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Thread: 3 Biggest Reasons Why Steelers Pass Defense Will Improve In 2012 And Beyond

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    3 Biggest Reasons Why Steelers Pass Defense Will Improve In 2012 And Beyond

    Three Biggest Reasons Why The Steelers Pass Defense Will Improve In 2012 And Beyond

    Jun 16th, 2012 by DomSteelers



    Probably the two biggest areas Pittsburgh’s Defense struggled with the most over the last decade have been: Defending in the short and intermediate passing game when spread out against a well-rounded Receiving Corps, and defending against Backs and Ends through the air as well. New England and Tom Brady picked them apart in essentially every matchup, Rich Gannon destroyed them back on in 2002 and almost set all sorts of N.F.L. passing records, Drew Brees had his way with the Defense in 2010, Dick LeBeau’s schemes and numerous mental mistakes cost the Steelers against Tim Tebow of all people, and Aaron Rodgers would have had an even more incredible day in Super Bowl XLV had his Receivers held on to some extremely catchable balls.

    Thankfully, it has seemed like Dick LeBeau, the rest of the Defensive Staff, and the Front Office have decided to do something about the Steelers’ Defensive struggles during the last couple of seasons. With the Steelers’ evident Defensive weaknesses on tape, and the League moving more towards a pass-first game,

    improvements have been made to the roster, and it appears that the wheels have been set in motion to bolster and fix Pittsburgh’s Pass Defense for years to come. Thus, today I would like to list what I believe are the Top Three Reasons that the Steelers will be an improved Defense against the pass and explain why I feel this way.

    3. Outside Linebackers Should (Hopefully) Be Healthy

    This is a big one because at some point last season Pittsburgh’s Top Three pass rushers in the forms of LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, and Jason Worilds were all injured, not at full-strength, or in Deebo’s case suspended for one game. At 100 percent, this rotation of Outside Linebackers forms one of the most formidable trios in the League, but when Lawrence Timmons is forced to play out of position and pick up the slack because one or more of these guys is on the bench, the team, and most of all the pass-rush suffers.

    The Steelers logged only 35.0 Sacks last season, 13.0 less than in 2010 (48.0) when they went to the Super Bowl. Harrison and Woodley both notched 9.0 Sacks apiece but Deebo only played in 11 games all regular season, and Woodley only played in 10 himself. Worilds stepped in and showed some nice ability when called upon and registered 3.0 Sacks, but he was limited to only 12 games and was hindered by the fact there were no OTA’s and offseason workouts as he continued his transition from Defensive End to Outside Linebacker before his second season.

    But with all three hopefully healthy, only good things can come of it. Because with all three at full strength, all three can bring pressure and help collapse the pocket. The more heat brought on the opposition’s Quarterback, the more liable they are to either fold like a lawn chair or make bad decisions. The more this happens the more pressure is taken off of the Secondary to make plays and stay on their men, and frees them up to make plays and play the ball. When this happens, well, we all know that good things happen when Polamalu is allowed to do what he does. With two Pro Bowlers and one young and talented edge rusher to spell them when need be healthy, Pittsburgh’s Defense should reap the benefits, especially when playing against the pass.

    2. New Inside Linebackers Can Pass Cover

    While they have been a bit under the radar, the Steelers have made a couple of acquisitions at the Linebacker position which should help them defend the pass in the coming years. One such acquisition is Brandon Johnson, and I was a fan of the team signing him when they stated that they were interested. If you would like to read my post from last month on why signing Johnson would be a good move for the Steelers, follow this link here. But if you do not want to read it and want an abridged version, one of the biggest reasons I thought Johnson would be a good addition is the fact that he can help out on passing downs and did a solid job against the pass for the Bengals during his career there.

    At 6’5″ 245 lbs. Johnson is an imposing figure which has the size and strength to matchup with some of the more physical Tight Ends and be an imposing figure to clog up passing lanes. And hey, Johnson might even give the team a Sack or two if asked to come through the A-Gap once and a while on passing downs if some sort of Zone-Blitz is employed. Overall, the addition of a veteran with a skill-set that Pittsburgh definitely is in need of (including Special Teams) puts a smile on my face.

