The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the five most interesting teams in the NFL this offseason
There will be a lot of talk about how the Steelers plan to replace their iconic signal caller, but I’m more interested in a different side to this reboot. Suddenly, Tomlin has the opportunity to bring the franchise back to the blue-collar approach that helped bring six Lombardi trophies to Pittsburgh. Under the leadership of Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Tomlin, the Steelers have always been at their best with the defense lead the charge. This franchise rose to prominence behind the “Steel Curtain”, with a collection of Hall of Famers smothering their opponents at every turn – and the Steelers retained the same kind of feel well beyond the glorious 1970s. Each of Pittsburgh’s six Super Bowl titles has been powered by a defense that has ranked in the top five in scoring defense and total D. The unit’s outstanding performance during the Dick LeBeau era overlapped with Tomlin’s arrival and emergence as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history (SEE: 15 seasons, zero loss record).
With that plan in mind, it seems to me that Pittsburgh is taking a “back to the future” approach. With Teryl Austin taking over as coordinator and Brian Flores as senior defensive assistant, the Steelers have created an impressive defensive think tank that could alter the identity of the unit going forward. While I don’t expect Pittsburgh to curb the aggressiveness that has long been associated with this team, the creativity of Austin and Flores could translate into a more diverse approach to high-pressure defensive play.
Austin, who has spent the past three seasons in Pittsburgh as a senior defensive assistant and secondary coach, takes the defensive reins from Keith Butler. Austin previously served as defensive coordinator for the Bengals and Lions. He is a supporter of combining multiplicity with simplicity. Essentially, he wants to show the attack an illusion during the pre-snap phase before switching to a simple defense that allows his players to play at a blistering pace after the ball has been broken. The constant movement and disguises can confuse quarterbacks young and old. It’s hard to fathom what comes of a defense that refuses to play like a collection of toy soldiers.
Flores, meanwhile, brings the experience of a former head coach/defensive coordinator who is familiar with the “snowflake” game plans that change from week to week. As a defensive play caller, Flores’ units switched between man-heavy concepts and static area coverage, depending on the matchups and how he wanted to neutralize key personnel. At times in Miami, he used a Cover 0-based scheme that mixed blitz and bluff to keep quarterbacks dazed and confused in the pocket. (Remember the Dolphins’ beating on Thursday night against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in November?) pocket against Flores’ palms. Additionally, blitzing and bluffing tactics kept offensive coordinators from using their entire playbook. With a smaller menu of plays at their disposal, quarterbacks struggled to attack Flores’ defense la last season, allowing Miami to win eight of its last nine games.