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: Is an improvement in pass-rushing productivity from the critical outside linebacker position to be expected in 2016?
As mentioned in the flip side of this article, the Steelers turned around their pass rushing as a whole in a significant way last season, nearly totaling 50 sacks on the year, which ranked third in the league. Yet in spite of the overall success, only 15 of those sacks came from what is traditionally the breadwinner pass-rushing position, the outside linebacker position.
It is hard to imagine that the Steelers can continue to manufacture sacks in such numbers from a variety of different places—to think, Will Allen had four sacks last year, and he had never had a sack in his 12-year career before then.
It is then necessary to assume that, if the Steelers are to maintain their overall pass-rushing effectiveness, then that presumed deficit is going to have to be made up from the outside linebacker position, which should feature an improved Bud Dupree.
But will anybody else from the group be improved from last season? How much more can James Harrison really do that he has not already done in the past two seasons? And would it be unfair to point out that three of his sacks came against backup quarterbacks and a backup tackle against the Colts? A rookie seventh-round draft pick?
At what point do we stop believing that Jarvis Jones will turn the corner? Many of us, of course, already have, and the team’s decision to not pick up his fifth-year option suggest they are seeing the same thing many other are seeing as well. If he records four sacks, that will be a good season.
As far as Arthur Moats goes, generally speaking, whenever he is on the field, that likely means that Dupree is not. If Dupree is to be their premiere pass rusher, then it wouldn’t be a bonus to have Moats on the field as it is.
The general thinking is that for a 3-4 defense to be successful, you generally expect to get at least 20 sacks out of your edge rushers. I don’t know that I see them putting together that kind of tally with the parts that they have to work with, at least not 20 meaningful sacks that make a difference.