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Will Mike Tomlin Bring Tampa To Pittsburgh?

No, I’m not talking about an apathetic fan base and a sea of empty seats at every home game. The Pitt Panthers already have that covered.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin first rose to prominence as a defensive backs coach under Tony Dungy down in Tampa. Dungy’s defense of choice was a modified version of the 4-3 scheme he learned as a player (and later coach) under Chuck Noll. Despite Tomlin’s preference for running the Tampa-2, one of the conditions upon his hiring was he retain Dick LeBeau, inventor and master of the 3-4 zone blitz. Considering the Steelers have ranked at or near the top of the NFL in total defense every year since he arrived in Pittsburgh, I’m sure Tomlin has had no complaints about the change.

Besides LeBeau being one of the finest defensive minds of all-time, management didn’t want to change philosophies because they simply didn’t have the right personnel. Whenever a team switches from 3-4 to 4-3 (or vice versa) there is an adjustment period because what is expected from each player changes. Some of you may remember a couple years back when fatass Albert Haynesworth pitched a fit because Washington switched from a 4-3 (where he could collect a bunch of stats, and the bonuses that went with them, by rushing the quarterback) to a 3-4 (where, like our linemen, his primary job was to occupy blockers and create gaps for others to make plays). If you ever wondered why the Steelers love stocking up on linebackers in the draft, it’s because our scheme depends on having plenty of strong, athletic linebackers on the roster.

Unfortunately, we currently have a bunch of strong, athletic linebackers on the injury report.

James Harrison, who is killing my mental image of him as a scary BMF with his forays into social media, posted on Facebook that he was cleared to practice but will not play on Sunday. P-G beat writer Ed Bouchette recently reported that James Farrior‘s injury is more serious than originally thought and he may be out for close to a month. Then we have LaMarr Woodley. The P-G said Mister Woodley was out after suffering a hamstring injury similar to the one which caused Andre Johnson to miss the last four games although John Clayton later reported there’s “a chance” he might play. There’s also a chance the Steelers will hire me to be their official Coach’s Challenge Coordinator, Rooney Mara will hit on me at the team Christmas party, and my car will be crushed by a falling German spy satellite on the way home so take that for what it’s worth.

Clayton is probably just going by the video Woodley linked on his twitter account which I’ve reposted above. Gee, do I get to be an “NFL Insider” on the Four Letter now?

Mike Tomlin wouldn’t rule anybody out for Sunday but what else is new. The wily and deceitful Tomlin never tips his hand at press conferences. One thing he did mention was possibly dusting off the old Tampa-2. It’s an intriguing idea we may very well see this Sunday if the Steelers are as thin at linebacker as it would appear.

With Farrior, Harrison and Woodley out, we’d be left with Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester at ILB and Lawrence Timmons and Chris Carter/Jason Worilds at OLB. Timmons has generated almost no pass rush since moving outside and neither Carter nor Worilds have seen significant regular season action. Sylvester took limited snaps against the Patriots as he was odd-man out in LeBeau’s brilliant 2-3-6 set-up. The Steelers aren’t going to play much 2-3-6 this week because the Ravens’ biggest threat is Ray Rice, not Joe Flacco.

Some have said changing defenses on the fly would be nearly impossible. They forget the team has actually played some 4-3 in recent years, usually when nursing a big lead. Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel both played extremely well against the Patriots and are probably the team’s two best pass-rushers at this point. Ziggy, it should be noted, basically assumed the role of nose tackle in the 2-3-6 so he can move inside. Rookie first round pick Cam Heyward, who has already seen a decent amount of regular season action, played both defenses at Ohio State. If Casey Hampton and/or Chris Hoke are cleared to play, and both have been practicing, that gives the team plenty of beef up front. I know I’d rather have the Diesel, Big Snack, and the two first rounders on the field than two inexperienced linebackers and a guy playing out of position.

Since Tomlin’s arrival, a few of the more conspiracy minded members of Steeler Nation have been waiting for him to move the team toward his favored style of defense. Well, for at least this week, it looks like the Football Gods have granted his wish. If the Steelers want to put their best eleven players on the field come Sunday, they may have to bring a little Tampa to Pittsburgh.