Bucky Brooks Predicts Return Of The Steelers’ Defense

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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • shawn

    “Nervous Excitement” perfect choice of words there … I have to admit i was not very optimistic when the off season began … but i’ll eat my words … the FO has done a heck of a job and should be commended on their work … i really like the additions on all 3 levels of our Def …. and while we didnt get our playmaker at CB yet … I’m pretty sure they will address the issue in a timely fashion next year

    Now while all the above mentioned possible improvements are likely in the eyes of us fans … we are just going to have to wait n see if they live up to our expectations … lets make some fun predictions

    2013 INT – 10 2014 INT 16
    Sacks – 34 Sacks – 45
    FF 19 FF 24
    Def-PPG 23 Def PPG 17
    Def YPG 337 Def YPG 300

    As you can see Im expecting a jump back to normalcy with a little more turnovers than are usual …. with even a bigger bump in 2015 !

  • Jonas

    I had some thoughts about the use of our new players. Of course, the sub packages, using a nickel or dime, are important, but with the rushing-able DE’s & the athletic LBs we could be effective against the pass out of our Base-D with the TAMPA 2.
    3-4 or 4-3 isn’t a thing anymore, we think in Under/Over.
    & imagine the unpredictability of a Tampa 2 in our 3-4 Scheme due to the combining with LeBeaus Zone Blitz. You now have a 3-Man front generally able to put pressure on the QB and the 4th man can come from everywhere, 4 great Blitzer at the linebacker spots for example. With Shazier and Timmons, two athletic cover ILB, both can drop into this central deep zone, and both of our OLB can drop in the Zone of the 4-3 Sam or rush the passer!
    Of course, it would take free lancing opportunities (near the LOS) from Troy, but at least after Troys departure, it makes perfectly sense to take the responsibility in our D to the athletic ILB. Even Spence could thrive in this system!
    Next season I guess we will see more cover 3 or cover 1 in the deep zones, as Mitchell has the ability to free up Troy.

    I am pretty excited of the opportunity the Tampa 2 has in the 3-4 using the Zone Blitz idea – but looking at it, LeBeau probably used a lot of similiar Cover 2 coverages already 😀

  • Kenneth Wilt

    The largest weakness heading into the offseason for the D is still the largest weakness. CB at some point needs to be addressed. That being said I think every other position should be improved, either through player change or player improvement. I am excited about our potential.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I have to admit I share the belief that McLendon hasn’t earned anything and is not a lock to start.

    Not only do I think the defense is going to be better but it’s going to be so much more exciting. When you look at a list of the defensive players and positions and compare the player in the role this year vs last year the looks to be significant improvement in most positions and I would argue that the positions you might expect will decline could end up improving by not having to do as much to cover others and having help themselves.

    I think I’m most excited to see how the 2 lineman subpackage does against the run. Unless we are facing a goal line package I think we might be OK without an NT.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I don’t see us getting pressure from a 3 man front unless they go with a 4 man line or our blitzer is telegraphed.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    CB wasn’t the largest weakness unless you are counting Hood and Woods as on the roster.

    ILB and DL were the two weakest with the idea that CB was worth the first round choice because we wanted a really good one.

    Given the option of starting Vince Williams, Ike or Arnfelt, Ike is the easy choice. If he is given help instead of being the helper (via single coverage on the top CB for example) he should be fine.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Unlike others. Bucky does a decent job considering they are pushed to cover 32 teams plus thousands of players and try to create excitement with the draft and off season. Others spout the same old nonsense. Bucky was intelligent enough to state that despite the youth and turnover that the Steelers still looked old and slow last year. That is a reasonable statement. Even though he may get some details wrong he still does a decent job. I also believe the future is very bright but becoming amazing this year is not a certainty.

    I’ve always liked Bucky better than most at NFL com.

  • shawn

    i tend to agree … “cautious optimism” is the phrase i would use … i think at least we have turned the corner and are heading in the right direction … i think after next offseason and draft entering the 2015 season is where we should really be on the rise and if all things go well … could really see us doing some damage in the playoffs then !

  • unfurious

    I agree. I believe that Mitchell should be the biggest difference-maker this year. Earl Thomas was a huge reason why the Seahawks dominated last year. In a similar way, Mitchell has the speed and pop to support deep coverage from sideline to sideline without having to play 2 high. This will help keep the CBs from getting burnt deep. They should be able to press more. One speedy safety can make the entire secondary look better and let LeBeau be more creative.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I share the excitement as well…especially if the front seven and the secondary can complement one another. The significance of Mitchell’s addition can’t be overstated. Speed, aggression, and ball-hawking are what this team needs deep when the line is (hopefully) forcing opposing QBs into throws they don’t want to make.

    For all the (understandable) skepticism about the state of the Steelers’ secondary, I’m willing to give coaches the benefit of the doubt. For one, I agree with Tomlin that creating pressure up front is KEY to the success of our DBs. And they addressed that issue in a big way. And second, who am I to judge guys like Blake and Richardson if the coaches like what they see?

