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 Steelers still have a potent four-man pass rush even following the season-ending injury to Stephon Tuitt.
Explanation: It took the Steelers several years to revitalize their four-man pass rush. For years, they had to pepper their system with blitzes just to generate pressure, but in recent years, they have been able to scale back because their front four was getting home. But Tuitt was a big part of that, so his loss will be felt. But can they supplement without him?
As good as Tuitt is playing, they still set a franchise record in sacks in 2017 without him doing much, and that included Cameron Heyward getting 12 by himself. Heyward is still playing at a very high level in his ninth season, and Javon Hargrave is at the peak of his career now, set to take on a larger role with Tuitt sidelined.
T.J. Watt (provided that he is healthy) and Bud Dupree are also at the top of their game right now, with Watt being one of the team’s primary sources of pressure this year, even more so than Tuitt or Heyward. The pass rush, specifically the four-man pass rush, lives and dies with him and Heyward, as they are the ones who have to be accounted for.
While the four-man rush has been improving, it was at its peak through the first five games of the season, and Tuitt’s rise in play was a big part of that. Take him out of the equation, and it definitely makes that approach less effective. Time will tell how much less effective, but I can guarantee it’s going to result in them blitzing more.
Maybe the blitzing makes up for the loss of Tuitt. They haven’t really unleashed Devin Bush yet, and Vince Williams is just getting back. But the question is about getting four-man pressure without blitzing. Coupled with Watt not being 100 percent, it’s simply not going to be the same, and that means committing extra resources to the pass rush and losing that on the back end.