Steelers Vs Patriots X Factor: Inside Linebackers

As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. What will make or break the Pittsburgh Steelers as they square off against the New England Patriots

X Factor: Inside Linebackers

I’m not going to be cute with this one. We’re talking steak and potatoes, not the sides. Fitzgerald Toussaint is not this week’s X Factor. Instead, it’s one of the Steelers’ biggest weaknesses – inside linebacker, following the loss of Ryan Shazier. No team exploits a weakness quite like the Patriots and plenty of that was on display versus the Baltimore Ravens.

You all know I’ve pounded the table for Vince Williams and he’s responded well. I think much of the fanbase are on that bandwagon. But Tyler Matakevich, Arthur Moats, L.J. Fort, and Sean Spence at the other spot? What’s James Farrior up to these days?

I kept it broad with “inside linebacker” because frankly, I’m not sure how the position is going to look. I think the team, and could, play a lot of dime to mitigate the problem. But when they’re on the field, Tom Brady is going to relentlessly attack. New England spreads the field horizontally in empty set as much as anyone in the league, challenging the whole group to cover sideline to sideline. Williams is a better athlete than given credit for but by no means is he a great one. Fort can scoot. The rest? It’s average – if I’m being kind.

It’s not even just about Rob Gronkowski. The running backs are almost like wide receivers. James White has caught more passes than he’s run the ball and Dion Lewis/Rex Burkhead are more than capable.

This group must respond. It doesn’t have to be elite. I’m not asking for five tackles for loss, two sacks, and a pick. But they’re going to be tested on the edge in the run game. In space on swings and screens. And vertically down the seams. Belichick is going to try to make their life hell Sunday afternoon.

And oh yeah, tackle. Fundamentals have still alluded this group, not to mention the entire defense.

I’m not hopeless. Spence has more time under his belt back in the league and Moats another time at the position. A chance to review last week’s tape, figure out what went wrong, and course correct.

But it’s not going to be easy.

Beating New England never is.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • Kenny lee

    One needed thing to beat Brady is that we pound him n his receiver

  • Jeff George

    Probably expect a lot of double TE packages from the Pats to keep those ILB’s on the field. Also, Pats have been averaging 100+ yards per game rushing this season. Would not be surprised to see them try to keep our offense off the field with Jumbo sets to run the ball and set up play action to TE’s.

  • Kenny lee

    One needed thing to beat Brady is that we pound him n his receivers, run the ball Controll they clock

  • pittfan

    Speed. We NEED speed. If Brady wants to try to beat us on the ground, that gives us a chance. I don’t mind giving up 150 on the ground if it means not giving up 400 thru the air. WHOEVER is better in coverage and VW is who I start.

  • LifeUhhFindsAWay

    X Factor for me is the DL. Have to get pressure on Brady and ruin his day. If he has time to throw even the best coverage won’t matter.

  • Shane Mitchell

    We knew we were thin at the position all the way back to the NFL draft, it should have been addressed before it became a major problem.

  • Jeff George

    I’d agree with that as well.

  • LifeUhhFindsAWay

    Agreed. They brought in Hightower which means they knew it was a need. Even the pick they used on the Long Snapper could have provided depth at ILB.

  • Shane Mitchell

    They are going to have to play much more dime with Will Gay at LB.

  • Jeff George

    Safety and ILB were our biggest depth issues in the offseason for sure. We tried to remedy some of that with the Wilcox trade but he hasn’t work out unfortunately. As far as ILB, we let it ride and here we are.

  • pittfan

    This. I like having Gay on the field to help with communication and experience.

  • StolenUpVotes

    Same. Hoping he can make a few timely plays……would be nice to see BPWG break that INT TD record this week, eh?

  • capehouse

    I really think the Steelers could play a quality defense out of the 3-3-5 Nickel. I’d worry about VW on an island in the middle of the field, but I’d rather have Hargrave on the field over VW and whoever else they’ll put on the field at MLB in their normal 2-4-5 Nickel. They’ve proved weak at stopping the run out of this because they don’t have any sideline to sideline speed at MLB. Having Hilton in the slot and Hargrave at Nose I think helps alleviate their issues against the run and pass.

