Originally posted on Bleed Black & Gold  |  Last updated 2/15/12

The Steelers had the number 1 defense in the NFL last season.  They gave up the least amount of total yards and points in the NFL last season.  They used their bend but do not break style to help them get victories and it got them a 12-4 record and a trip to the playoffs as the number 5 seed.  The Steelers defense was not dominant like it has been in years past though.  The team had a -13 turnover differential.  That is not the type of production the Steelers are used to.  It was their worst turnover differential since 2006 when the Steelers were at a -6.  That season the Steelers went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

The Steelers have 2 real dominant pass rushers on defense right now.  They are LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.  Woodley and Harrison are the guys who get the sacks and force bad throws.  Woodley and Harrison both finished the year with 9 sacks.  They had over half of the Steelers team sacks.  The Steelers finished tied for 17th in the NFL in sacks with 35.  This all while Woodley missed 6 full games and most of 2 others.  Harrison also missed five games between injuries and suspensions.  So in 20 full games these guys had 18 sacks.  Woodley’s production should only go up as he is just reaching his prime.

Harrison though is getting up there in age and has back problems.  He is not going to be around forever.  He had some of his best games early in the season and right after he came back from injury.  The more rest Harrison got the better he played.  That is the sign of a declining player.  Jason Worilds showed some flashes and he was third on the team in sacks this year with 3.  He will assume the role once Harrison is gone.  He could also use more snaps to keep Harrison fresh all season.

The Steelers had trouble getting pressure from anyone else on the team.  No one on the team had any more then 3 sacks for the season.  Without Woodley and Harrison on the field the team struggled to get any real push on the QB.  Offenses while not scoring much still were able to move the ball and were able to take their time finding open receivers.  Quarterbacks had all day to throw the ball.  It was not the Steelers defense we all know.

The Steelers are not going to get pressure from their front three.  Keisel is more of a get a good push and get his hands up kind of player right now.  It is a great thing to have with his hands up and cutting off passing lanes.  Hood and Heyward are built more to stop the run.  I would like to see a little more push from them but they are doing there job right now.  We know Hampton is not going to rush the passer and he is unlikely to even start the season if he is still on the team in September.  This is not where the pass rush is coming from.

The Steelers could really use another pass rusher to help bring pressure.  The team only has 2 openings in the front 7 where someone new could come in and apply pressure. Hood and Heyward are the future at DE.  I already mentioned Woodley and Harrison.  Timmons will be at one ILB spot.  That leaves a NT and the other ILB position.  Our NT’s are normally space eaters who stop the run.  They are not expected to be pass rushers.  So ILB it is.  James Farrior and Larry Foote are not big pass rushers and neither is very effective in coverage anymore either.  If there is a spot to do any upgrade this would be it.

The Steelers could upgrade the pass rush at ILB through the draft.  Vontaze Burflict is an outstanding pass rusher out of Arizona State.  He though is a head case and has a problem getting personal foul penalties.  When he is on his game though he reminds me of Ray Lewis.  You have to get past the crazy part first though.  Another option is Dont’a Hightower out of Alabama.  I have not hid my affection for this kid.  He is the perfect fit for this team.  He is a solid thumper and knows how to find the hole for the blitz.  The other top tier inside linebacker is Luke Kuechly.  He is more of a coverage linebacker who is just a tackling machine.  He is not that much of a pass rusher.

Another way the Steelers could upgrade the pass rush is to have Woodley, Harrison and Worilds all on the field on passing downs.  They are the three best pass rushers.  The Steelers only usually have one guy with their hand on the ground on third down anyways, why not let Worilds help out the pass rush.  I did not understand this year why Farrior and Foote stayed on the field and this kid sat on the bench.  It was bad for our defense in coverage and on the blitz.  He could have also replaced Hood, Heyward or Keisel to give these guys the breather they need to stay fresh late in games.  He was a poorly used asset this season.

The Steelers are used to bringing pressure.  That is how they get their turnovers.  They hurry the QB into a bad throw that becomes an interception.  They also hit the QB and force fumbles.  That is something they did not do well this year.  They only recovered four fumbles on the season.  This team is not the same without the pass rush.  This needs to be one of the top priorities this offseason.  Finding a way to get to the quarterback.  It is time to upgrade so that we continue to be a dominant defense.

 

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