    In the end, if given the choice between a stout secondary and a “meh” front, or an aggressive/strong front and a “passable” secondary, I am choosing the latter option every day of the week and twice (of course) on Sunday.

  • Jonas

    It’s still a 4-man rush, but the 4th rusher can be literally everone. That’s the LeBeau blitz zone system for years. I just transferred it to the Tampa 2..

  • Jonas

    This. And less than 4 seconds to throw for the QB will help the coverage, too.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I know nothing about him but if Mitchell can be an effective blitzer you basically have him, Poly, Timmons and Shazier that have to be accounted for in pass protection with more than just awareness or formation. The spread offense starts to become really dangerous when you have 4 guys that fast with no particular place to go.

  • Steel PAul

    Always cool when someone on these boards can say that. Good for you and thanks for sharing!

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I was just responding to this.

    “You now have a 3-Man front generally able to put pressure on the QB and the 4th man can come from everywhere”

    and saying that we don’t have a 3 man front able to generate pressure by itself. I also don’t think a 4th rusher is going to be enough. I think we’ll need Worlds as a designated rusher and then use Jones, Timmons, Shazier, Mitchell and Poly as the guys that rush based on what the offense allows.

    I do agree we have 2 defensive end that are exceptional pass rushers.

  • Alejandro Caballero

    I didn´t like the too optimistic view of Brooks, I think he should sound much less excited about Cam Thomas, he wants to put him like a Vince Wilfork, also he sounds too excited about the McCullers, he said he dominated, Really???? plus he didn´t say anything aobut the cbs.
    I agree that the lbs can become in two yars an elite unit, maybe the best one

  • Jonas

    It’s not important how many guys rush, but how the blitz calling is. Mike Pettine is one of the greatest play caller for example; he can trick the offense in ways that a 2 man rush can be successfull

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    Lets revisit this conversation around nov. 10th.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Nice job

  • James Miles

    My hats off to the FO. The did exactly what needed to be done and did not break the bank doing it. I think Steeler Nation is going to be pleasantly surprised at what the Steeler D will do. I am betting we return to form!!!!

  • ApexSteel

    I have to say. I don’t believe Shazier will start early on this year.

  • unfurious

    The spread offense is actually what finally took down Pittsburgh in the 90s. Power formations allowed the defense to essentially set up between the hashes and blitz from anywhere. I remember it said that a QB at that time had like 2.5 seconds to through during that heyday. But when teams started running a quick pass attack with 5 WRs, it became much easier for offense to identify who was blitzing and where the mismatch was in coverage. Then there was the West Coast revolution…The key to this defense is that (I believe) is that, as you said, everyone is a valid coverage guy and blitzer. By eliminating coverage mismatches and causing indecision in pass protection, the magic may be back. Ironically, the countermeasure may be a power running game.

  • Crazy Bone

    The defensive line will be better because of Tuitt and McCullers? That is nonsense…the defense will be weaker because the DL will be weaker. Plus counting on another LB like Shazier to immediately create havoc sounds like a reach. This team is weaker because all they did was lose players on both sides of the ball. Mitchell is the only improvement I see.

  • Big White

    I think that is a fair analysis. Not the most optimistic, but hey this is our reality. I think it all depends on Cam Thomas. I’ve seen projections already of the starting unit and they almost all include Tuitt. Thomas is a 2nd and 3rd down lineman as is McClendon. So the Steelers are going to have to decide and decide quickly if they are committed to winning on first down or are they going to morph into a defense that can play in a pass happy league.If it is the latter, I think they are good. It also would explain allowing Al Woods to walk. He would have more of a fit of year’s past.

  • steelster

    exactly, everything comes full circle. The patriots started running a lot at the end of the year and it worked. They set the tone for the 2 te’s in the passing game, could the running game make a small comeback in 2014.

  • Weiss Chad

    Besides Timmons it’s a whole new starting front seven in two years…wow

  • Weiss Chad

    I agree the changeover will be almost complete then..

  • 2443scott

    theres not just nervous excitement in the fan base …you can see and feel it here in this site …just about all the comments since the draft expresses it.

  • Pete Johnson

    Did you really just compare Mike Mitchell to Earl Thomas? There is a reason Thomas got 25m guaranteed, and Mitchell basically got what amounted to a 2 yr deal and only 5m guaranteed. Mitchell is not a “difference maker” like the article and a lot around here would like to think. He is a “decent” player and got money that reflects that.

  • unfurious

    I’m not trying to say that the Steelers found another Earl Thomas on the discount rack. I’m saying that Thomas’s speed allows allows him to play the deep ball from side to side and Mitchell has that kind of speed. I believe that Mitchell still has a lot of upside to show. He doesn’t have to be Thomas to make a big difference.