2021 South Side Questions: Scheme, Coaching, Or Talent The Larger Issue On Defense?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Is scheme, coaching, or talent the larger issue on defense?

When you play the way the Steelers have on defense this season, the answer to ‘what is the problem?’ is always multiple. You can’t get this kind of performance week in and week out without there being several different issues.

The run defense has been the biggest problem, and playing without two of their starting defensive linemen almost all season has obviously been an issue. Chris Wormley has more or less played at replacement level, but this defense has been driven by above-the-line talent from guys like Stephon Tuitt.

Then there’s linebacker. Devin Bush has had a straight-up bad season. There’s a pretty good chance that he gets benched by the time the season is over, if not by the next time they take the field. Linebackers not filling their gaps is a death sentence against the run.

But then you watch how the Steelers defended Justin Jefferson on Thursday night and you have to wonder. It’s not even how they talked about playing him, as they ended up leaving him in one-on-one situations regularly.

The odds are good that Keith Butler is not going to be the defensive coordinator of this unit in 2022. Yet suggestions persist that Mike Tomlin has been running the defense for years, anyway. What would be the impact of a new defensive coordinator? Would it make much of a difference if it’s the same players who are on the field?

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