The Pittsburgh Steelers have begun the 2014 season trading wins and losses, resting at 2-2 after facing one of their most perplexing defeats in recent years, dropped by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-24 on a late touchdown.
The team still has some bugs to work out, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, which is still coping with the loss of three starters, though the offense, which has put up at least 24 points in three out of four games, is by no means a finished product either.
After a loss, the prevailing trend, and upcoming opponent, would suggest that the Steelers should be victorious this afternoon. To that end, below are some things to look for on defense against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Steelers surprised when they rotated the recently unretired James Harrison frequently last week with Arthur Moats at outside linebacker. He played nearly 30 snaps, playing at times on both sides of the line, as well as dropping into coverage.
He was also visibly outmatched physically at times as he works to regain his football shape. The Steelers clearly intend to use Harrison liberally in conjunction with Moats until Jarvis Jones gets back based on last week. Look to see if he can improve upon a shaky debut this afternoon.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward has been picking up the pass rush the last two weeks, though his work against the run has been somewhat up and down. He is being asked to move around a lot, and I wonder if that affects his game, even if he has experience on both sides.
His playing time on the left is generally dictated by how many snaps Brett Keisel gets, though the veteran has also played some on the left side as well. Despite playing a healthy number of snaps, Keisel hasn’t made much of an impact yet on defense, and I’m not about to predict that that changes today.
What I do wonder about the defensive line, however, is if rookie Stephon Tuitt gets any more playing time. He is averaging less than 10 snaps per game, despite the fact that the defense has been on the field for over 65 per game. He has been sound in his brief appearances in game, but that hasn’t translated to more snaps with Keisel’s return.
Sean Spence made his first career start last week in place of Ryan Shazier, and he had his ups and downs, to be certain. For one series, he was substituted for with Vince Williams, who took over the buck spot, moving Lawrence Timmons over to the mack.
I wrote last week that the Steelers might substitute with Terence Garvin so they could leave Timmons at the buck, but they obviously were not concerned with keeping him in one spot. Will that continue to be the plan going forward until Shazier returns?
When Ike Taylor broke his forearm two weeks ago, Antwon Blake was the first one to get a chance to step up. Brice McCain moved into the slot last week, however, leaving William Gay outside.
The Steelers have a long period of time left to cope with Taylor’s absence, assuming he is able to return at all this year. And the potential replacement parts are anything but guaranteed, which could lead to further experimentation, or mixing and matching.
Blake had his game, and McCain had his, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we see something different, or a variety of things, today and moving forward.