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Oviedo
09-09-2009, 11:21 AM
This explains a point of view why Hampton will not stay. Obvious question is without a true NT on the Final 53 or the PS, does the 3-4 stay? Get a NT in draft? Get FA in free agency?


Why the Steelers won't keep Big Snack


By Frank Tursic
SteelCityInsider.com
Posted Sep 9, 2009


The recent signing of Brett Keisel almost assures Casey Hampton will test the free agent market next year.

For now, Pittsburgh is done re-signing its veteran players, so both Big Snack and Ryan Clark are left on the outside looking in, wondering if they’ll be part of the team’s plans next year. Hampton and Clark form a dynamic pair of defenders that has historically made trying to run up-the-gut on the Steelers defense a losing proposition.
Pittsburgh finished 2nd in the league in rush defense in 2008 and all the starters return except for Bryant McFadden and Larry Foote. In Foote’s place, Lawrence Timmons assumes the role at mack inside linebacker. While Timmons is an explosive athlete, there have been some warranted concerns about his ability to stop the run and how that will impact the upcoming season.

However, warning signs with the run defense started to manifest last year, and the trend has continued through preseason.

If we examine the numbers, Pittsburgh only allowed an average of 80.3 rushing yards per game, second to Minnesota’s 76.9. But, down the stretch the defense allowed an average of 110 rushing yards over the last 5 games. That number would equate to the 16th ranked rush defense over the course of a full season.

Pittsburgh was gashed up the middle on numerous plays, and this is confirmed by the following table:

LAST 5 GAMES LEFT END LEFT TACKLE MIDDLE RIGHT GUARD RIGHT TACKLE
Carries/Yards 22/102 14/50 61/285 18/45 16/61
Average 4.6 3.6 4.7 2.5 3.8
Note: Data taken from the perspective of the offense, so a run around left end (LE) would be against the RDE.

In those games, some uncharacteristic long runs were surrendered by the No. 1-ranked defense in runs allowed of +10 yards. Pittsburgh allowed inside runs of 41 yards to New England and 22 yards to Dallas. Interestingly, these both occurred in situations when the Steelers were in their nickel package, helping explain why Hampton is being used in that personnel set during preseason.

So far in preseason, opposing offenses have amassed 287 rushing yards for 4.1 yards per carry. More importantly, teams have been able to run the ball against the first-team defense. While it’s true that run defense takes more time to gel because players need to understand their assignments and maintain gap integrity, the defensive line has, at times, been handled up front.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the middle of the line. Hampton is no longer a player that ‘must’ command double-teams. Bills center Geoff Hangartner was largely able to single block him off the line of scrimmage, only getting chips from the guard periodically. He was also pushed off the line regularly against Washington and was substituted by Chris Hoke early on, once again bringing his conditioning into question.

Hampton’s production has also steadily declined over the last several years:

By almost every statistical measure his overall production (plays) and disruptive ability (stops, defeats, average yards, run stop %) have decreased. Compared to his peers at nose tackle, Casey comes in last for total plays, stops, defeats, average yards, and QB pressure. Some of this is due to the schemes in which they’re asked to play, but players like Vince Wilfork and Jamal Williams are true 2-gap defenders and their main responsibility being to clog up the middle allowing others to make the tackles. However, in both cases, Williams and Wilfork were involved in significantly more plays allowing less average yards.

It’s possible the Steelers have come to the same kind of assessment, because the lack of conditioning in combination with his declining skills may make him a commodity not worth keeping. The organization has a long history of knowing when to cut ties with aging players, and it seems that he may be next in line.

It’s not that Casey doesn’t have value, because he certainly does. He remains a quality player who can turn it on in spurts. The question, though, is a guy with declining skills who is purely a 2-down player -- and against teams like New England or Arizona sees no more than 25-30% of the total snaps -- worth the kind of money for which he may ask. Casey, meanwhile, prefers to remain quiet on the subject, and was quoted recently as saying, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

While the loss of Hampton would certainly have an impact, the team has a capable backup in Chris Hoke, providing them the opportunity to draft and groom his long-term replacement next year.

Free safety, on the other hand, is going to be a different matter, with no one of significant ability able to replace Ryan Clark. Peter King also recently tagged him as the top free agent prospect for 2010. This will not be forgotten by one Daniel Snyder either, since he was recently quoted on local Washington sports radio saying that “Ryan Clark will always remain a Redskin.” I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what that means.

Clark is the quiet assassin on defense, delivering bone-jarring hits to anyone willing to come into his area of responsibility. That often means finding him in single-high coverage playing deep center field. This is confirmed by Football Outsiders ‘distance’ metric of 15.2 yards in the air for passes targeted at him while in coverage. This ranks 9th overall in the league behind players such as Ed Reed (8th at 16.1 yards) and LaRon Landry (7th at 16.4 yards). Both players are true center fielders and are asked to play that way schematically. Playing center field, Clark still found himself ranking 7th overall (out of 78 safeties) in total number of plays on defense. Finding his replacement will be much more difficult, and will most likely require signing or drafting a free safety prospect high in the draft.

