Against a rookie quarterback like the one the Pittsburgh Steelers will be facing today, the Cleveland Browns’ Dorian Thompson-Robinson getting the nod, an ideal defensive gameplan would be one to create chaos and confusion. Bait the rookie into making a poor read and a mistake that could change, or win, the game.
But Pittsburgh’s defense is smarting, too. Linebackers Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander are out for the season. Star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will miss at least another week with his hamstring injury. Those injuries are all down the middle at the “hubs of communication” as Mike Tomlin calls it. And in his weekly chat with Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola, Tomlin admitted the defense may have to scale things back, allowing their players to run fast and play free while reducing coverage busts.
“We can absorb more responsibility as coaches by asking them to do less, to communicate less, to have less multiple-call structured defensive calls,” Tomlin told Labriola of how to handle communication through the injuries.
The team’s starting safety pair is expected to be veteran Damontae Kazee and youngster Trenton Thompson, the latter making his first NFL start today. Signed during training camp and on the practice squad all season (including now, he was technically elevated yesterday and will return to the taxi squad tomorrow), he’s getting the nod at strong safety thanks to his size and hit power. Pittsburgh must play the run today and Thompson figures to spend plenty of time near the line of scrimmage.
Pittsburgh will see a new-look inside linebacker room. Elandon Roberts figures to work in most if not all situations while Mark Robinson and Mykal Walker, three weeks a Steeler, should split time opposite. There’s still veteran players like Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Patrick Peterson, but the point of emphasis will be ensuring the young players know what they’re doing.
Which means less chaos. Not as much pre-snap movement and post-snap rotation. The upside is it’ll decrease the odds of Pittsburgh making a mistake, “kicking our own butt,” as Tomlin told Labriola. The downside is it’ll make reads easier for Thompson-Robinson in his second-career start.
“If that means subtraction from the menu in an effort to not kick our own butt, then we’re willing to do that,” Tomlin said.
Still, the Steelers’ defense is expected to have a solid performance. Cleveland is without their star running back, franchise quarterback, and both their starting offensive tackles. And Mike Tomlin’s not one to make excuses even if he’s one to change the gameplan.