View Full Version : So Now that the Season is Officially Over (Part 2)....

02-06-2012, 01:45 PM
This is where I would expect big changes from the Steelers heading into 2012. The defense was it's usual stingy self except in the big moments of 2011. As much as we don't want to admit it, this unit is becoming exactly what Warren Sapp said it was....Old and Slow....and that was evident by their lack of splash plays through out the course of the season. Their was a lack of consistent pressure on the opposing QB and their was without a doubt a lack of turnovers. Not sure what to make of the lack of turnovers...I guess it happens sometimes but to go a whole season without causing one big turnover was a little crazy. Let's take a look at the defense by position heading into the off-season.

DL: This is a unit that could and should see big changes going into next year. The only veteran holdover likely to be with the team come September is Brett Keisel and he himself needs to stay healthy for an entire season. The team has invested two high draft picks on D-Lineman in the last 3 years and they will need those two players to step up accordingly. Ziggy Hood from what I saw this year was a disappointment. He did not do a good job holding the point of attack in the run game and he did not do a good job in generating pressure from the left side either. He needs to get stronger in the upper body and learn to shed blocks more effectively. I could see him being passed by on the depth chart by Cameron Heyward. Heyward did not get a chance to show much in the base defense this year, as was expected, but at the same time when he did get on the field he seemed to play better than Hood. He seems like the kind of guy that can actually cause some havoc from the DE position much like Ray Seals or a young Aaron Smith. I expect big things from this guy starting next season. Keisel will probably be his bearded self next year and as long as he continues to do what he has the last 6 seasons, we should be fine at DE. I'm also interested in seeing what Corbin Bryant can do going into training camp....I really liked the guy last August.

Nose Tackle on the other hand is a big area of concern. Casey "Big Snack" Hampton is obviously coming to the end of a great career and coupled with the fact that he is coming off a 3rd serious knee injury I wouldn't expect him to be back in the B&G. Chris Hoke retiring doesn't help matters either as that leaves only Steve McClendon as the lone experienced player at the position that anchors the entire defense. I've heard rumblings of Hood moving inside but if he can't hold the POA at DE, then how the heck are we going to expect him to do that at NT. This unit will be moving on without Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke....those are big shoes to fill in my opinion. This could be scary going into September....if for no other reason than the unknown.

2012 DL: LE - Cam Heyward, NT - Rookie, RE - Keisel
Backups: Ziggy Hood (DE), Steve McClendon (NT), Corbin Bryant (DE)

LB: This is an area of strength for the most part for the Steeler defense but you wouldn't know it judging from 2011 alone. The unit was struck with injuries all over the place and a couple of aging veterans in the middle that couldn't hold the line anymore. The fact that the team played most of the season without the combination of James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley on the field at the same time was a big factor in them struggling to consistently put pressure on opposing QB's. Lawrence Timmons had a disappointing season stat wise but let's be completely honest. He was basically filling holes in a leaky ship all season by moving to no less than 3 different positions through out the year....I would hope that 2011 put to rest the myth that LT would be better on the outside because that is just not true. On the outside going into next year the team seems to be pretty much set with high caliber players and solid depth. Harrison and Woodley (if healthy), are one of the best pass-rushing duo's in the league. Their absence this year was a big factor in the lack of what we would know as a true Steeler defense. Jason Worilds and Chris Carter showed enough flashes that they could and should be contributors to the organization for a few more seasons. I'm pretty happy with that going into next season.

On the inside however there could and should be changes a coming. Lawrence Timmons is without a doubt penciled in, and should be, at one of those positions but his running mates are probably on the chopping block. James Farrior is obviously at the end of his rope. He struggled all season trying to go sideline to sideline and he is just terrrible in pass coverage at this point in his career. Larry Foote, all though serviceable, should not be a starter in the NFL at this point in his career. Stevenson Sylvester and Mortty Ivy are two young players with potential but they should by no means be handed even a roster spot going into 2012. Training Camp will be huge for both those players to show that they belong. The Steelers need to find a competent MLB in either free agency or the draft, that can step in next to Timmons and not cause too many issues. A couple of free agents that I would like to see possibly in the Burgh are D'Qwell Jackson and David Hawthorne. Hawthorne kind of reminds me of a young James Farrior. I think he would be a good fit in the Steelers 3-4 scheme. We will see where the team wants to go....but changes need to be made.

2012 LB's: James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Free Agent/Rookie, Lamarr Woodley
Backups: Jason Worilds, Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester......

DB's: A unit that was viewed as a weakness going into the 2011 off-season can now be viewed as a strength going forward. Yes, the season did end on a sour note for the unit as Ike Taylor played possibly his worst game ever in the B&G, but overall 2011 was a successful season for the secondary as a whole. Until Denver, Taylor was basically lights out for the team. He consistently took each opponents top WR out of the game plan and relegated teams to work just one side of the field on a consistent basis. His play for much of the year was the best we have seen in Pittsburgh since the days of Rod Woodson. His running mate on the other side was William Gay, who showed much improved awareness and understanding of his responsibilities in the defense and actually made a few of those splash plays that were so very lacking. His interception in Cincinnati was one of the bigger plays of the year. Unfortunately for us Steeler fans....Willie will probably be playing elsewhere next year as he has probably played his way into a bigger contract than the Steelers can afford. The bright spot of that is the Steelers have 3 players who seem more than capable of making that next jump to starter. Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown, and Cortez Allen all contributed in different ways this year to the #1 defense in the league. Keenan Lewis seems the likely candidate to lead that bunch into the future and will probably have the lead role going into TC, and rightly so. He definitely turned a corner last year in his progression as a professional. He seemed to get better as the season went on, which lends to a bright future. The guy who I think has the biggest upside is Curtis Brown. The guy is a hard worker and a sure tackler, as shown in special teams this season, and he could turn into a top rate corner sooner as opposed to later. The wild card is Allen. He has the biggest upside athletically but also the lowest floor because of his experience. It was nice to see him on the field for a good portion of the season in the dime package and that could lend to more time ahead. Overall, the CB's are set up nicely moving into the future with a trusted leader and a few young prospects with loads of talent.

The safety position will probably remain pretty much status quo going into 2012. Ryan Clark had his best season as a professional and was sorely missed in the Denver game. He is a big hitter and in this day and age, even though his kind is a dying breed, he still strikes fear into opposing pass catchers. Troy Polamalu was again his all-pro, all-world self....he is a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators and quaterbacks and even though he was lacking the amount of interceptions this year that he normally has, he was still a beast that teams have trouble with. Ryan Mundy had a solid season as the 3rd safety. His season just like Ike Taylor's didn't end on a very good note but overall the guy is a solid player who is someone that can be trusted if either of the safety's go down. I'm sure the team will look at safeties in the mid to late part of the draft, and hope to find a gem but I wouldn't call the position an area of need....I would say the secondary is looking good going into the future.....at least the next couple of years.

2012 DB's: Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu
Backups: Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen, Ryan Mundy, Damon Cromartie-Smith.....

2012 looks like it is going to be a different year for the usually consistent Steel Town Boys. The Steelers are going to have to find some young solid players that can contribute early on if they want to continue the trend of top 5 finishes in total defense. They need to find a way to make more splash plays and generate more pressure on the QB, whether it be scheme or talent. Nose Take and Inside Linebacker are two immediate areas of need, and should be ranked right up there in draft day targets. Overall there is still enough talent to compete and I wouldn't expect a major drop off but there are holes that desperately need filled!!!