I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: The Steelers need to scale back their usage of outside linebackers in coverage and let them rush the passer more.
The outside linebackers are supposed to be the premium, featured pass-rushers in the base 3-4 defense, so what does it say about the Steelers that they haven’t produced an outside linebacker that has put up double-digit sacks in a season in over half a decade?
Part of the reason the Steelers haven’t been able to do that lately is because they were using rotations for a while, but that has changed in the past year and a half. T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree were the guys last year, though they only combined for 13 sacks.
There is reason to believe both of them will be more effective rushers in 2018 than they were a year ago. Watt won’t be a rookie anymore, and Dupree, at least presumably, won’t be dealing with a shoulder injury that required painkillers just to lift his right arm above his neck through the first half of the season.
Let them rush the passer more and they’ll produce better results. It’s a shocking concept, I know. They might have set a franchise record in sacks a year ago, but you can’t exactly count on getting 12 sacks combined from an inside linebacker and a cornerback.
If your outside linebackers are not the strength of your pass rush, then don’t force the issue. Neither Watt nor Dupree have been able to prove up to this point that they are featured rusher material. Watt has more upside, but he has also looked very effective in coverage. Limiting him in that regard wouldn’t make sense since his coverage is an asset.
The ability to have edge rushers who can fall back into coverage is kind of a fundamental part of the zone blitz, which the Steelers still largely utilize. There’s a reason they are able to get sacks from all over the field, and that is scheme, part of which is making the outside linebackers hard to predict.