While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Can the Steelers defense improve and be successful with Arthur Moats as a full-time starter?
With three of their four outside linebackers from a year ago hitting free agency, and the fourth still with much to prove, the Steelers are seen, both from outside and from within, as a team in need of help at the edge rushing position.
The team is essentially left with only Jarvis Jones at the moment, who must be written in as the starting right outside linebacker, where he started in 2014 before an early season injury derailed basically the rest of the year for him.
One of the two players who replaced him while he was out injured was Arthur Moats, who was signed initially as a linebacker seen with inside and outside capabilities. It soon became clear that he was needed outside, and he ended up playing a role that significantly out-paced his one-year veteran-minimum qualifying contract.
When Jones went down in the third game of the year, Moats finished out that contest, recording his first sack as a Steeler later in the proceeding. He was very successful rushing the passer in that game.
Still, with the team down to just two outside linebackers, the Steelers brought back James Harrison, who quickly entered into a rotation with Moats on the right side, assuming heavy snaps.
While Moats started for most of the year, it soon became apparent that Harrison was the featured player, even though nothing that Moats had done had indicated that he was not performing well.
In all, Moats started nine games, though he played only 350 snaps. He recorded four sacks while forcing two fumbles, including 23 tackles. He held his own fairly well on the edge against the run, rarely missed tackles, and didn’t draw many penalties.
By percentage, Pro Football Focus argues that Moats was actually quite proficient rushing the passer, grading out with a pass rushing productivity figure of 11.9. He recorded four sacks, three hits, and 15 hurries on 147 pass rushing attempts.
If the Steelers lose out on Jason Worilds in free agency, Moats could very well be the low-priced option to replace him if they do not find a bigger name in free agency or the draft, and he showed a year ago that he could produce on this defense.