  • Kenny lee

    Wilcox and Allen could hit gronc to disrupt his timing plus all their , hard press , press sure Brady, go steelers

  • www_jonahyo_net

    I agree. The backup MLBs didn’t seem to do a good job of filling holes and making tackles near the line of scrimmage after Shazier went out. Although some of the holes the Bengals and Ravens backs were running through were enormous. The DL used to be an “occupy the blockers so MLBs make plays” style but now they are more of a “make tackle en route to the QB” kind of style. This is great if the DL are getting sacks or pressures, but other than #97, nobody else seems to be nor are they stuffing the run of late. Maybe Alex can prove me wrong on the film. Either way, to the men on the DL, stuff the run and relentlessly pressure Brady all damn game!

  • DoctorNoah

    #DirtyRedHOF comes up big. You heard it here first

  • Matt Manzo

    I wanna know why none is talking about the play Fort made on Maclin on the Ravens last drive.
    He was in a good spot and was able to separate the Wr from the ball!
    I think he needs to be on the field before Spence and Moats.
    I also wanna know why we didn’t take the penalty on that play? Illegal motion. Wouldn’t it have pushed the Ravens farther away from a field goal?

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I think the loss of Shazier made the keys a whole lot easier for Brady. Can a group BE an X-factor if they are a weakness?

    I’m picking the D-line – from the standpoint of a group who may be the difference-makers- adding in Watt as part of the rush and hoping they can get there.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I’m concerned for the mental well-being of the DiryRed fan base during this game. His speed issues were loud against Cinci.. NE can only be worse with their little nats buzzing around.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    No Blount on the Pats this year, only small guys

  • pittfan

    And their Oline is patchwork

  • pittfan

    AND with a BPWG pick 6 Special

  • DoctorNoah

    I hear you. Dirty Red good at limiting damage, not preventing it

  • Mark

    Fort must get the bulk of the snaps we need his speed to get to the B and C gaps from ILB. Watt and Dupree must keep their shoulders square to the LOS and not create huge running gaps by rushing up the field.

  • Russell Stauver

    Food for thought. I think Brady’s Achilles is shaky and that is why his throws were off last week.

  • pittfan

    the pressure was on him but he did miss some open recievers even when there was no pressure.

  • Steve

    Keep Brady off the field with long drives running the ball.

  • Conserv_58

    No doubt. I think Brady’s being forty years old is rearing it’s head. He didn’t look sharp, he was especially quick to go down when he was getting pressure and he was throwing balls into the turf that he usually didn’t do before.

  • Conserv_58

    Rookie, T.J. does a much better job of maintaining gap integrity along with using his hands than Dupree does. If Bud doesn’t run himself out of the play he allows the RT to get his hands on him and easily push him up the arc.

  • Chad Weiss

    It’s a matchup nightmare

  • Chad Weiss

    Every time we play them their o line is patchwork

  • Chad Weiss

    They could barely get to the ball and when they did it wasnt pretty

  • Chad Weiss

    You can’t just pick a player cause of need if he don’t warrant the pick.

  • Chad Weiss

    Who could they have drafted with that sixth round pick that would have put us at a better position at I’ll then we are now?

  • Chad Weiss

    Yeah eight yards down the field

  • Chad Weiss

    I think fort is the best option personally.

  • LifeUhhFindsAWay

    I have no idea. But AB was a sixth and no one had any idea how good he would be. Sometimes you pick for depth and strike gold.

  • Kenny lee

    This is out the box but if Dupree can catch he would be better at tight end

  • Kenny lee

    You got that right

  • Chad Weiss

    You don’t just go pick a player due to his position. If he dont warrant the pick u don’t take him just for the sake of taking an ilb.Steelers didn’t take about just for the sake of taking wr

  • LifeUhhFindsAWay

    Did I say that? But it is a fact that they address positions of need in the draft. The best player available at the highest position of need often dictates the pick. Obviously they drafted Holba to be the next Greg Warren and he didn’t even make the team. How many teams even draft a Long Snapper? I think it makes sense to criticize the pick a bit.

  • www_jonahyo_net

    That’s right. The MLB’s weren’t plugging the inside holes and they weren’t getting to the outside runs. Very bad combination. Hopefully they’re up to speed today.