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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Will Jarvis Jones become the impact player the Steelers need him to be in 2015?
There is a two-fold question that has to be asked when examining the play of Jarvis Jones in his second season in 2014. The first part is this: how heavily do we weigh his first three games, relative to how performance late in the season when returning from injury?
The second part of the question is a bit more grim, and is the following: were his first three games truly all that much better?
The Steelers selected Jones in the first round of the 2013 draft because they needed an impact player at an impact position on defense, and there haven’t been many signs in his two-year career that he is on that trajectory.
With two sacks and a forced fumble in his first three games last season, the numbers would suggest that that is sign enough from which to extrapolate. But the first sack was a coverage sack against a tight end, while the second, which caused the fumble, was aided by a third and 15 and the tackle leading Jones into the quarterback.
That’s not to say that he didn’t play well. He did make a few plays here and there. By and large, I believe he is solid against the run. Upon review, I found that most teams the Steelers faced were right-handed running the ball, putting Jones frequently on the back side of plays, and there’s little he could do about that.
But, despite the fact that he faced some quality left tackles last season, he really showed little as a true pass rusher, which is what the Steelers need. Not only does he lack bend around the edge, his change of direction seems questionable, and he has a tendency to come in with a haphazard approach that the more savvy left tackles can exploit and put him on the ground.
Part of the reason that the question about Jones’ future projection is so big is simply because so much of his sophomore season was taken away. He didn’t have the benefit of the natural maturation players go through over the course of a season.
As I’ve said previously, we don’t have enough on Jones to make a particularly strong projection into the future, although I may have seen enough to declare that I’m not optimistic he’ll be that special piece the Steelers hoped he could be.