Now that the vast majority of the offseason tinkering has finally unfolded, it’s easier to take a step back and start looking at the tapestry that the Pittsburgh Steelers have pieced together through free agency and the draft, including which players they let go.
One of the most interesting facets of the grand scheme that has revealed itself over the past few months is just how significantly the Steelers have improved their ability to generate pressure from positions other than outside linebacker, which has been lacking for a few seasons now since James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have fallen out of their primes.
Chronically unproductive as a pass rusher, the Steelers elected to move away from defensive end Ziggy Hood this offseason.
This past weekend, they drafted his eventual replacement, Stephon Tuitt, who as a sophomore in 2012 recorded about a dozen sacks before his production slipped a bit due to injury last season.
Pairing him with Cameron Heyward, who proved last season to be one of the more effective pass-rushing 3-4 ends the team has had, will help give the Steelers a dynamic pressure sub-package that offenses must contend with.
Not to mention, nose tackle Steve McLendon should offer more pass rush this season than what he showed last year. There were suggestions that he played through injury, and the fact that he was taken off the field so frequently likely also impacted his pass rushing abilities.
Before the draft, the Steelers added a speedy free safety coming off a season in which he was the best on the back end in bringing pressure. In addition to recording four sacks on 23 rushes, he also recorded seven other pressures.
Mike Mitchell is a major upgrade in terms of speed over the Ryan Clark of 2013, and paired with the likes of Troy Polamalu and Shamarko Thomas, offers an intimidating cache of potential blitzers coming out of the secondary.
Plugging the sub-4.4 inside linebacker Ryan Shazier into the middle of the defense, and pairing him with Lawrence Timmons, potentially offers the Steelers the most formidable inside rush that they’ve had in recent memory. Timmons himself boasts 26 sacks over the past six seasons. He has recorded five or more sacks in a season three times in his career.
Shazier might be an even more impressive interior rusher, who can also come off the edge. He recorded 14 sacks in his three seasons in college, even while offenses specifically schemed to try to take him out of plays.
With the additions of players such as Shazier, Mitchell, and Tuitt, the Steelers have upgraded their pressure potential at all three levels of the defense this offseason, which should hopefully help mitigate the underwhelming sack totals that have come from the outside linebacker position over the past few seasons.