Either way you look at it, not signing Casey Hampton or Ryan Clark leaves a lot of what-ifs for the middle of the defense. Nose tackle, free safety and outside linebacker remain the most important positions in LeBeau’s scheme, so it’s imperative to keep at least one of them on the team. Based on what I’ve seen, and taking into account the current roster along with the going salary rates, I would look to keep Clark. That may become problematic because I believe Washington will make a real effort to sign him during free agency. In the meantime, look for how the middle of the defense is holding up in the run game. That will be the determining factor of who remains and who goes.

MeetJoeGreene
09-09-2009, 12:15 PM
I was worried about Casey when we signed to his LAST extension. He has outlasted my expectations... I hope he can make 1 more good year. I just remember what a drop off Joel Steed had.

I do hope we re-sign Clark.

Oviedo
09-09-2009, 12:18 PM
Just let me say it first. We have a 4-3 DL on the roster now

DE-Woodley
DT-Smith
DT-Hood
DE-Kiesel

Just saying. Let the attacks begin.

stlrz d
09-09-2009, 12:22 PM
Woodley has been quite good as a 3-4 OLB...why do we want to make him put his hand on the ground???

papillon
09-09-2009, 12:31 PM
Just let me say it first. We have a 4-3 DL on the roster now

DE-Woodley
DT-Smith
DT-Hood
DE-Kiesel

Just saying. Let the attacks begin.

Do we have 4-3 linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties?

We'll also know if we a have a stout run defense or an average run defense after Thursday evening.

Pappy

RuthlessBurgher
09-09-2009, 12:42 PM
Just let me say it first. We have a 4-3 DL on the roster now

DE-Woodley
DT-Smith
DT-Hood
DE-Kiesel

Just saying. Let the attacks begin.

Do we have 4-3 linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties?

We'll also know if we a have a stout run defense or an average run defense after Thursday evening.

Pappy

People have been comparison Timmons to Derrick Brooks since he came into the league, so I suppose he would be able to handle a Brooks-like OLB role in a 4-3. A sideline-to-sideline run and tackle guy with coverage skills.

Harrison's stature is more similar to your average 4-3 OLB than your average 3-4 OLB. However, it would be kind of a waste that he wouldn't be rushing the passer as much as 4-3 OLB compared to a 3-4 OLB, where he seems to be virtually unblockable (without holding) over the past couple of seasons.

Farrior was not as good as a 4-3 OLB with the Jets before coming here to be a 3-4 ILB. However, he may be a better MLB in the 4-3 than he was a OLB in the 4-3. Who knows. It would be odd to ask him to make such a switch this late in his career.

I think such a switch could be done with the personnel that we have here now, but would I want it to be done? Not particularly. I think we would go from a historically elite championship caliber 3-4 defense to a merely above-average 4-3 that would take time to adjust. I'd rather stick with the 3-4 and draft a NT of the future this year, letting Hoke handle the NT gig for a year until the kid is ready.

flippy
09-09-2009, 01:08 PM
We can always franchise Hampton.

I suspect we didn't give him a contract because of weight issues.

Chris Hoke has done fine in Hampton's absence. And Hampton seemed to struggle last year and we still were ok. You can always run a 3-4 with the NT playing a different gap.

Dick Lebeau and Tomlin will figure it out.

I think we can go to a 4 man front situationally, but Woodley and Harrison are too good to move away from the 3-4.

papillon
09-09-2009, 04:08 PM
Just let me say it first. We have a 4-3 DL on the roster now

DE-Woodley
DT-Smith
DT-Hood
DE-Kiesel

Just saying. Let the attacks begin.

Do we have 4-3 linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties?

We'll also know if we a have a stout run defense or an average run defense after Thursday evening.

Pappy

People have been comparison Timmons to Derrick Brooks since he came into the league, so I suppose he would be able to handle a Brooks-like OLB role in a 4-3. A sideline-to-sideline run and tackle guy with coverage skills.

Harrison's stature is more similar to your average 4-3 OLB than your average 3-4 OLB. However, it would be kind of a waste that he wouldn't be rushing the passer as much as 4-3 OLB compared to a 3-4 OLB, where he seems to be virtually unblockable (without holding) over the past couple of seasons.

Farrior was not as good as a 4-3 OLB with the Jets before coming here to be a 3-4 ILB. However, he may be a better MLB in the 4-3 than he was a OLB in the 4-3. Who knows. It would be odd to ask him to make such a switch this late in his career.

I think such a switch could be done with the personnel that we have here now, but would I want it to be done? Not particularly. I think we would go from a historically elite championship caliber 3-4 defense to a merely above-average 4-3 that would take time to adjust. I'd rather stick with the 3-4 and draft a NT of the future this year, letting Hoke handle the NT gig for a year until the kid is ready.

Exactly, so, we'd be making our defense weaker and reducing the effectiveness (potentially) of two of the best OLBs in the game right now. I'm not sure that Ike is a zone cover kind of guy, I think he likes man-on-man style much better than a cover two of the 4-3.

