Mike Tomlin wasn’t a math major at William & Mary but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach knows that four goes into two better than five goes into two.
Thus, Tomlin plans to begin using a four-man rotation for the two outside linebacker spots Sunday when the Steelers (6-5) host the New York Giants (9-3) at Heinz Field.
Bud Dupree returned to action Nov. 20 in a win over the Cleveland Browns after missing the first nine games of the season while recovering from groin surgery. The addition of the Steelers’ 2015 first-round draft pick gives them five outside backers along with Anthony Chickillo, James Harrison, Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats.
Tomlin said one of three — Chickillo, Jones or Moats — will be the odd man out Sunday.
“Until Bud got up to speed that really wasn’t a discussion, a four-man rotation is not a discussion,” Tomlin said. “That is pretty fluid. A five-man rotation, discussion is more difficult and less fluid. I am really not into five-man rotations. I expressed that to that group last week.
“As Bud gets up to speed, somebody is going to win, somebody is going to lose. I don’t care who wins. I think we all win if we play the hot hand. Those are our intentions.”
Tomlin intends to have Dupree and Harrison in the rotation.
The 38-year-old Harrison has 29 tackles, four sacks, 2.5 stuffs, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. Dupree had four sacks in his rookie season and had two tackles through his first two games this year.
“If you look at it right now, James is probably going to be in the mix, he has the hot hand as of late,” Tomlin said. “He leads the group and leads us in sacks. Other than that I imagine Bud is going to be part of the group because we are excited about what he potentially could bring us that we haven’t seen now that he has his health. The other guys are going to be based on performance and I think that is fair.”
Among the other three, Jones has the most tackles with 37 to go along with two stuffs, one forced fumble and two passes defensed. However, he has yet to record a sack this season and has just five in 47 games over four years since the Steelers made him their first-round pick in 2013.
Moats has three sacks to go with 18 tackles, one stuff and three passes defensed. Chickillo has recorded 2.5 sacks along with 24 tackles, one stuff and two forced fumbles.
Despite his lack of sacks, Jones has played the best in the eyes of Pro Football Focus with a 75.9 grade that ranks 50th among NFL edge rushers. Meanwhile, Chickillo’s grade is 52.4 and Moats’ is 42.3.
Chickillo has started the last six games on the left side after Moats started the first five while Harrison has started each of the last two games on the right side after Jones got the nod in eight of the first nine games.
The Steelers have had 11 sacks in the two games since Jones was demoted, winning both on the heels of a four-game losing streak. Through the first nine game, Pittsburgh had just 13 sacks.
In last Thursday night’s 28-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Chickillo led the inside linebackers with 32 defensive snaps while Harrison had 31, Jones 27, Dupree 21 and Moats 18.
Dupree said after the game that he was hoping to get more playing time so he can find a rhythm.
“If he’s getting to the quarterback, certainly, I agree with him,” Tomlin said. “Provided production reflects that.”
Despite the limited playing time, Dupree has made a good enough impression to warrant more snaps.
“He’s been proving his overall readiness beyond his health,” Tomlin said. “I think last week was a significant step for him. As long as that continues to move forward, as long as he continues to show detail in assignment and getting up to speed from a football-conditioning standpoint, it’s reasonable to expect his contributions to increase.”
Tomlin said the rotation could change on a weekly basis, depending on the opponent.
“If coaches want to play a certain type that week, that’s what it is,” Moats said. “You just have to control what you can control. If you get a certain amount of snaps, you got to go out there and do the best you can in those snaps. It doesn’t matter what you do the previous week. Just make the most of your opportunity.”