Table Is Set For A Steelers Defensive Resurgence In 2015

Entering the long offseason following the team’s disappointing 30-17 loss to the hands of their bitter rivals out of Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ main objective was to tie up the severely loose ends of a defense the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the Steel City in a very long time. The team’s sagging play in the secondary could be seen coming for several years now, but the team’s traditional calling card, it’s pass rush, was abysmal, registering only 33 sacks. Needless to say, improvement in this area was directly in the team’s bull’s-eye this offseason.

However, later in the season last year, the team’s performance in this area went up, coincidentally as the playing time of James Harrison increased, along with the steady play of the recent recipient of a fresh 6-year/$59.25 million deal, defensive end Cameron Heyward. Heyward, like many other players in the Steelers’ complex defense, got off to a slow start to his career after being the team’s first round pick in 2011. However, he’s flourished as of late, tying Jason Worilds for the team lead in sacks last season with 7.5. He was rated as the sixth-best defensive end in a 3-4 last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and with new coordinator Keith Butler running the show, he should be looked upon as a building block for the unit.

“I hope last year wasn’t a breakout season because I think I can achieve way more,” Heyward said, according to SI.com. “I still have a mentality where I think of myself as a bust. I want to get better, and I want to shut people up.”

Getting double-digit sacks and/or Pro Bowl recognition appear to be two attainable goals Heyward has, and although football is a team sport, if one or both come to fruition, it’ll only smooth the growing pains of a very young defense going through transition.

Butler has some serious toys to play with in addition to Heyward, including the last two first round picks of the team, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, both of whom possess extreme athleticism and explosiveness. Many of the concepts of the defense look to remain the same, but as Heyward stated, Butler will look to get the most out of everyone’s talents on defense.

“I think he wants to generate more turnovers and get more one-on-ones up front where we’re maximizing everyone’s talents and making sure everyone has a chance to get after the quarterback or get a turnover,” Heyward said, according to SI.com.

With their new defensive boss comes some changes as well from longtime stalwart defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who had a calmer, more quiet approach than the in-your-face, boisterous approach of Butler. He’s tried to light a fire under the team as far as creating an urgency goes, as the defense has a ways to go in order to be on par with arguably the league’s best offense. After all, not every team has a franchise quarterback.

“You understand that there’s a sense of urgency because you know Ben’s only got a certain amount of years left, so we’ve got to maximize those years now,” Heyward said, according to SI.com. “Last year we really started to jell and generate more turnovers, but we didn’t get the job done.”

Only a few short days separate us between now and the start of training camp as we anxiously await Butler to pull the cover off what we all hope will be a shiny sports car of a defense.

  • afrazier9

    I think the defense will be a lot better still thinking we will have growing pains being as though we have a new coordinator and a newly over hauled personnel on defense. I think we are all on the edge of our seat waiting to see what we can produce GO STEELERS

  • Tom McConnell

    I like what I’m seeing so far. Of course, these are just names. Team attitude at end of camp will show more. Most important, the team being healthy.

  • barry

    Can’t wait to see what this defense can evolve into. Lebeau was amazing for years. Ready to see what butler can bring

  • VIPSteel

    I think we’re still a year or so off from a resurgence. There should be an improvement, but not a full on resurgence.

  • Orlysteel

    The shiny sports car is going to be turbo charged, I see youth and speed like 2001 when they turned the corner defensively after a few lackluster years, Butler is going to be innovative and fiery something this defense sorely needs.

  • Orlysteel

    Yeah, we need to see how this year’s pick work out.

  • Orlysteel

    This year’s and last year, I should say.

  • Big White

    It’ll be a lot easier to play defense, when you are up 24-7. Ask the 2000 St. Louis Rams. Minus London Fletcher one would be hard pressed to name another.

  • Stay healthy my friends. Health is key. If they can stay on the field everything else will fall into place. I think we’ll get a playoff victory this year. Super Bowl the next year ; ) // Go Steelers

  • thomas hmmmm

    I keep thinking about the “more one on one” and more one gapping statements. The only time they be one gapping is in the nickle or dime package. I dont think it will work with Heyward, McLendon, Tuitt and the 3-4 base. Not because they lack the skills but more because we lack the size and strength needed for our LB’s.. We know Harrison can holdthe point or push through a Tackle.. Moats seems to also be able to but as most of you have pointed out I don’t know if JJ can do it. I have been up on JJ at least pass rushing wise but I dont know if he can set the edge on run plays. Dupree has size, I don’t think he quite has NFL strength yet. It will definitely be an interesting and very telling year.

  • thomas hmmmm

    I agree with you Steel. I think we make nice strides this year in all facets of the D. With as good as our offense is, that could be enough to get us to the SB. This year we learn if McCullers can take McLendon’s spot. We learn if JJ, Shazier and Tuitt are all legit. We learn if Allen is a dud or not. We learn if Shamarko is Bob Sanders (hopefully with out the injuries) or if we need a new SS. All in all I like how our D looks on paper. I like the speed. I like the hitting power of Mitchell, Blake and Shamarko.. They could really instill fear in opposing WR’s. I like our Dline with a base group of Heyward, McCullers, Tuitt.. With McLendon being a swing man and sub package guy. I like Moats also, I think he is solid, run D wise a step up from Worilds.

  • Tim Timmons

    Looking forward to the Steeler visit to the “Hawks Nest” this year. Better strap it on tight! The 12’s have not forgotten.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I’m interested to see Butler’s defensive concepts. The formations will still be familiar (as they tend to be in a 3-4), but what will, I think, separate LeBeau from Butler is the flexibility of concepts. LeBeau seemed to believe very much in his defensive concept, but it required certain types of players to make it succeed. He would adjust formations and packages, but when his system sprung leaks, it was because he didn’t have the players he needed. But his concept remained the same.

    I see Butler as being the type of coordinator to put the pieces he has (not those he might want) in the best position to succeed. If a linebacker (for instance) can’t cover a tight end, he won’t ask them to.

  • LucasY59

    Yep I think the biggest change will be fluidity of roles with Butler, instead of the rigid approach LeBeau used (It worked Great if he had the right parts, but other times it was definitely square peg in a round hole) Butler (I think) will allow the big fast athletic DEs to win matchups and make plays instead of being a big body to take up space, It should help with creating pressure since the OLBs have not been getting the job done in that dept. recently.

  • Fr33th1nk3r

    The best part about this? The Patriots will have NO GAME TAPE AT ALL to go off of in preparation for week 1. They can only guess, much like any of us, what they will see across the line from Tom “The Cheat” Brady (lets be honest– he’s probably going to get his supension lifted) when they come out that Thursday night.

  • Fr33th1nk3r

    JJ has actually looked descent in run support– his pass rushing abilities are what I question.