    Although Johnson acquisition may help in the present, the player which many in “Steeler Nation” have become particularly excited about is Rookie Linebacker Sean Spence. And Spence’s athleticism, upside, and ability to play the pass are reasons to get any Steelers fan excited. At 5’11″ 231 lbs., Spence might not be the most physically imposing specimen, but make no mistake, this guy is speedy and can be a great equalizer against the opposition’s more athletic Backs and Ends in the short and intermediate passing games. If Spence pans out and is an effective option on 3rd Downs and passing situations, it could be a huge weight off of the shoulders of the other Linebackers and the Secondary in general.

    No more will Tight Ends be running free across the middle, and no more will Quarterbacks have their safety valves to go to with eons of space after getting rid of the ball before being flattened by Deebo or Woodley. Granted, Spence is likely a year away from contributing on a consistent basis on the Defensive side of the ball as he will likely spend his first year on Special Teams and transitioning to a 3-4 Defense. However, Spence has the tools to be a very effective weapon for Pittsburgh and should factor in greatly into their future plans to stop opponents’ passing games.

    1. Cornerback Position Finally Has Talented Depth

    Across the board, the Steelers have some imposing and talented players at the Cornerback position for the first time in a very long time. Going four-deep with Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, and Curtis Brown, each player is at or over 6’0 and is in the neighborhood of 200 lbs.. Each player understands how, or is learning how to play Zone in LeBeau’s Defense. All are big enough and more than physical enough to lock up and play man against Receivers if need be. And best of all, every guy is tough enough to help support in the run game when the time comes.

    Lewis seemed to finally get his head on straight last season, and is the front-runner to replace William Gay for the #2 Cornerback spot after spending last season as the Nickelback. Allen, whose size and coverage ability could be best used against Tight End heavy teams like New England, Cincinnati, and Baltimore, figures to compete with Lewis for the #2 role and should see some more snaps than in his Rookie year where he did a nice job in some Dime sub-packages. And Brown is a tough guy who should be able to help out in the slot and get physical with some of the more smaller, possession-type pass catchers.

    The upgrades have been made talent-wise, and hopefully the younger guys are able to step up this season. The pressure will likely be on Lewis the most as he will be an Unrestricted Free Agent, and playing for a new contract in 2013. Thus, holding off 2011′s 3rd and 4th Round picks will be an absolute must. Pressure aside, if two or all three of these guys behind Ike can improve and show up on a consistent basis this year, the opposition will have think twice before immediately beginning to dink-and-dunk on this Defense down the field.

    Final Thoughts

    Are Pittsburgh’s problems against the pass all solved? Heck no, and if they were I probably would not be writing this article. The Cornerback depth might be talented, but they are still a bit young at the position and Allen and Brown will have much more on their plates this year in terms of responsibility. Plus, there is almost zero experienced depth behind Polamalu, Ryan Clark, and Ryan Mundy at the Safety position. Spence is only a Rookie as well, and we will likely have to wait close to a year to see what he can do if LeBeau decides not to play him or does not believe he is ready to play in Nickel and Dime sub-packages yet.

    Regardless of the fact that there is still work to do, one thing is clear: the Steelers have begun to fix their issues defending the passing game and seem to be headed on the right track. Only time will tell if my optimism is either spot-on, misguided, or somewhere in between. However, I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for Pittsburgh’s pass defense and whether or not the upgrades will work.

    http://nicepickcowher.com/2012/06/16...l-be-improved/

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    My biggest concern is Harrison's health. His body may have taken too much the past several years with his bullrush pass rush and reckless abandon play. I'm not sure we have anyone who can play to his level. Worilds is good but won't be a superstar.

    IMO the two keys this season are Woodley being the player he is capable of and LeBeau rediscovering the inside blitz using Timmons and whoever else is manning the "Buck." We have woefully underutilized Timmons' blitz abilities and it has made it easy for opponents to focus on the OLBs.
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    I see the biggest issues as getting consistent QB pressure without blitzing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flippy View Post
    I see the biggest issues as getting consistent QB pressure without blitzing.
    That's kinda what the 3-4 is all about. You have to blitz to get pressure because 3 DL can't do. Hence why I really like the 4-3 more.
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    Legend hawaiiansteel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Oviedo View Post
    Hence why I really like the 4-3 more.

    really? we would have never known that...