There are quite a few very large men in the draft this upcoming year and I suspect that they all won't be gone by 1.32 :D

So, the Steelers should be able to draft Casey's replacement in the upcoming draft. They may have to go with Hoke for year, but based on the article above it may not be a bad thing.

Pappy

TallyStiller
09-09-2009, 07:34 PM
IIRC, we were missing Casey for most of the 2004 season, one in which we went 15 - 1 while rolling the two eventual Super Bowl participants on back to back weekends. Hoke strted 11 in the regular season, and we won every single one. James Farrior was the league defensive player of the year that year, and said he actually preferred playing behind Hokie because he was able to see and get to more plays. Not suggesting that Farrior can be anything close to what he was then now, but maybe Timmons could.

I don't feel like losing Casey would result in any kind of a let down at all... and he's made it abundantly clear that he expects to get PAID. The Steeler FO learned from the Jason Gildon debacle. Like Joey Porter before him, Casey is going to play elsewhere next year, and like Peezy, he'll probably produce, because he'll be motivated by the snub. But he'd certainly be a fat, lazy cap disaster if we paid him here.

fezziwig
09-09-2009, 07:49 PM
Maybe Lebeau retires and change is coming ? Just tossing that out there, didn't hear anything or want to start rumors.

I don't see us changing from 3-4 to 4-3 and especially how Lebeau and our team practically wrote the book on it and dominated for all these years.

Maybe the Steelers feel by next year, Hampton will be less the player and if they don't sign him, no big deal. Possibly they see someone on the near horizon and maybe on the far horizon and they'll wait it out with Hoke ?

I remember when Steed hit his wall, he was physically shot by then. That guy along with Hampton take the abuse and one day, their contributions are just no longer good enough.

The article merits some truth IMHO, the defense already this year was getting run over. I know they weren't going in with a scheme but, they still couldn't stop it .

Shoe
09-09-2009, 07:52 PM
Woodley has been quite good as a 3-4 OLB...why do we want to make him put his hand on the ground???

IMO, he can play 34 OLB right now because he is at his optimal age physically... as he matures, he will slowly, inperceptibly, lose flexibility, agility, stamina, etc. to the point where he "matures" into his ideal position... I think that's DE in a 43.

The writing was on the wall when they took Timmons/Woodley. Timmons, ideally, is a 43 LB in the mold of Derrick Brooks (who Tomlin saw everyday in TB). Ziggy Hood is an ideal 43 Tackle.

The secondary will continue to play zone coverages a lot, and I don't think that gets affected too much in Tomlin's ideal of the defense ("tampa 2")

NorthCoast
09-09-2009, 08:06 PM
This analysis is only skin deep and doesn't give the whole picture. First, he doesn't really say whether the last 5 games includes the playoffs or regular season.

Looking at the first 11 regular season games our defense played against an average #18 ranked pass offense and #18 ranked rush offense.

The last 5 regular season games our defense played against an average #21 ranked pass offense and #13 ranked rush offense. So this could easily explain the drop in rush defense ranking.

Also, why would we want to switch to 4-3 when the league-wide trend is to the 3-4? We have always seeked to find players that fit the Steelers system (except for BA's offense) so it would be a surprise to see a defensive philosophy switch to match our personnel.

NorthCoast
09-09-2009, 08:12 PM
Oh, I wanted to add another thing. The last five weeks of 2008 coincide with Timmons seeing more play at ILB.....hmmmmm??

phillyesq
09-10-2009, 05:36 PM
Just let me say it first. We have a 4-3 DL on the roster now

DE-Woodley
DT-Smith
DT-Hood
DE-Kiesel

Just saying. Let the attacks begin.

The biggest problem with switching to a 4-3 is that you need at least 8 DL, especially when you would be counting on so many players in their 30s. The Steelers simply don't have that, and acquiring another 3-4 DL will take a lot of time and money.

frankthetank1
09-10-2009, 05:49 PM
Woodley has been quite good as a 3-4 OLB...why do we want to make him put his hand on the ground???

IMO, he can play 34 OLB right now because he is at his optimal age physically... as he matures, he will slowly, inperceptibly, lose flexibility, agility, stamina, etc. to the point where he "matures" into his ideal position... I think that's DE in a 43.

The writing was on the wall when they took Timmons/Woodley. Timmons, ideally, is a 43 LB in the mold of Derrick Brooks (who Tomlin saw everyday in TB). Ziggy Hood is an ideal 43 Tackle.

The secondary will continue to play zone coverages a lot, and I don't think that gets affected too much in Tomlin's ideal of the defense ("tampa 2")

all of that makes sense that the transition to the 4-3 is coming. plus when dick lebeau retires i would be shocked if they dont play the 4-3. i hope not the tampa 2 though. i know thats what the bucs played but i dont enjoy watching it half as much as a 3-4 zone blitzing defense. woodley was lights out at michigan at de and imagine if he rushed the qb all the time which is what his strength is. he is very good in coverage too so i dont know if you want to lose that

decleater
09-10-2009, 06:51 PM
No one player is bigger than the team so, come what may, we'll adapt and move on...