It is safe to say no one has predicted the start of Carson Wentz’ career to go this smoothly. Through two games Wentz has yet to throw an interception, he has completed over 60% of his passes and of course, the Philadelphia Eagles are 2-0. Things could not have gone better. While the media and Eagles fans will spend the week hyping up Carson Wentz as the next big thing after only two games, now would be a smart time to calm down and remember that this is a long season. It could be argued that Wentz will not face any defenses worse than the two he faced in the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. In week three, when Wentz faces the Pittsburgh Steelers defense at home, he will face a defense that has historically dominated rookie quarterbacks.
Pittsburgh Steelers History Against Rookie Quarterbacks Should Not Change Against Carson Wentz
Steelers Historically Own Rookie Quarterbacks
Since Mike Tomlin has taken the reigns as the Steelers head coach, the team is 14-1 against rookie quarterbacks. A lot of this success has been attributed to Hall of Fame player and coach Dick LeBeau. Since LeBeau started as a defensive coordinator with the Steelers, the team is 19-2 against rookie quarterbacks. In those 21 starts, quarterbacks completed 55% of their passes and have thrown 16 touchdowns to 22 interceptions.
Dick LeBeau made “Blitzburgh” famous. He ran a zone blitz scheme that confused opposing quarterbacks to no end, no matter how experienced you were. He would have eight players stand at the line of scrimmage before the snap and would rush anywhere from three to all eight defenders, and drop the rest into zone coverage. Quarterbacks would never know who was coming and who was dropping.
Moving on From LeBeau
The Steelers moved on from LeBeau in 2014 after the defense started to decline through multiple years. In 2015, Keith Butler, a LeBeau assistant had taken over the defense. In the first season with Butler, the Steelers did not face a rookie quarterback. However, they did hold A.J. McCarron to 212 yards on 41 passing attempts with an interception and a touchdown in only McCarron’s fourth career start.
Butler had changed some aspects of the defense since last season, including making the defense easier to understand. This is making it quicker to get rookies on the field, as three have seen playing time so far in the first two weeks. He has also compromised to more of a Tampa-2 style of defense, which plays to the history of Mike Tomlin.
New Scheme, Same Confusion
This season, it had been noted that while the Steelers still run primarily zone schemes, the blitzing has been subbed out for more of a standard three or four man pass rush. In this, they force quarterbacks to beat the defense with seven or eight defenders dropping back. However, the scheme still has enough wrinkles to confuse a rookie quarterback.
Butler has adjusted to the ever-changing NFL with his schemes. The team runs primarily in the nickel set, and in the nickel and dime formations, they slide a safety into the box as a linebacker who can defend the slot as well as the run. This gives the defense a ton of flexibility.
The team rotates between Robert Golden and Sean Davis, one typically is in the box or the slot, and the other is deep. In week one, the Steelers ran cornerback William Gay on the right side and Ross Cockrell on the left. In week two, they had Cockrell follow A.J. Green, and had Gay on the other side, and even put Gay in the slot to bring in rookie Artie Burns at times.
On Sunday, the team had formations in which Ryan Shazier would rotate to the edge and blitz off of it to defend the pass. James Harrison would move from the edge into the middle, more in a run stuffer role. They shift all five of their defensive lineman, and can pair any two or three of them together in a given formation.
Overall, the defense has a different look, and scheme than the LeBeau defense that dominated rookies. However, the Steelers now have a diverse personnel that allows for different alignments and is a defense that adapts to the offense in front of them. The Steelers have not sent a variety of blitzes yet because they have not needed to, it is not because they are refusing to do so.
Good Luck, Carson
Expect the defense to continue to show its evolution and continue to add wrinkles that will confuse the rookie quarterback Wentz. Seeing any number of different blitzes from different players in different alignments are now on the table. It is a new defensive era when it comes to the Steelers and their success against rookie quarterbacks. However, the Steelers have what it takes to repeat the recent success which came from Dick LeBeau.