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 inside linebacker blitzes will return as a staple of the Steelers’ defense in the wake of Stephon Tuitt’s injury.
Explanation: The Steelers have increasingly come to depend upon their ability to get after the quarterback with a standard four-man pass rush over the course of the past couple of years, with that being no more evident than in the first six games of 2019. But with one of the key pieces of that front four done for the year, they may have to supplement with other means of generating pressure.
An increase in the use of blitzes from the inside linebacker position was likely to have been coming either way. The fact of the matter is that the group hasn’t been in the ideal position to be a major contributor in that area to date, but should be able to after the bye.
Their best and most experienced blitzer is Vince Williams, and he missed several games this season. He does already have a sack since coming back, which should be no surprise. Devin Bush is a rookie and still getting his head around everything, so new things will be added to his game on a weekly basis. And as for Mark Barron, like Jon Bostic, he wasn’t asked to blitz as much as the Steelers have ordinarily asked their inside linebackers to, especially playing in a 4-3 in Los Angeles.
The timing is right for the Steelers to shift to a more blitz-oriented pass rush coming out of the bye week, and considering that both Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin have talked or hinted at it, it would be nothing short of surprising if we don’t see a meaningful uptick.
Unless it’s geared toward a specific opponent, the Steelers don’t make many adjustments to the way that they do things unless they have to. Before seeing a significant increase in blitzing, they are going to see how the front four looks getting after the passer, which includes Javon Hargrave having a bigger role.
Even if we do see more blitzing in the first game, that could be temporary as T.J. Watt gets himself back to full health. The defensive line will have to find its footing without Tuitt, and that may take some time as well. But ultimately, they want to get there with four, and if they can do that, they will. But you have to find out on the field.