The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to reach the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in six years. It was a significant achievement that validates all of the strides that they have made since then in reloading their roster on both sides of the ball.
But it’s probably obvious to just about anyone who regularly watches the team that there is still some work to do, especially on the defensive side of the ball, even if it largely consists of the necessary and expected internal growth from some key young players. That more or less comes with the territory with three rookies starting.
Pro Football Focus has been spending time working on season wrap-up content, as have we all, but one article that caught my eye was a ranking of all the front sevens in the league. The Steelers placed 16th in their list, which was actually the highest ranking in the division, one spot better than the Ravens.
Author Michael Renner actually begins his analysis of the Steelers’ front seven pretty astutely, writing, “if one could summarize the Steelers’ front seven in two words, they would be missed tackle”. Pittsburgh has really slid in its tackling efficiency over the course of the past five seasons, and is a major issue that still needs to be cleaned up.
“They have the talent to play much better than the 16th-best front seven any given week”, Renner goes on to write, “but they struggle mightily finishing plays at times”. That is an analysis that I do not expect will see many contrarian arguments posed against it here and there shouldn’t be, as they have lacked the finishing instinct too many times.
“Ryan Shazier’s 21 missed tackles were the fourth-most among linebackers”, he wrote, though this is a phenomenon that we have already been aware of. The high number can be partially attributed to his quickness in getting into the backfield, but that only partly accounts for his misses. Aside from health, this is clearly the biggest issue holding him back.
Renner also writes that Stephon Tuitt had a “ridiculous” 12 missed tackles, which were the most among interior defensive linemen in their reckoning. I noted in an article last week I believe that Tuitt has some cleaning up to do with the missed tackles, though I didn’t anticipate that it would be the most in the league.
The article finishes predictably in lavishing praise on the 38-year-old James Harrison and how he remains the Steelers’ most effective defender. His overall grade of 86.7 was the highest any Steelers front-seven defender was given. Lawrence Timmmons’ detractors can seize upon the fact that the site gave him at 46.4 grade.