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Thread: Steelers must prioritize defensive playmakers

  1. #1
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    Steelers must prioritize defensive playmakers

    Fridays with Matt: Steelers must prioritize defensive playmakers

    By MATT WILLIAMSON Feb 1

    Unlike the needs on offense, which are very acute, the Steelers' needs on the defensive side of the ball are much broader. Before we start, though, it's important to note that, contrary to popular belief, Pittsburgh didn’t field a terrible defense in 2018. In fact, it's really middle of the pack, or even slightly above average when compared to the other 31 franchises.

    Folks, it isn’t the '70s or even the '90s anymore. Defenses are at a massive disadvantage and if you can have just one thing on this side of the ball, what every NFL coach would pick is a pass-rush. This is an area in which the Steelers have excelled for multiple seasons in a row now.

    That pass-rush is a very good start and clearly the Steelers have used quite a bit of draft equity on this side of the ball of late, and that should continue to yield more fruit as these early draft picks improve. But, without question, the biggest thing Pittsburgh needs on this side of the ball are "playmakers." This is a defense that really struggled to take the ball away and while that is bound to regress positively towards the mean going forward, it can’t be denied that this defense is short on guys that fly around the field and create game-changing plays. Obviously Ryan Shazier was never replaced in this capacity, either. So the first criteria of any defensive position of need for Pittsburgh should be the somewhat ambiguous trait of “Making Plays.” Obviously that isn’t an exact science, but the Steelers front office absolutely must stress this when acquiring new defenders in the coming months.

    Again, unlike on offense, Pittsburgh’s defense could truly use help at every spot and the Steelers absolutely shouldn't walk away from an opportunity to add any potential impactful defensive player. In a way, this makes the front office’s job easier in this regard. Just keep snagging the best playmaking defender on the board every step of the way while obviously being mindful of keeping each position’s available roster spots in mind while doing so.

    So let’s start with the defensive players in the trenches and work our way back. Pittsburgh has three exceptional defensive linemen and in case you didn’t yet know, Javon Hargrave is earmarked for stardom. Because of what Hargrave brings to the field, a priority this offseason for this defensive staff should be to devise ways, even with five or more defensive backs on the field, to keep Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward in the game together.

    Having these three is and getting them all ample playing time is a wonderful “problem” to have, but depth behind Hargrave, Tuitt and Heyward is almost nil right now. And, it has become somewhat of a trend that we have seen Pittsburgh’s prominent 300 pounders wear down in some degree late in the season or playoffs. Remember the state of this unit when Jacksonville came to town a little over a year ago in the postseason?

    Tyson Alualu is 32 years old and his contract has expired. He was just fine in 2018, but he doesn’t need to be a high priority at this point. L.T. Walton and Daniel McCullers are also unrestricted free agents. The Steelers generally keep six defensive big men on their final roster. If that trend continues, they really need three new bodies here and preferably upgrades, especially over Walton and McCullers.

    Because this cupboard is so bare outside of the big three, this is an offseason in which it might not be a bad idea to add a traditional 4-3 defensive end or two to the equation. And because the outside linebacker cupboard is also pretty bare, this might be the year to actively pursue versatile linemen that are in the 260 to 275 pound range, which would be a new tactic for this era. But it would also give Keith Butler and company much more versatility with fronts and alignments.

    OK, so how about those outside linebackers? Well, T.J. Watt is set in stone and looks like a long-term cornerstone player for this organization. A couple of guys down the depth chart, Ola Adeniyi and Keion Adams, are intriguing and could really surprise going forward. But after that, questions really arise. The Steelers exercised Bud Dupree’s fifth-year option, but by no means do I believe Dupree is going to see that $9.2 million in 2019. Pittsburgh would be wise to negotiate a longer-term deal with Dupree at a far more reasonable rate. Even if that occurs, this team should still pounce on a difference maker at this position in the draft if that possibility transpires. Obviously if Dupree isn’t back, this need goes to nearly the top of the list to find a starter opposite Watt. Anthony Chickillo also has an expiring contract. He has special teams value, but certainly doesn’t qualify as a difference maker on defense, where he played too many snaps in 2018. Chickillo could be brought back, or not.

