Steelers vs Bills – What I’m Watching For On Defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to take on the Buffalo Bills, with whom they’ve gotten intimately familiar over two days of practice, later today in their second preseason game. Before we get there, here are some of the things that I will be focusing on in game two in response what we’ve previously seen on the offensive side of the ball.

Even though there was a missed hold involved in the play, the Steelers’ first-team defense still allowed a big explosive play against them, this time a 73-yard touchdown run. They gave up 17 plays of 40 or more yards last year.

Cameron Heyward was blown out of his gap, both safeties took poor angles on the third level, nobody had the catchup speed on the back end, and the defense as a whole failed to adjust to Eli Manning’s audible when he caught Sean Spence rushing from the left edge. There was a lot of blame to go around, but these big gashes need to be nipped in the bud.

Ryan Shazier was able to participate some in the Steelers’ last scrimmage and seems as though he’s set to make his debut after missing the preseason opener. How much will he be able to play—and how will he play? Will he be up to speed mentally?

With Steve McLendon back from his concussion, I obviously want to see how the now heavier nose tackle performs, particularly as it pertains to holding the point of attack and drawing double teams. But there are other questions I’m seeking answers to tied to his return.

For starters, Cam Thomas will presumably move back to left defensive end. But I suspect that Stephon Tuitt will take his place in the nickel defense. He has been doing that for a while now already.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Tuitt plays more than Thomas just because of how much the Steelers use the nickel. But more importantly, I want to see if the Steelers give Tuitt any snaps in the base defense with the first-team line.

Likewise, I want to see if the Steelers give Thomas any reps at nose tackle this week, or with the second-team defensive line in sub-packages. But more crucially, I will be looking to see if rookie Daniel McCullers has yet made the leap over Hebron Fangupo as the second-team nose tackle after taking a couple reps with the first-team defense.

Assuming that Troy Polamalu is playing, and assuming the Steelers use their dime package at all, I would be curious to see who is the sixth defensive back in. Frankly, it could realistically be any number of players from Will Allen and Shamarko Thomas to Antwon Blake and Brice McCain.

Last week, second-year defensive end Nick Williams played as the third-team left end behind Tuitt and rookie Ethan Hemer, but most believe that Williams outperformed him. With Thomas moving back to left end, both have been knocked down a rung, but assuming a third line even plays at all, who gets the snaps? The one who doesn’t will likely be cut soon.

If Jarvis Jones doesn’t participate, how will the division of labor be split up at the first-team right outside linebacker position? Chris Carter has for the most part been the second-teamer at that spot, but Arthur Moats is believed to be the third man on the depth chart.

There’s also the prospect of some possible playing time with the first-team defense for undrafted rookie Howard Jones, who had himself a nice day a week ago, even if he is raw.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • charles

    Just dreamin of seeing 3 rookies on the field against the Brownies: Jones, Tuitt, and the nose tackle.

  • Dom

    Can I ask why you would want to see that happen?

  • charles

    Because rookie production is a subtle ingredient to Super Bowl victories…

  • steelmvl

    What about Shazier?

  • steeltown

    Completely agree about Tuitt, we’ll see him in the 1st Team nickel next to Heyward, but will he see any 1st Team base. Will be interesting to see if McCullers gets the nod over Fangupo, I don’t see why not at this point. Lastly, I hope Richardson shows us something, special teams and/or defensively

  • Dom

    Surely though we would rather the seasoned pro’s preform allowing the youngsters to develop in the traditional way rather than needing to learn on the field like V.Williams last year resulting in mistakes.

  • cencalsteeler

    I’m interested to see how the secondary performs, which imo, is the weak link to the D. Can Allen hang with Watkins? Can Ike hold down his side of the fort? And lastly, can these guys all contribute to coming up and contribute on run support?

  • joed32

    I don’t know if anyone can hang with Watkins, he looks to be as good as advertised.

  • charles

    NewOrleans really appreciated how we developed Lewis. Seriously though, rookie production is how you stay at championship level in the free agent market.

  • charles

    Haven’t seen him in action, and Spence is a rookie as well.