Historically, Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has used three different personnel groupings for his usually successful defense.
Most commonly employed is his base 3-4-4 defense, where the starting outside linebackers and safety Troy Polamalu offer great maneuverability amongst current players. Next would be when LeBeau brings in a nickel back (third cornerback – William Gay this year) and takes the nose tackle off the field. In this scenario, he often brings both OLBs up to the line, essentially as defensive ends.
However, the third scheme and the one used less frequently over the years is a dime alignment, which includes six defensive backs. In the dime, the Steelers generally brought in a third safety (Tyrone Carter in recent years) to go with three corners.
In addition to the nose tackle, the dime called for an inside linebacker to go to the sidelines. Last year it was frustrating that LeBeau preferred to leave aging James Farrior on the field and often in pass coverage when the team used the dime, while opting to take Lawrence Timmons off the field even though he is the fastest Steelers’ linebacker.
It appears LeBeau has tweaked his scheme in 2010, as the Steelers have yet to go with a dime defense for one play this season. One reason may be the team’s first two opponents, the Falcons and Titans, go with more pro-style offenses and rarely send four receivers on the field.
However, a more likely justification is because LeBeau simply does not want to take Timmons off the field, figuring the team is better served with Timmons remaining in the game than pulling him for safety Will Allen or Ryan Mundy.
Through two games it is easy to see why LeBeau has abandoned the dime this fall. Timmons leads the team with 26 total tackles, including 21 solo stops. Next on that list is James Harrison with 20 and 14, respectively.
Historically, tackles were not an official stat kept by the NFL. Instead, teams often released their own tackle statistics and those figures would vary a great deal by team.
Among the Steelers, Farrior has been the team’s best tackler in recent years, leading the team in total tackles in five of the previous six seasons. His career-high was 133 total tackles to lead the Super Bowl championship teams of 2008, including 87 solo stops.
However, the Steelers’ greatest tackler ever was legendary Jack Lambert, who had the benefit of playing middle linebacker in a base 4-3 scheme specifically designed to have the middle linebacker be the primarily tackler.
Moreover, Lambert had the benefits of having one of the two greatest 4-3 defensive lines ever in front of him in the legendary Steel Curtain of Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes, and playing in a more predictable, conservative, run-oriented era.
While I could not find individual, year-by-year career tackle statistics for Lambert, he reportedly averaged 146 total tackles per season over the first 10 years of his 11-year career, a period that saw him selected to nine Pro Bowls.
In contrast, Timmons is on pace to tally 208 total tackles, with 168 solo stops this season. Now, it should be noted that some of Lambert’s best seasons (1974-77) consisted of 14-game regular-season schedules compared to the 16-game schedules played since 1978. However, the league could move to an 18-game schedule next year and still no Steelers defender would be likely record 200+ tackles in a season.
Thus, not only is Timmons – a first-round pick in 2007 – easily playing the best football of his up-and-down Steelers career, but right now, he is actually playing as well as any Steelers’ inside linebacker ever through the first two games of the season.