    The second level is worrisome. Vince Williams is still in the long-term plans after recently signing an extension, but the reality here is that a total overhaul of inside linebackers is needed and the guys other than Williams really should be nearly inconsequential. Now, overhauling an entire position group is obviously much easier said than done, but nonetheless, that should be Pittsburgh’s mindset this offseason. L.J. Fort did some good things when given the opportunity and excels on special teams as well, but his contract has expired and, like Chickillo, retaining Fort is well down the list of things to do in the coming months. Williams’ presence does bring some stability, but an inside linebacker facelift is the way to go, and with a huge emphasis on speed.

    The safety play has a lot of promise going forward with Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds manning the starting spots. These two talented young players should continue to improve, but neither was a world-beater last year, either. It sounds like Morgan Burnett will be a cap casualty, and unrestricted free agent Nat Berhe is sure to be playing elsewhere next year. Marcus Allen was highly unimpressive as a rookie, but Jordan Dangerfield looks like cheap labor that should make this team again in 2019. But if you want to inevitably keep five safeties on next year’s roster as well as utilizing three safeties on the field together in “Big Nickel” situations, safety cannot be ignored. In the perfect world, Pittsburgh adds a prominent safety either in free agency early in the draft, as well as one more cheap free agent or late-round pick. More likely, the Steelers will address other defensive positions more heavily than safety though and hope to unearth a gem or a free agent on the cheap after the first few waves of free agency pass.

    Lastly, it could be argued that cornerback is actually the very top need on this team overall. Joe Haden has been great, but he turns 30 during the 2019 season. What if Haden were to go down for any period of time? Then it's disaster mode for this defense. Cameron Sutton might surprise a lot of people next year and really step up. Don’t be surprised if he does. Brian Allen also should not be forgotten. Still, those two are not proven, and while Mike Hilton is a great story, he is what he is at this point: utterly tenacious but his lack of size and long speed can’t be ignored. Coty Sensabaugh did OK in a Steelers uniform, but his contract is expired and he doesn’t resemble a “playmaker” that is so very much needed. He could be retained, but by no means should Sensabaugh play the number of snaps he did last year. As for Artie Burns, how can he be counted on whatsoever?

    While the Steelers defense truly is middle of the roa,d or even slightly above average, it should still surprise none of you if Pittsburgh has a lot of new faces on this side of the ball when the offseason concludes.

    https://247sports.com/nfl/pittsburgh...ers-128556172/

  2. #2
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    I will be thrilled if the McCullers experiment is over.
    Chickillo is barely a career backup.
    Fort is serviceable as a pinch starter.
    Dupree should be a situational passrusher, he isnt starter material.
    I wasnt overly impressed with Alualu this year.
    Vince is a 2 down backer.
    I wish people would/could leave politics out of a Steelers Football Forum.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by pittpete View Post
    I will be thrilled if the McCullers experiment is over.
    Chickillo is barely a career backup.
    Fort is serviceable as a pinch starter.
    Dupree should be a situational passrusher, he isnt starter material.
    I wasnt overly impressed with Alualu this year.
    Vince is a 2 down backer.
    With all those shortcomings you list, it's amazing Tomlin was able to field even a competitive defense.

  4. #4
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    Do you disagree?
    I wish people would/could leave politics out of a Steelers Football Forum.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by pittpete View Post
    I will be thrilled if the McCullers experiment is over.
    Chickillo is barely a career backup.
    Fort is serviceable as a pinch starter.
    Dupree should be a situational passrusher, he isnt starter material.
    I wasnt overly impressed with Alualu this year.
    Vince is a 2 down backer.
    They are all serviceable at best...

