Devil’s Advocate: Strength In Secondary Numbers

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: Will the secondary be a strength by the end of this season?

This may be the most crucial question facing the Steelers in 2017 as it pertains to their Super Bowl aspirations. Quite simply, will their secondary emerge as a strength this season? Over the course of the last couple of years, they have been transition from liability to neutral territory, but with the investments they have made, they are looking for that return on investment.

And there is valid reason to think we should see that happen this year, many facets of which we have touched on at different points of the season. For one thing, the mere fact of a consistent lineup cannot be ignored. They also had three players making their debuts as full-time starters, among them a pair of raw to semi-raw rookies.

Speaking of raw rookies, that was Artie Burns, but once he entered the starting lineup, he showed ball skills, intercepting three passes in nine games. Nine of his 13 passes defensed were also recorded in his nine starts, meaning that he got his hands on more than one ball on average per game. That’s ball skills. And Sean Davis also showed development over the course of the season.

Add in the fact that Burns’ continued mental growth and the addition of somebody like Cameron Sutton or Senquez Golson will allow the secondary to play in man coverage more this year to better match up against certain opponents, and you have your reasons for optimism.

Yet the simple truth of the matter is that the path toward optimism requires a lot of ‘if’ statements before reaching the ‘then’ of the logical proof (I hated Intro to Logic in college, by the way). If the second-year players continue to develop on a steady course. If the unit as a whole can execute more man coverage.

And if the pass rush can become a more consistent threat, because, let’s face it, not even the best secondary in the world is going to hold up when four-man rushes consistently take four to five seconds to get home. To compensate, they have to blitz, which opens up windows.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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