Steelers Learning Cover 2 Defense?


We knew the Steelers were getting a new defensive coordinator, but a new base defense too? Probably not, or probably not now anyway. But it looks like there’s a chance the Steelers will start moving to the cover 2, perhaps at the expense of legendary Steeler coach Dick Lebeau’s signature 3-4. That likely won’t be any time soon.

However, Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter wrote from camp that Tomlin is teaching the Steelers defense some cover 2. During camp he apparently spends time with a specific position group each day. He was with the defensive backs early this week and spent a lot of time really taking over the practice in order to teach them the cover 2.

The defense features players in a zone coverage. The corners will play at the line of scrimmage and the safeties will be deep. The middle linebacker drops to cover the middle. It’s a more conservative defense than the 3-4 the Steelers are known for. On the other hand it may allow for more interceptions and give defensive ends a chance to rush the passer more often and aggressively.

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Mike Tomlin is actually a Cover 2 guy originally. He learned it from the Tampa 2 inventor himself, Tony Dungy, while the defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s the first defense he won a Super Bowl with. Dungy happens to be Steelers alumni, both as player and coach, and was part of the Super Bowl XIII team.

Tomlin then implemented it as his own defense during his time as defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. He merely inherited the 3-4 when he became the Steelers head coach.

The Steelers are also gradually and subtly obtaining the personnel for it. Will Allen is familiar with the defense. Mike Mitchell ran it as well, and performed well in it. The Steelers are developing defensive lineman that can rush the passer. They’re drafting fast linebackers (in the Derrick Brooks mold) and defensive backs who get interceptions.

As former Steelers safety and current ESPN analyst Ryan Clark told’s Jim Maxwell,

"“You didn’t pay Cam that money to be a two-gapper. He’s a penetrator. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s good at. You have to get pressure if you’re going to play cover-2. You drafted Bud (Dupree). You have Jarvis (Jones). You have those guys. Those guys have to be able to rush the passer, and I think what’s going to make this team still good is if they can perfect cover-2 to a point to where it’s something they can play throughout the game. Now, unless you run your fire zones, unless you run your (cover)-3, the things this defense is known for doing, with it being a young group you’re not having to re-teach people.”"

Clark went on to point out the Steelers don’t have the personnel yet, but now is a good time to start implementing it a little so the team can transition when it fills in the rest of the personnel.

Will Allen pointed out to Lolley, “We’ve always run it as a mix up. Who knows how much more we’ll run it or what we will do. We’ll see what happens. We’ve always kind of run it, even with (Coach) LeBeau, but it depends on how much more we want to do with it. You have to work on certain techniques and things, like we do with all of our coverages.”

So what’s the big deal? Why is this news now? Well it probably has something to do with what Tomlin said to the defensive backs: “We’re going to build this but we ain’t going to build it all today.”

It seems it’s going from what Allen calls a mix up to something more. It looks like things are trending toward Tampa at the moment, if only slightly.

Next: Steelers: Evolution of the Offense

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