Many fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers are filled with nervous excitement this offseason over the prospects of their favorite team returning to form this season to become a force to be reckoned with once again, something that they were perennially just a few years ago.
With the additions of players such as Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Mike Mitchell, and Cam Thomas, and improvements from young players such as Jarvis Jones, Cortez Allen, Steve McLendon, Vince Williams, and Sean Spence, there is reason to believe that last season was simply a misstep for the defense, which has been culpable in many losses over the course of the past two years.
Steelers fans are not the only ones taking notice, however, as NFL site writer Bucky Brooks wrote a piece yesterday detailing the three key areas at which the team has improved on defense that will help them reclaim the AFC North.
His first observational belief is that the Steelers defensive line in 2014 is better equipped to win in the trenches. He cites the addition of Tuitt and Daniel McCullers and growth from McLendon and Cameron Heyward as reasons for this.
He also talks a fair bit about Thomas, perhaps more so than warranted, as he seems to imply that he envisions him as the starting nose tackle, which will certainly not be the case ahead of McLendon. Thomas will likely fill Al Woods’ role as the fourth linemen, unless he is asked to start at defensive end early in the season.
The second point that Brooks makes is that he believes the Steelers’ linebackers, with their speed and athleticism, will “create chaos”. This should be especially true of the inside linebackers.
Brooks highlights a cross-gap blitz from Lawrence Timmons from last season and suggests that we should expect to see more exotic blitzes with Timmons and Shazier from Dick LeBeau next season, given their pass-rushing skills from the inside.
He also expresses cautious optimism about the chances of Jones growing substantially from year one to year two, and suggests that LeBeau could move him around more as a chess piece the way he was used in college, which could increase his effectiveness.
Finally, Brooks talks about the big free agency acquisition, the free safety Mitchell, who will come in starting at the back end across from Troy Polamalu. Brooks is very high on Mitchell’s potential, comparing him to Polamalu and suggesting that he turned in a Pro Bowl-caliber performance last season.
Naturally, he highlights Mitchell’s speed and athleticism, and his penchant for explosive plays, having registered 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and four interceptions a year ago. That is exactly the kind of impact the Steelers would be begging for from anybody this season. Polamalu led the team in turnovers last season, and it wasn’t even close.
In all, Brooks turns in a strong and reasoned case for why the Steelers defense should be expected to rebound from a down season with the influx of quality new talent and further growth from within among the young players. He may have gotten the latest projection here or there slightly off, but it’s an informative and detailed column worth digging into.