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: Ulysees Gilbert III will (or should) play more against the Baltimore Ravens in order to serve as spy on Lamar Jackson.
Explanation: Gilbert made his NFL defensive debut on Sunday, entering the field as the line inside linebacker in the dime defense, because he is the most athletic of the group with Devin Bush done for the season. Given his speed, he would be the most athletically-equipped linebacker to spy Lamar Jackson in Sunday’s game and prevent him from killing the defense with his legs.
Gilbert represented himself pretty well in his defensive debut, so that alone opens him up to getting more time on the field. While the Ravens are a run-heavy team—they have 181 rushing attempts to 165 pass attempts—a lot of that rushing comes from Jackson, who is tied for the team lead with 50 rushes on the season.
The Ravens’ only ‘big’ back is Mark Ingram, who is coming off of an ankle injury and isn’t guaranteed, as I write this, to be ready to play on Sunday. If he does, he won’t be 100 percent. Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins are the other backs and won’t outside Gilbert.
While the second-year player hasn’t been dressing for games, that has been due to their having other special teams options who have shown up well this year, like Marcus Allen and James Pierre. With that no longer being obstacle, we are seeing clearly that they have no hesitation with Gilbert and his ability to play.
Gilbert may play a bit more, or a higher percentage of snaps, than he did last week, but that may be due to Spillane banging his shoulder, or simply because he showed that he deserves more snaps. Or he may play less because the Steelers will have fewer opportunities to go to their dime package.
While Jackson has 50 runs, many of them are designed runs, and not dropbacks on which he chooses to scramble. This is still traditional run defense, just with the quarterback as the ball carrier. Spillane has already proven that he is capable of handling the inside linebacker position, so he should, and will, continue on in that role within the normal parameters. The more he’s on the field, the simpler the chain of communication is as well.