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: What, and how significant, will Arthur Moats’ role be this season?
I think there can be little argument that sixth-year veteran outside linebacker Arthur Moats has very much endeared himself to not only his teammates and coaches, but also Pittsburgh’s fans, during his two-plus seasons with the Steelers.
And during that time, he has logged a healthy number of snaps, and starts, for a variety of reasons. He has been productive in doing so, considering the rotations that he has been involved in, having to his name eight sacks and a couple of forced fumbles, to go along with some solid, disciplined play against the run, not to mention contributions on special teams.
But I think it would be fair to say that it would be a very good sign if Moats is finding it rather difficult to see the field on defense for the Steelers in 2016, assuming that the reason for that difficulty is not related to him suffering some sort of injury keeping him on the sidelines.
Therefore, the pessimist regarding Moats’ playing time would likewise be very much an optimist when it comes to the progression of second-year outside linebacker Bud Dupree, with whom the veteran’s playing time is most directly tied.
After being drafted in the first round, Dupree spent the bulk of his rookie season spelling Moats, who was the starting left outside linebacker for the first three quarters of the season, even though Dupree was logging a bit more time overall.
But the then-rookie slipped into the starting lineup late in the regular season and into the playoffs as the coaching staff gained a level of comfort in his ability to, at the very least, not make mistakes, and that move should bode well for their belief in his ability to assume a much bigger role in year two that sees him stay on the field for the vast majority of the game.
Likewise, on the opposite side, since Moats is capable playing, and has started from, both sides of the defense, it would mean that the Steelers are comfortable with a rotation of Jarvis Jones and James Harrison at the right outside linebacker spot.
What is bad for Moats’ playing time figures to be good for the defense overall, and it is really nothing against him as a player. But I do expect Dupree to take that significant step forward this season, even if it doesn’t mean double-digit sacks, and I think that they will have more than enough on the opposite side to cobble together snaps, leading to the conclusion that Moats’ defensive role will be notably curtailed in 2016.