When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, what is the biggest complaint? Well, I suppose that will depend on when the question is being asked, and which focal point the person being questioned is most concerned with. But in my experience the most popular answer has been the secondary.
For whatever reasons—and certainly there are a number of them—the Steelers have really struggled to hold together a quality secondary for more than a few games at a time. While they may have featured key additions in Joe Haden and Mike Hilton this past year, the group as a whole left a lot to be desired more often than not.
While the communication issues came and went throughout the year—and are a large enough problem to be rather concerned about—the overarching issue more than anything has been the poor tackling, and that applies to the entire defense, but some of the biggest culprits have been in the defensive backfield.
Chief among them were the second-year starters, Artie Burns and Sean Davis. The latter led the entire team in tackles, but he also missed a big chunk of them. Even Haden and Hilton took their turns missing tackles, and I’m really not even going to mention Mike Mitchell other than by name, because we know what sort of dialogue starts up as a result of that.
Something has to give. The secondary has to play better. And if they are to play better as a group, it is going to be under the tutelage of a new defensive backs coach following Carnell Lake’s resignation after seven seasons in the position.
Replacing him is Tom Bradley, best known to us as a long-time coach at Penn State, having most recently held the post of defensive coordinator at UCLA. While he has served a number of roles, he worked with the secondary at Penn State from 1996 through 2011.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’m not the biggest college football buff, and I’m still learning a lot about Bradley myself. But one thing that seems to be clear is that, as Gerry Dulac Tweeted after he was hired, he “is a stickler for tackling and fundamentals”.
Which is exactly that the Steelers’ secondary needs. I’m sure some of the blame for the communication issues stem from the relatively new faces being incorporated into the system and onto the field, and to the loss of Ryan Shazier, it does go back to fundamentals, too.
And anybody who comes in here prioritizing tackling is going to be given a chance. As far as we know, Lake emphasized tackling, too, but it certainly didn’t work very well. The Steelers conduct the most physical training camp around, but their tackling issues are about as bad as anybody else’s.
The buck is now passed to Bradley, who will be tasked with fine-tuning a secondary that does have talent to work with. Whether or not there is a new starter mixed in somewhere remains to be seen.