Steelers Offseason Strategy Included Upgrading Defensive Pressure Personnel

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.

About the Author

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

    super excited for this coming season. Our offence should continue performing like it did at the end of last season, while our defence is clearly much better and potentially one of the better defences in the NFL!

  • Jason Brant

    The biggest increase in pressure should come from Jones in his second season. I’m anticipating a big leap from him.

  • Paddy

    We hope they can be better but at this point we just don’t know.


    Let’s hope so.

  • WilliamSekinger

    DEs that can provide significant interior pressure will help the OLB position generate pressure off the edge tremendously.

  • shawn

    JJ is probably the biggest Question mark to me from the group … and there are a lot of questions

    1. Will Ike be able to rebound and at least play avg ?
    2. Will Shazier make the transition smoothly and can he handle inside?
    3. Is Mike Mitchell a one year wonder or will he vastly improve our Def ?
    4. Can Tuitt start early and be the impact player he was 2 years ago ?
    5. Will Cortez finally make the leap like we all expect him to ?
    6. Will letting Troy play his S role now return his form somewhat ?
    7. Can Shamarko get on the field and contribute effectively

    and finally is JJ the player the FO thought he was or just another 1st round Bust ?

  • AndyR34

    HOPE is the operative word here. It is a measure of how far our defense has fallen that we are expecting two rookies and an underwhelming second year player to create a significant upgrade to results? Rookies are rookies and I don’t see any potential DROY’s out there yet. Let us all remember how well our rookies played last year…oh, wait! They didn’t! Let us hope that the O can carry us until these rookies figure it out.

  • srdan

    LMAO at point one! That is awesome.

  • srdan

    I was actually pleased with the rookies performance last eyar. Bell could have easily made the probowl. Williams came in and performed admirably (apparently I thought more of him than the organization). Garvin played often and well at the end of the year. Shamarko was the nickle back until hte injury. I saw steady improvement in JJ after he was unjustly handed the starting gig in the beggining of the year.

    I didn’t think Kendrell bell was going to be DROY. But if you look at DROY history, it is won by 1st round linebackers about 80% of the time. I’d say that Shazier has a chance.

  • ApexSteel

    Careful. Don’t question the roster too much. The Yinzer Task Force is lurking.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Good questions, mostly, but “just another 1st round bust”? The Steelers have an exceptional record in the 1st round under Colbert, despite picking in the bottom half most of those years.

  • srdan


  • shawn

    I meant it as a bust in general … not towards the steelers per se … you are right we have done pretty well in the 1st. IMO if JJ doesnt pan out he will not necessarily be a bust but would be more like Ziggy Hood where he just didnt live up to expectations.

    While it would be unfair to fully judge him after next year … i think it is safe to say we should know by the end of the year if he has star potential or not !

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Think of the opposing quarterback as a man with a gun. What’s the best way to stop him? The answer is not to rely on a kevlar vest (cover corners) to deflect his fire. The best way is to take his gun away, or keep him from firing it (rush the passer/collapse the pocket).

    As much as we all want an improved secondary, the Steelers understand that strengthening your front line of attack is the best thing you can do for the people playing behind you. Opposing QBs had WAY too long to throw last season…which led to our guys playing off coverage…which created more of a cushion for receivers…which led to more completions…and so on.

  • Matt Manzo

    I can’t wait to watch Manziel try to throw it over Mcullers! That’s kind of pass pressure, too!

  • Ike Evans

    I think spence beats him out this year, but shazier will be our dime linebacker (think wat troy did last yr) getting a healthy amount of snaps this season

  • Ike Evans

    Hope so but it took Justin Houston (who jj replaced at uga) 2 years b4 he broke out this past season….we need jj to come into form this yr tho if we want to contend

  • dgh57

    It’s squash time if McCullers sacks Manziel!!

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Is that the KC guy? Nice to have a good front 7 and especially DL pressure. The OLBs get tons of sacks. KC D looked great until those injuries last year.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Ouch. Broken ribs feel like someone stabbed your lungs. Can’t breathe. Ouch.

  • Ike Evans

    Actually their dline isn’t any better then ours….except they have poe….which no offense to mclendon is the type if nose we are missing….doesn’t hurt to have tamba hali on the other side lol that’s for damn sure

  • charles

    You see, if Shade Tree could demand a double team, then this 3-4 might be a dynamic inside rush instead of the edge type from Harrison. The ability to collapse the center of the opposition would give LeBeau some powerful options. Speed in the LB was Jimmy Johnson’s defensive hallmark.

  • dgh57

    I may change my mind come late August but right now I have V. Williams at least starting out the year at ILB because he has a year under his belt and isn’t dealing with a rehabbed knee.

  • dgh57


  • charles

    You understand, excellent post.

  • Ike Evans

    Theyre moving timmons back to the Mack position where vince started last yr. So, theoretically vince will automatically lose starting spot to timmons. They may choose to swap it out and move vw to buck but hes the best suited mack LB we have (including timmons) i cant see it….he would have to destroy ppl in camp

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Just like when Harrison was nearly unstoppable, then Woodley looked great.

  • dgh57

    I think Timmons has always been our Mack LBer and VW was our Buck LBer last year. A Buck has to be stout against the run and as we saw at times last season VW proved(and as DTs Peko & Raji will attest to)that he was. It’s more because of teams moving more to the passing game and the Mack and the Buck positions getting to be more blurred as to what they do is the reason Shazier will eventually start over VW and thus the drafting of Shazier. Unless Shazier is a fast learner and proves otherwise in the preseason I still see VW at least starting the season until then.

  • barry buchanan

    looks like we now have personnel for 3-4 or 4-3 look! lots of options now! will be fun to watch the master designing our defense scheme!