The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a difficult situation along the defensive line at the moment, with budding starter Stephon Tuitt ruled out for today’s game, the second week in a row. We saw last week that outside of Cameron Heyward, they had no other options in terms of pass rush from the defensive front.
Perhaps there’s a way to modify that, at least temporarily.
While the Steelers are thin along the defensive line when it gets past the starters, the team has not been bashful about making great use of its abundance of outside linebackers. While none of them individual amount to a superstar, with four solid players keeping each other fresh, the group has been able to produce.
With each of the four playing roughly half of the team’s defensive snaps in any given game, perhaps, in certain pass rushing situations, the Steelers should consider sing three of them at a time.
Today would be a wise opportunity to test this theory, with the defensive line finding itself absent Tuitt, and the rest of the replacement candidates lacking in terms of any type of meaningful pass rush.
Cam Thomas was the one who started in place of Tuitt, and while he played the run fairly well while not double teamed near the goal line, he was predictably without impact against the pass. The same could largely be said for Steve McLendon and L.T. Walton.
With Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats presumably starting, as they have throughout the first half of this season, it would not be an absurd notion to put James Harrison or Bud Dupree on the field with Heyward at the same time during a pass-rushing situation.
Both are strong-bodied and able to take on some of the responsibilities of a defensive end if necessary, particularly in a nickel rush look, and where they give up a bit in size, they make up for with the ability to get into the backfield and create pressure on the quarterback.
Such a task will be especially important against Cincinnati and Andy Dalton, who has in the past shown himself to be more prone to error than most while under pressure compared to quarterbacks of similar pedigree and success.
The Bengals have easily one of the best offensive lines in the game, particularly when it comes to pass protection, this season and throughout Dalton’s career. Any extra edge that the Steelers can squeeze out of their pass rush, particularly while down Tuitt, should be an option that is seriously explored.
Of course, the pressure hasn’t always come from the front lines. The Steelers’ inside linebackers split a sack last week on a double A gap blitz. On another occasion, Mike Mitchell was able to rock the quarterback for a hit, though not before the ball was thrown.
Pittsburgh is facing a tall task in trying to unseat one of the best teams in football, and they may have to get creative in order to be successful in their efforts. Using an extra pass rusher in certain situations would be one way to go about that.