    The draft this going to be deep on the D side of the ball...

    I think there are going to be sooooo many BPA and at positions we need...

    Hopefully we move cover our O shortcomings (WR if AB leaves, 2nd TE, and 3rd RB) in FA and just go crazy drafting D...
    “I’m so tired of Le’Veon," DeCastro told reporters (h/t ESPN's Jeremy Fowler ([url]https://twitter.com/JFowlerESPN/status/1038909446146203649[/url])) after Sunday's game. "I’m so tired of it. Let’s just worry about the guys in here. I know you guys have stories to write and what not. I love Le’Veon, but we gotta worry about the guys in here. They’re the only people that matter to me."



  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by pittpete View Post
    Do you disagree?
    Not at all. The Steelers need upgrades at key positions but the current players are good depth should they draft a starter or two.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by pittpete View Post
    I will be thrilled if the McCullers experiment is over.
    Chickillo is barely a career backup.
    Fort is serviceable as a pinch starter.
    Dupree should be a situational passrusher, he isnt starter material.
    I wasnt overly impressed with Alualu this year.
    Vince is a 2 down backer.
    McCullers played 10.6% of the snaps. Total non factor.
    Alualu played 29.9%. Easily replaceable.
    If Fort And Chick were to leave no one would notice.
    Dupree, while not a total bust is not a playmaker. Makes no significant contributions game to game.
    Vince is good on the run but struggles to cover.

    Spot on on post.
    Last edited by Ghost; 02-04-2019 at 09:19 AM.

  8. #8
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    I've been saying that I'd love this draft to look a lot like the Timmons-Woodley draft that started Tomlin off.

    Pretty much thinking Mack Wilson or Devin Bush in the first. Fills a need, both have some speed. BPA at position of need. I prefer Mack, but, wouldn't complain about Bush Bush seems to be a little more "splash" and a little less "consistent" of the two. At least, in the games I've watched. I'd rather have the guy who makes the stop on 3rd and 2 more often, rather than the guy who twice a game makes a play in the backfield

    I just haven't seen a second rounder at OLB who appears to be that type of player. I'd grab one in the 3rd.
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    Hargrave needs to be a 3-down lineman. I think it's time for a slight adjustment to a base defense of 4-3 with a standing OLB in place of an end. Keep TJ as the standing edge linebacker, with Heyward amd Hargrave playing DTs and Tuitt as the DE. Dupree gets set higher behind Tuitt, and could blitz much more effectively straight down the field instead of blitzing at the edge where his inability to bend is limiting him too much. You can take Vini off on nickels and keep Dupree and hopefully a drafted Mack LB (Wilson or Bush) as the nickel backers. Or go get Deone Bucannon and you may not even need to get a Mack and just use him and Dupree up high in nickels. At least try it this year w/o drafting ILB, and if it doesn't work out maybe Shazier is back to take the Mack spot back anyway.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sager View Post
    Hargrave needs to be a 3-down lineman. I think it's time for a slight adjustment to a base defense of 4-3 with a standing OLB in place of an end. Keep TJ as the standing edge linebacker, with Heyward amd Hargrave playing DTs and Tuitt as the DE. Dupree gets set higher behind Tuitt, and could blitz much more effectively straight down the field instead of blitzing at the edge where his inability to bend is limiting him too much. You can take Vini off on nickels and keep Dupree and hopefully a drafted Mack LB (Wilson or Bush) as the nickel backers. Or go get Deone Bucannon and you may not even need to get a Mack and just use him and Dupree up high in nickels. At least try it this year w/o drafting ILB, and if it doesn't work out maybe Shazier is back to take the Mack spot back anyway.


    I like where your trying to go.
    From the 2010-2018 season, Mike Tomlin has only won 3 playoff games. And two of those wins were against back up Quarterbacks. Our history has been defined by what we do in the post season; not the regular season.

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