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: Can the Steelers defense improve and be successful with Arthur Moats as a full-time starter?
The Steelers have certainly not hidden their concerns about the current state of their pass rush, and that of course relates directly to their outside linebacker roster, which is the primary pass-rushing position in their defensive system.
The only rusher from the previous season that is currently under contract for 2015 or beyond is Jarvis Jones, the team’s former first-round draft pick entering his third season. Their sack leader from each of the previous two seasons, Jason Worilds, seems poised to test the free agent waters in less than a month.
James Harrison’s future, in the meantime, remains unclear, though he promises an announcement in the near future regarding his intentions for 2015. Even if that should happen, the veteran will be 37 this season and does not represent any type of longevity.
That leaves Arthur Moats, who actually started for most of the season and played well, albeit in a limited role. While he was technically the starter, he was immediately placed into a rotation with Harrison, which limited him to slightly more than half to eventually only a few snaps a game as Harrison surpassed him as the starter.
While Moats did perform in his limited role, there has to be concerns about whether or not that can be sustained on a more prolonged basis. It’s easier, for example, for pass rushers who are more on spot duty to find a higher percentage of success. Moats rushed the passer more than three quarters of the time on passing downs.
Whether or not he can consistently hold up against the run if he’s playing 1000 snaps a season is also a question that would need to be answered. Worilds actually played the run surprisingly well, particularly down the stretch of each of the past two seasons.
It’s hard to say that the Steelers would actually be able to improve with Moats as a full-time starter playing starter’s snaps. For that reason, I feel that, if that should be the case, the team would be likely to have a Plan B handy if he shows that he can’t hold up under the workload.