The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The absence of Sean Davis was felt significantly last night.
Explanation: He is certainly not among the most popular players on the team, but fourth-year veteran free safety Sean Davis, entering his second year working at that position, is the longest-tenured member of the secondary along with Artie Burns at this point, short of Jordan Dangerfield. Kameron Kelly, who was signed in April as a first-year player, started in his place due to his ankle injury.
Considering that he played a critical role in allowing a long touchdown to Phillip Dorsett when neither he nor Terrell Edmunds could figure out who was supposed to pick up the wide receiver as he split the safeties (it was probably on the former), it goes without saying that the defense was missing Davis with Kelly out there.
There are some things that Kelly did well. In particular, he played well going forward, and I believe he was able to record at least a couple of run stops. He showed that on a couple of plays in the preseason, as well. But he was weak in key moments in the most fundamental tasks and responsibilities of the free safety as a last line of defense.
In 2018, the Steelers gave up among the fewest explosive plays in the league, believe it or not, and substantially cut down on what the Steelers had normally been allowing. That was Davis’ first year at free safety.
One can argue that it was Edmunds who struggled more. He overran Josh Gordon on the first touchdown as Joe Haden missed a tackle. On another long Gordon reception, he chose not to go for the ball, instead opting to lay a big hit in the hopes of dislodging it.
Here’s the reality: the Steelers have spent as much or more time this offseason working with Kelly in the starting lineup at free safety as they have with Davis. In other words, they were, or at least should have been, plenty prepared to field a defense with Kelly in the lineup. As mentioned, he did make his plays and he was around the ball a lot (he had tackles on five consecutive plays at one point). It’s saying way too much to place that much blame on him when so many other things went wrong.