Devil’s Advocate: Getting There With Four

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Can the Steelers expect to be better equipped to ‘get there with four’ on the pass rush?

It has been an interesting past half-decade for the Steelers and the development of their pass rush. The team has had to transition from having two standout edge rushers to something more of an amalgamation that, of late has had to rely far too much on the blitz in order to generate any semblance of a quality pass rush.

The defense posted low pressure numbers through the 2011 to 2014 seasons, but when Keith Butler took over in 2015, he brought with him a more aggressive attitude and that turned into something like 46 sacks on the year, among the highest totals in the league, which came from 17 or so different defenders.

Butler and the defense were hoping to get away from that this year and generate that kind of pressure with a more traditional four rushers, but the first half of the season didn’t bear out the desired results, so they turned back to the blitzes in the second half of the season, and the sacks returned.

They should be able to do better this year than last year. Cameron Heyward dealt with a litany of injuries going back to the preseason, for starters, and Javon Hargrave will be better in his second season. Bud Dupree will be healthy to start things out, and Jarvis Jones will not be in the starting lineup.

But better does not mean sufficient, and it isn’t clear to me that the four-man rush ever really approached sufficient levels last season. The Steelers lack that one dominant pass rusher, either outside or inside, that really helps that system go, for starters. They have a bunch of good players, sure, but they often need the help of a blitz to have consistent success. Which is why we may see that happen earlier this year.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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