The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will the Steelers’ tackling inefficiency be significantly cleaned up in comparison to last season?
Ever since Pittsburgh’s defensive stalwarts from the mid- to late-00s began to retire, the collective tackling effort, or rather ability, of the defense as a whole has been in a precariously negative downward trajectory, reaching an abyssal level of ineptitude last season.
There is good reason to believe that the issue should be largely cleaned up by the time the 2016 season starts, however, if not simply because many of the prime variables that were contributive to the tackling ineptitude have been eliminated.
For starters, we already know that there were two primary contributors to the Steelers’ tackling troubles last season, those being cornerback Antwon Blake, who signed a free agent contract to play elsewhere, and safety Will Allen, who is a free agent unlikely to be re-signed except in an emergency, and even then would not be expected to return to the starting lineup.
Blake’s tackling issues are more easily explainable. As we have attempted to make clear all season, the fifth-year cornerback played with a significant hand injury throughout the season, drastically limiting his tackling ability. He just recently underwent surgery on said hand. But either way, he’s not on the roster regardless.
As for Allen, his primary issue is simply aging, where he has lost a step and his tackling efficiency took a steep hit last year as he was asked to play a much bigger than should have been expected of him, which led to the results we have seen.
Another issue in the tackling department earlier in the season was Lawrence Timmons, who was dealing with a turf toe injury throughout training camp and through the earlier portions of the season. He was able to clean up some of these issues as the season advanced, but even then, he still struggled, and the team has shown a willingness to take him off the field for a dime or quarters look.
In 2014, the Steelers were a middling team in terms of their ability to tackle efficiently, but that area of their game collectively fell off a cliff last season. The elimination of certain key contributing factors to that issue will no doubt contribute to an overall improvement in that area of the game, even if other known issues might still remain.