New Approach To 3-4 Defense Help Steelers and Leave LB Jason Worilds Out?


Brett Keisel and Jarvis Jones could be a lethal one-two punch in LeBeau’s new approach with his defensive linemen. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The ball is snapped, the QB drops back to pass, and the rush is on to get the sack.  The three defensive linemen stand tall and take up an offensive lineman (and hopefully two).  Timmons drops back into coverage across the middle disrupting the TE route, Foote plays loose where he stands while under a QB spy assignment, LaMarr Woodley does a delayed blitz from the outside with a wide approach to overtake the tackle who compensated too much to the inside gap early in the snap, and James Harrison bull rushes low making a bee line towards the five step dropping QB.  The hope is that the pocket collapses and disrupts the play with a result of an incomplete pass at the very least.

Well James Harrison is now gone and no longer part of that scenario, but for the last few years, this was a fairly typical play by the Pittsburgh Steelers ‘Front 7’ defense.  Dick LeBeau’s ‘zone blitz’ schemes are meant to do just that – disrupt and cause chaos at the line allowing someone out of those five rushing defensemen gets through to the quarterback.  It’s worked for years and has kept the Steelers at the tops of being one of the best defenses year in and year out.  It’s also helped them win two Super Bowls in the last eight years.  However, according to NFL.com, the PPG and DL Brett Keisel, LeBeau is changing things up a bit this season.

The emphasis in the change is to have the defensive ends get more of the edge when the ball is snapped.

"We definitely need to get more pressure up front.  There’s been an emphasis more on (ends) getting on the edge rather than just pushing the pocket, getting on the edge and trying to make something happen…. We’ve kind of changed our techniques (from) years past until now.  In years past, when we had James (Harrison) and LaMarr (Woodley), it was mostly just push the pocket, try to collapse the pocket, make the quarterback flush and those guys would be there to clean him up. That’s what we were taught.     – Brett Keisel"

As Gregg Rosenthal alludes to in the article, guys like DE JJ Watt make this ‘defensive edge’ system work beautifully.  Could Brett Keisel pull off performances like JJ?  Keisel did have the highest amount of pressures last season without the new scheme in place.  If Dick LeBeau is starting to utilize a scheme like this, it tells me two things – both of which I really really like.  Firstly, it means that they still have faith in Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood.  These two will need to execute and dominate the edges of the line if this idea is going to work.  Their single gap coverage instead of two gap will demand that they are able to put pressure by pushing back linemen.  If not, the LB’s will never get around, never get through the middle, and could potentially open up things for a big run play were there to be a delayed hand off.  It also means that each will have to seize their opportunities.  It’s one thing if there are new openings to the QB, it’s another for either one of them to get to the QB in time.  I like that the coaches have confidence still in The Bearded One and Hood.  This year is certainly a huge test for Hood – perform under the bar this season and it’s bye bye for good.

Secondly, I think this speaks very highly of how the coaches feel about their first round draft pick in Jarvis Jones.  A very fast and blitzing Jones will require tackles to pull wide or guards to pinch (should Jones pull an inside blitz).  This is where the success of this kind of blitzing scheme works well for the DE’s.  LB’s like Jones, Woodley and Timmons can drive into the line, leaving one on one’s for Keisel and Hood.  If those two are actually blitzing as well and not just eating up the gaps, then both should have great opportunities to get to the QB and blow up a play.  It would be a much larger gamble if the defense didn’t have a guy like Jones (and perhaps even Woodley if he can get back to his days of old) with the speed to wreak havoc on an offense.

That’s why I now think Worilds is flat out out of the competition.  He doesn’t have the speed nor the technique to perform well in this kind of defensive rush.  He’s certainly not showing great signs in camp (per our conversation with Mark Kaboly last week), and he is leaving the door wide open for Jarvis Jones.  But, LeBeau doesn’t start rookies.  True, but if this old dog is pulling out some new tricks with the way the defensive linemen are playing, maybe he’s will to bend his own rules a bit and get this rookie out on the field.  I for one am excited to see what the results of this new approach.

How ’bout it, Steeler Nation?  Good move by LeBeau or just lipstick on this old pig?