Steelers have more defensive wrinkles in addition to the Big Nickel 4-5-2 alignment that features four large linemen and no outside linebackers. Tomlin said it wasn’t designed to discourage Jets quarterback Tim Tebow from running. “We tend to lean on it from time to time because it provides versatility for us. It allows us to match, from a personnel standpoint, in the secondary with skill but also maintain our big body presence in the run game,” Tomlin said. “Another answer that we have is a personnel group where we use three corners and one safety with a base defense. It’s really a different way of addressing the same issue.”
Big Nickel Could Become a Big Part of Steelers D
The Steelers have been forced into a lot of nickel defensive packages in recent years. It comes with the territory of the new NFL. Offenses, including the Steelers, are now being built around quarterbacks and big play wide receivers. With three and four wide receiver sets becoming the norm for offenses the Steelers use a lot of nickel which puts five defensive backs on the field.
The nickel defense uses two defensive ends as defensive tackles, two outside linebackers as defensive ends, two inside linebackers over the line, three corners and two safeties. This leaves the middle of the defense more susceptible to the run with the lack of a nose tackle on the field. Guys like Casey Hampton and Steve McLendon demand double teams and are run stuffing lineman, but aren’t included in the nickel defense. This leads teams, like the Broncos in week 1, to run against the smaller front of the nickel package.
That is where the “big nickel” comes into play. The “big nickel” includes one of the nose tackles and three defensive lineman. On these occasions Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Casey Hampton were on the line. Behind them was Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote at linebacker and the five defensive backs. With Ryan Mundy (usually Troy Polamalu) and Ryan Clark at safety and Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis at corner the Steelers usually add Cortez Allen to the package as the fifth man in the secondary. Will Allen has also seen some time in the “big nickel” package as the fifth man.
There are good and bad aspects to this plan. First, it helps to protect against the run which forces the offense to short runs or passing attempts when the defense goes to the nickel. It also is a solid third down defense protecting against the draw play. However, this set takes LaMarr Woodley off the field and did so five times on third down against the Jets. That means for five plays the Steelers took their best pass rusher off the field to protect against the run. Woodley is big enough to be in the “big nickel” as one of the edge defenders, but was not used as one in the game Sunday.
The Oakland Raiders like to use their running backs in the passing game and run them out of passing sets so the “big nickel” package may see more time on Sunday. However, with the lack of quarterback pressure being applied early in the season the Steelers may want to put Woodley on the edge to force Carson Palmer to get rid of the ball quicker and potentially force him into some bad throws or interceptions.