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 pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will the Steelers’ tackling inefficiency be significantly cleaned up in comparison to last season?
As we recounted yesterday, the Steelers’ collective issues in tackling efficiency hit a new low last season in dramatic fashion, blowing past the 100 missed tackle mark, which in their prime they had consistently been below, at least by the record keeping of certain statisticians.
Of the three primary culprits in missed tackles, two are no longer on the roster, with cornerback Antwon Blake signing elsewhere and safety Will Allen unlikely to be re-signed. It should go without saying that, at least in terms of tackling efficiency, their absence should count as addition by subtraction, even if Blake’s main issue last season was an injured hand that he recently had surgically repaired.
One of the other primary issues remains, however, in Lawrence Timmons, who has been culpable for an increased number of tackles in recent years, which have tended to trend toward the beginning of the season, as was the case last year.
But there are still other issues to be considered, among them the fact that neither of their projected starting cornerbacks are consistently solid tacklers. William Gay is a smart player who is able to make a lot of plays behind the line, but is also physically limited, and does miss his fair share of tackles. So does Ross Cockrell, for that matter, who only played roughly 60 percent of the time last year.
While their starting defensive ends have fortunately been historically consistent tacklers, the team currently has a wildcard spot at nose tackle and strong safety, as well as in the slot corner position. Whether or not the individual tackling efficiency of these players can be determined, the very fact that these lineup additions will have to be made can easily negatively contribute to cohesion and result in missed plays due to miscommunication.
While Ryan Shazier may not necessarily miss a ton of tackles, there are a fair amount that he still struggles to get to, or get in the proper position to defend, due to being blocked and failing to shed. Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones have also yet to establish themselves as consistent tacklers, and Mike Mitchell is always liable to miss some, especially in broken play scenarios.
In other words, there is plenty of reason to believe that tackling efficiency will be a major theme during this season with respect to defensive struggles. One can only hope that it doesn’t quite reach the historically poor numbers of last season.