Let’s see what happens when we throw some chum in the water. An NFL analyst for ESPN thinks that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary is no good. While they rated well in most traditional statistics—yards allowed per game, touchdowns allowed, interceptions, completion percentage, etc.—the defensive backfield has been a regular source of criticism from the fan base.
Louis Riddick, at least, feels it is more than deserved. He recently said as much: “I don’t think any of those guys are real good”, specifically, is what he said, while discussing the Steelers’ secondary.
He did at least acknowledge Joe Haden, who is a two-time Pro Bowler, and most believe that he had at least a solid first season with the team. “Joe is still a good pro”, Riddick said, “but his best days are behind him”.
The others were not so spared. Of Artie Burns, he said that he “is one of those guys who must continue to raise his game”. I wouldn’t imagine that even he would deny that. On free safety Mike Mitchell, who even I admit tends to have a big mouth, he said he “has to be better. If he’s going to talk the talk he has to walk the walk”.
Burns is a two-year pro after being taken late in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, becoming a full-time starter by the middle of his rookie season. He only recorded one interception in his second season, in the second-to-last game, registering fewer tackles than in his rookie year.
Mitchell is a nine-year veteran, having spent the past four in Pittsburgh, and now 30 years old. He is on the final year of a five-year contract and is coming off a season in which he produced zero turnovers—no interceptions, no forced fumbles. He had just 53 tackles in 13 games.
Riddick got right to the heart of the matter by pointing out that “they have to be better at tackling”. He said that “you can’t have guys ducking their heads and missing tackles” against teams that want to run the ball.
“They have to return to being the kind of Steelers defense they were in the early 1990s when I was playing against them” he said. “They’d just choke the life out of you and win, 7-6, if they had to. They can’t win a game like that now”.
I don’t think there are many people who would refute what Riddick had to say about the secondary. Even I agree with it. Haden probably is past his prime, but can still be a top cornerback. Burns clearly has to become both better and more consistent, and Mitchell can’t keep getting injured, if that even can explain many of his troubles this past season.
The Steelers have been working on fixing their defense for several years now, but they are clearly not all the way there. They may have some pieces, but others are yet to fall into place. As much as many want to see the coaching staff dumped, a lot of it does fall on the talent as well.