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    Legend RuthlessBurgher's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Oviedo View Post
    That's kinda what the 3-4 is all about. You have to blitz to get pressure because 3 DL can't do. Hence why I really like the 4-3 more.
    A 4 man rush isn't a blitz from the 3-4 or 4-3 base. The main difference is that the offense has a pretty good idea which 4 men will be rushing when they are facing a 4-3, which I think makes it easier for the OL since they know in advance who they should be blocking. Against a 3-4, will the 3 DL and one of the OLB's rush? Which OLB rushes and which one drops? Will both OLB's rush and 2 of the DL? Which DL will be dropping into a short zone coverage? We could bring both OLB's, our NT, plus an ILB to rush the passer (again, just a 4 man rush, not a blitz), with the 2 DE's dropping into the flat on each side and the remaining ILB in a short middle zone. The 3-4 is much more versatile, even when you aren't necessarily blitzing (and the 3-4 can be potentially devastating once you start mixing unpredictable effective blitzes with a 5th or even 6th rusher). The 4-3 is much more vanilla and straightforward...blah.

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    Technically, a pass rush isn't a blitz until you rush more defenders than the offense has blockers (excluding a back that holds to pick up a blitzing player), which means the blitz isn't a blitz until the 6th pass rusher is employed. A 3-4 by definition only has 3 linemen which means two other players can rush and it still technically isn't a blitz. Many (In my opinion) believe that as soon as Harrison or Woodley rush it becomes a blitz, when in fact, they simply become the 4th pass rusher. What the Steelers had trouble doing is getting pressure with their 3 down linemen and any one of the line backers meaning rushing 4 defenders. If Harrison and Woodley can stay healthy (a big if) the Steeler base pass rush should be formidable and allow the other 7 defenders to a lot of different things to confuse an offense. If they bring 5 and defend with 6, with a healthy Woodley and Harrison it will seem like a blitz, because it will be very difficult to block those two guys with one lineman.

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  8. #8
    There are several different definitions of a blitz...

    The definitions as I under stand them are:

    1) The defense brings more than 4 rushers

    or

    2) A player who normally doesn't have the responsibility rushes the passer (ie. Safety, Corner, 3-4 Inside LB)

    It's all semantics anyway...

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    Quote Originally Posted by RuthlessBurgher View Post
    A 4 man rush isn't a blitz from the 3-4 or 4-3 base. The main difference is that the offense has a pretty good idea which 4 men will be rushing when they are facing a 4-3, which I think makes it easier for the OL since they know in advance who they should be blocking. Against a 3-4, will the 3 DL and one of the OLB's rush? Which OLB rushes and which one drops? Will both OLB's rush and 2 of the DL? Which DL will be dropping into a short zone coverage? We could bring both OLB's, our NT, plus an ILB to rush the passer (again, just a 4 man rush, not a blitz), with the 2 DE's dropping into the flat on each side and the remaining ILB in a short middle zone. The 3-4 is much more versatile, even when you aren't necessarily blitzing (and the 3-4 can be potentially devastating once you start mixing unpredictable effective blitzes with a 5th or even 6th rusher). The 4-3 is much more vanilla and straightforward...blah.
    You don't think against our defense that the opponents have a pretty good idea that either Woodley or Harrison is rushing. It's usually pretyy obvious to eve a casual observer which one of them is going which is why it wasn't working last year. LeBeau has been far from unpredictable. How often is Timmons turned loose to go on a blitz up the middle. How often do we see corner blitzes throughout the season. Those use to be what made LeBeau great but now many times he seems to be afraid to go after the QB with all his assets. It's almost like he coaching more not to let something bad happen versus making something good happen.
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    Administrator steelz09's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Oviedo View Post
    My biggest concern is Harrison's health. His body may have taken too much the past several years with his bullrush pass rush and reckless abandon play. I'm not sure we have anyone who can play to his level. Worilds is good but won't be a superstar.

    IMO the two keys this season are Woodley being the player he is capable of and LeBeau rediscovering the inside blitz using Timmons and whoever else is manning the "Buck." We have woefully underutilized Timmons' blitz abilities and it has made it easy for opponents to focus on the OLBs.
    Timmons is not a great inside blitzer. He has initial burst to get to the QB but he isn't good at getting the QB to the ground. He gets side stepped way to easily by the QB and a RB like Ray Rice has had success picking him up. Farrior lacked the quick burst but he was superior at getting the QB to the ground.

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