The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense certainly has lost some of their shine they had a decade before and in their heyday, the Steel Curtain of the 70s. But one NFL.com analyst believes the defense is back.
Gregg Rosenthal thinks the defense has been built well enough to compliment their high-powered offense. He gives credit to Mike Tomlin for putting his stamp on the defense and GM Kevin Colbert for helping to bring in blue-chip talent.
“Two years removed from legendary Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau’s exit, Tomlin is running a scheme in Pittsburgh closer to the one that helped build his reputation as a coaching prodigy. Unsung Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has constructed a foundation of defensive players entering their primes who combine explosiveness and continuity, led by front-seven disrupters Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree. Three promising defenders from last year’s rookie crop look ready to take the next step. Pittsburgh’s offense possesses an unfair amount of talent, taking pressure off the defense.”
The past drafts have been defensive focused. With their top two selections since 2014, they have gone defense seven of eight times. Most of those have been success stories too; Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt in 2014, Bud Dupree is on the right track, while the duo of Artie Burns and Sean Davis showed a lot of promise. The only “bad” pick of the seven is Senquez Golson, who still has a chance to turn things around and at least contribute something in 2017.
Rosenthal praises the schematic changes in the Steelers’ defense. Some of it though is off the mar. He says the Steelers are running four down fronts “often” (not really), and the secondary “incorporates more Cover 3 and Cover 2,” (Cover 2? Yes. Cover 3? That was LeBeau’s bread and butter). But with a broad brush, the points are true. There’s been a shift in philosophy and Tomlin has much more control over the defense than when LeBeau ran things.
I still remember one day in training camp in 2015 where Tomlin worked for a whole individual session with his cornerbacks, working on their Cover 2 press/sink technique. Last year, the Steelers played Cover 2 more than anyone else.
Much of the article focused around the most talented player on defense, Shazier.
“It is breathtaking when Shazier takes over a game, like when he knocked Buffalo’s No. 1 rushing attack backwards almost on his own. There aren’t many humans who cross the line of scrimmage, then drop back into coverage on the same play before stealing a pass from a bewildered quarterback, like Shazier did against Matt Moore in the playoffs.”
Shazier has grown leaps and bounds mentally and physically. He’s the key communicator on defense, even when Lawrence Timmons was on the field, and he’s done a much better job staying on his feet against the run instead of ducking around every block. If healthy, he is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Rosenthal does point out the obstacles the Steelers’ defense faces. He made it three-fold: health, reliance on pass rushers, and wondering if they’re still good enough to beat the New England Patriots. All valid points.
It’s a defense that is largely unproven but is big on talent and poised to take a significant step forward. If the Steelers want to go to the Super Bowl, it’s a unit that has to do so.