For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.
Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.
Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Is it a good idea for the Steelers to so heavily use the quarters package again this year?
The Steelers were forced by necessity to resort to using their quarters package a significant amount of the time last season due to the fact that they were trying to compensate for a first-year starter at nose tackle and a rookie at the Buck linebacker spot.
And although its most prominent use largely coincided with the team’s far more successful second half of the season, during which they went 6-2, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should continue to use it to such a high degree.
In fact, it will be difficult for the Steelers to do so simply by virtue of the personnel they intend to return from last season. Two of the three safeties featured in the quarters package are currently free agents, and at least Ryan Clark is not expected to return. There’s no certainty of Will Allen returning either.
But that’s not the only reason that I foresee the Steelers moving away from the quarters package, at least to a degree.
Quite simply, the Steelers will be in a better place at inside linebacker in 2014 than they were last season, which is largely what necessitated the high usage of the quarters package. Basically, Allen, a veteran with several years of experience in the system, was more reliable than the rookie Vince Williams.
But now, with a year under his belt and a taste of success down the stretch, Williams should be much better prepared in 2014. And even if he’s not Larry Foote will be back. Even Sean Spence might be back. And frankly I think I would rather have one of those three on the field than both Shamarko Thomas and Allen, or Robert Golden, unless the Steelers add an impact player in the draft or free agency at safety.
Furthermore, when we look at the Steelers’ upcoming schedule, quite frankly, it seems more geared toward playing opponents that prefer to run the ball as their first option, with a few notable exceptions such as the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts.
On the other hand, there are the Kansas City Chiefs with Jamaal Charles, the Houston Texans and Arian Foster, the Tennessee Titans with Chris Johnson, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Doug Martin. And we saw how successful the Baltimore Ravens were last season turning the keys over to Joe Flacco, so they’ll want to be getting back to running the ball.
Even some of the teams with more accomplished receivers, such as the other division rivals, have serious questions at quarterback. Outside of Drew Brees and Andrew Luck, it’s difficult to find an above average quarterback on the docket. And if you’re not going against an above average quarterback, you want to try to make them beat you through the air, which begins with stopping the run—and that begins in your base defense.