PITTSBURGH -- The last time Ryan Clark played in a defense that used four safeties on the field together, he was just a know-nothing novice.
"When I was in Washington we had a four-safety package and we didn't have nearly as good of safeties as we have here," Clark said. "We had one really, really good safety, and I was a slap at that time. But they let us all on the field."
Clark was able to do it as a Pro Bowl veteran 19 times the other night with the Steelers, and said "I love it."
He should. The Steelers were successful with Clark and Robert Golden alternating between free and strong safety, Troy Polamalu playing near the line as a quasi-inside linebacker, and Shamarko Thomas in his position of nickel cornerback in
It's actually a three-safety package called "quarters" that the Steelers used extensively in 2008 with Clark, Polamalu and Tyrone Carter.
"The touchdown Troy scored to win the AFC Championship in (January) '09 was that package," Clark said. "Deshea Townsend's interception against Dallas the same (season), it was that package. And we kind of got away from it because
Lawrence (Timmons) was so good."
Timmons is not the extra inside linebacker anymore. He remained on the field for passing downs in Cincinnati while the young inside linebackers came off. And so the quarters package returned Monday night against the Bengals for their two big tight ends and two big wide receivers.
Were size matchups the reason the Steelers used it?
"Just their offensive scheme," said Golden. "They liked to go empty a lot so we needed to get more DBs in there to cover."
The Steelers used it on obvious passing downs and throughout the two-minute offense that the Bengals used late in the first half.
The Bengals converted only 3 of 12 third/fourth-down plays against the Steelers' quarters package and quarterback Andy Dalton completed only 7 of 16 passes for 57 yards for a 53.4 passer rating. His passer rating against the Steelers' base defense was 97.3.
The Bengals didn't have a great advantage running the ball against the package, either. They had 3 carries for 10 yards.
"I feel they liked what we went out there and did," Golden said of his coaches. "They said it could be an asset to our defense, so if we need it, it's going to be there. Chicago definitely has big receivers and big tight ends, but as far as the game plan goes you've just got to see what they're going to do out there."
The difference in the quarters scheme from when Clark played in a four-safeties package in Washington is that Thomas, a drafted and future safety, is training strictly as a nickel cornerback with the Steelers this season. He might be small in stature (5-9), but he's still 217 pounds of hard-hitting fury who represents the safety group to Clark's satisfaction.
"The reason I love it is it's good when you have a lot of people in the same room that know and do a lot of the same things that they can work together," said Clark. "You can play different positions. Everybody's not always in the same spot. Even if the play-caller or playbook lines us up in certain spots, we can move it around. We can show you different looks. So I think it was really good. I think having Robert out there -- he's played nickel, he's played dime, he's played safety, and he's smart enough to handle any position -- that really helps, and it also lets Troy move around in the box, which is really good for us.
"I think it's a very solid package for us. And I'm excited. It's something Troy and I have been calling for. We didn't necessarily care that it be four safeties, but we wanted at least three."