Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Needs Fixing This Off-Season

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Steelers Defense
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: Joe Haden #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense was very Jekyll-and-Hyde. Pittsburgh was tied for first in sacks and was top ten in fewest passing and rushing yards allowed per game. However, the unit didn’t force many turnovers and was very susceptible to big plays. Some of that can be attributed to under-performing players. Some of it could be attributed to poor coaching. Whichever way you look at it, there needs to be improvement.

Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Needs to be a Priority This Off-Season

Secondary Needs Some Help

Probably the biggest weakness on the Steelers defense was its secondary. The unit gave up big plays in what seemed like every game. Late in games it constantly felt like the secondary was unable to shut teams down. One just has to watch the game against the Los Angeles Chargers to see an example of that. The defensive backfield needs an overhaul, which requires moving on from a handful of players.

No member of the secondary is without some questions. Joe Haden is the team’s best cornerback, but he is 30 and not getting any younger. There might be some promise within Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen, but they are young and unproven. Mike Hilton is capable but has limited upside. Coty Sensabaugh isn’t really a playmaker and will likely be a free agent. Artie Burns has proved to be more liability than anything else.

The safety position holds more promise than the cornerbacks. Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds have shown themselves to be capable in their positions. There is a reason to believe they’ll continue to improve. Morgan Burnett has asked to leave the Steelers after just one year with the team. There is nothing exciting about Nat Berhe or Marcus Allen. Jordan Dangerfield was very workmanlike in his performances this year, as well as having a great last name.

This all comes down to the Steelers lacking playmakers in their secondary. Drafting young talent is a smart play, but the Steelers already have projects on the roster. Pittsburgh had eight interceptions last season, fifth fewest in the league. Haden led the team – with two picks. For the Steelers defense to be more successful next season they need to force more turnovers. Adding Bradley Roby or Ronald Darby would go a long way to shoring up a much maligned secondary.

Inside Linebackers Still Have a Shazier-Sized Hole

It’s hard to overstate how much the Steelers defense misses their defensive stalwart in Ryan Shazier. Vince Williams, L.J. Fort, and Jonathan Bostic have tried to fill that hole admirably, but it’s obvious how much Shazier is missed. Depth and playmaking ability are sorely needed here, as difficult as that might be to do in one off-season. There are some interesting options that the Steelers should explore.

One free agent that the Steelers should strongly consider is C.J. Mosley. It might seem sacrilegious to bring in someone from the rival Baltimore Ravens, but there is no denying the talent he has. Mosley has over 600 tackles in five seasons, four of which ended with Pro Bowl selections. He pressures the quarterback well, something Ben Roethlisberger could certainly vouch for. He has the athleticism that the Steelers have missed without Shazier.

Another guy Pittsburgh should look at is K.J. Wright. Wright is older and coming off an injury, but he could still make an impact for the Steelers. Like Mosley, Wright is athletic and a tackling machine. Wright is a strong leader, like Mosley, that could command the center of that defense. Unlike Mosley, however, Wright could come cheaper. That would help the Steelers focus money elsewhere and draft someone for Wright to mentor.

The draft has options that could be available for Pittsburgh in the first round. Devin White from LSU has the measurables and production of a top-10 pick. He accumulated 286 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and one interception in college. Pittsburgh would need to trade up to take him. They could also look at Devin Bush from Michigan. Slightly undersized, he has a drive and tenacity that fits well in Pittsburgh. He’s tremendously athletic and could play well in coverage. He could be available without the team moving up.

Defensive Line and Edge Rushers Are Solid

The most reliable part of the Steelers defense has to be the defensive line and the outside linebackers. Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, and Cameron Heyward are a formidable defensive front that combined for 20 sacks and 145 tackles last year. The one thing the defensive line lacks is depth. The Steelers have to decide if the draft is where they want to find that, or if keeping Daniel McCullers and Leterrius Walton are worth it.

On the edge, the Steelers have a beast in T.J. Watt. He had 13 sacks, 68 tackles, and forced six fumbles last season. Bud Dupree hasn’t developed the way many thought, but he still had 5.5 sacks and 42 tackles. I believe he’s done enough to be brought back next season, but there is the possibility the Steelers could upgrade the position. One potentially inexpensive free agent would be Shaquil Barrett from the Denver Broncos. He’s eager to prove himself as a starter and he could certainly do that in Pittsburgh. He and Dupree could push each other and potentially match the production coming from Watt.

Conclusion

Last season the Pittsburgh Steelers had a very inconsistent defense., On one hand, they led the league in sacks and were top ten in rushing and passing yards per game. On the other hand, they were among the worst in forcing turnovers and gave up many big plays. Changes need to be made in order for the Steelers defense to improve next season. That includes an overhaul of the secondary, finding a new leader at linebacker, and adding depth of the defensive line and edge rushers. If the Steelers do this, their defense can get back to being among the best in the league.

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