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 have the ability to field a top-five defense in 2018.
The Steelers already have a pretty talented roster on the defensive side of the ball, especially along the defensive line, and with a very promising secondary that features a nice mixture of youth and experience. They also have new coaches that could help them get even better.
Health is a major factor, of course, but the defensive line could be fearsome this year. Cameron Heyward is coming off a 12-sack season, and Stephon Tuitt is just as talented. He is coming off an injury-plagued season. Javon Hargrave is also due for improvement.
Joe Haden with a full offseason and Morgan Burnett are both upgrades. Burnett in particular should be a big step forward in terms of making sure that the entire back end is communicating well. Mike Hilton is just a second-year player. They are full of talent.
Add in Tom Bradley, who should be an asset in cleaning up communications issues, and improvements in the pass rush from the Steelers’ outside linebackers—particularly T.J. Watt—and, at least on paper, there is no reason that this defense can’t be one of the best defenses in the league.
The problem is that the nucleus of the entire defense is missing. Even if Jon Bostic proves to be a competent player, there is nobody that can come in and replace the impact that Ryan Shazier had on the defense. Including the fact that he was the team’s primary source of turnovers, the Steelers just don’t have the ability to replace him.
And they also can’t count on an encore performance from the pass rush coming from all over the place. A double-digit sack season from a lineman, eight sacks from an inside linebacker, four sacks from a cornerback? These are not common. And Bud Dupree isn’t exactly a guarantee for 10 sacks himself.