With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are 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).
Topic Statement: Patrick Peterson will be the Steelers’ primary slot defender.
Explanation: The Steelers have not had a strong coverage option out of the slot in a while, something that wasn’t even Mike Hilton’s strength. William Gay would probably be the last. Patrick Peterson has alluded multiple times to the notion that the Steelers will be asking him to do new things and has expressed receptiveness to it. The alternatives are Arthur Maulet and Chandon Sullivan.
There are many outside cornerbacks, especially as they get older, who will start on the outside and then shift into the slot when the defense employs a nickel or dime defense. While Patrick Peterson historically hasn’t been one of them, he will be now.
It’s the only way for the Steelers to get their best talent on the field, which is going to include Joey Porter Jr., perhaps as the nickel defender playing outside. Certainly Levi Wallace playing outside with Peterson in the slot is a better coverage option than Peterson outside and Maulet or Sullivan in the slot.
While Peterson might play some in the slot, the Steelers aren’t suddenly going to ask him to spend most of his time there. Maulet will likely be there for most early-downs looks, but the Steelers have a variety of options that they likely intend to use.
That includes three-safety looks with Keanu Neal likely to be another run-downs option. And they didn’t just suddenly, randomly sign Sullivan during the draft. The move was timed because it reflected the reality of them not getting the slot defender that they might have hoped for in the draft.
Which means it’s not their intention to play Peterson in the slot a great deal. They have two slot cornerbacks now in Maulet and Sullivan, and they can supplement with their safeties as needed or desired, whether it’s Neal or Damontae Kazee or Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is a capable slot defender himself and did it a fair bit last year. They have enough of a history of mixing and matching to reason that it’s their most likely strategy.