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: What, and how significant, will Arthur Moats’ role be this season?
When the Steelers first signed Arthur Moats, he came from the Bills on a one-year, veteran-minimum contract as a player who was believed to have position flexibility to play both inside linebacker and outside linebacker, considering the way he was used in Buffalo.
Since he has been with the Steelers, however, he has been almost solely used as an outside linebacker, although if I recall correctly, he did see a few snaps inside during the preseason when injuries were an issue. But more importantly, he opened the 2015 season as the team’s starting left outside linebacker.
Of course, Moats logged several starts for the Steelers on the right side after Jarvis Jones suffered an injury that wiped out most of his season, and at that time he rotated heavily with James Harrison.
But Moats lost his starting position to Bud Dupree late in the season, even if the distinction was largely nominal. In fact, Dupree was fairly regularly seeing more snaps than Moats while the latter was starting, and vice versa in the opposite scenario.
Dupree is expected to take on a greater volume of the snaps in his second season, but it might still be a tall task to ask him to carry out a full slate of snaps on a 16-game schedule, as his game is still being refined, and he showed fatigue due to workload late last year.
Considering Harrison’s likely lessened workload this season, provided that he does indeed return, it would also not surprise if the Steelers utilize Moats’ position flexibility, given that he can rush from both the left and the right side, as he gains some snaps spelling Jones that he might lose from Dupree taking a higher proportion of snaps.
Moats is not a Pro Bowl player, but he is a fairly productive one when he is on the field, and he has recorded four sacks in each of the past two seasons in a heavy rotation. He is disciplined and has the size to play the run, so there is certainly no compelling reason for the coaching staff to want to keep him on the sideline. Who knows, perhaps they will even consider allowing him to serve as a backup inside linebacker as well, considering that they lost two from their interior depth chart.
Most importantly, if there is an injury, or somebody is struggling, the Steelers already know and trust that Moats would be able to step into the lineup and do a representative job. The team let him know his value when they extended him a three-year contract after his initial one-year deal with the team was up, and it showed their respect for what he can offer them.