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Suspect Secondary: Pittsburgh’s defense remains a serious problem

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers

If the Steelers are going to win a record seventh Super Bowl this season, they HAVE to improve on defense. It’s as simple as that. As the old adage goes, defense wins championships and Pittsburgh’s just isn’t good enough right now. While they had a stout run defense last season in terms of statistics, it was only because opposing quarterbacks were more focused on dissecting Mike Tomlin’s leaky secondary…

In 2015, Pittsburgh finished 30th out of 32 teams in defensive rankings against the pass. That’s right – only two teams (the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants) fared worse in the air than the Steelers; and that has to change if Pittsburgh intend on challenging for the Super Bowl title this season. As of July 23rd, Tomlin’s men are 10/1 in Betway’s NFL odds and their chances hang in the balance ahead of what could be a memorable campaign.

The Steelers’ secondary has changed significantly over the last few years – and it would be fair to claim that perhaps Pittsburgh failed to prepare for Troy Polamalu’s departure. In turn, Ryan Clark and Ibe Taylor also left Heinz Field at the end of the 2014 campaign; two key components of Pittsburgh’s secondary. And now, the Steelers are struggling to adapt to life without these influential stars. In time, Pittsburgh will be fine – it’s a waiting game…

Because they have a number of young starlets that could mature into consistently good NFL regulars. It wasn’t a huge surprise to see Pittsburgh go for a cornerback in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft back in April and Artie Burns is widely touted to be the face of the Steelers secondary for many years to come. Burns will learn his trade alongside/under William Gay and the Steelers will benefit greatly from his added skillset on defense. Gay recorded a number of interceptions over the last few years but Burns could contribute towards Pittsburgh’s defensive success in the coming years.

Traditionally, Pittsburgh have tried desperately to avoid putting rookies immediately into the starting line-up but Tomlin might not have a choice this year. While Mike Mitchell will be the first safety on the Steelers depth chart, Sean Davis – taken in the second round of this year’s draft – could somehow force his way into the side. The Steelers know that experience is vital, especially on defense, but both Davis and Burns are gifted players and they have the temperament to succeed at the top level.

And what is the best way to keep your defense off the field? Keep your offense ON the field – and that means a strong running game. When it comes down to it, the Steelers have one of the best running back corps in the National Football League and Pittsburgh’s secondary could benefit if their offense manages to slow their tempo down slightly. Tomlin’s side had the third best offense in the division last season but they sometimes scored a bit too quickly; meaning that the Steelers defense spent more time on the field.



  1. Bobby

    July 30, 2016 at 7:20 am

    I think that Coach Butler did a fantastic job last season with subpar group of secondary players. Maybe that’s contributed to Carnel Lake as well. One disturbing trend however was the personal foul stupidity of some of the players for unsportsmanlike conduct on the field. Mike Mitchell continues to be problematic with the same taunting fouls and Steelers Nation has to be sick of it.
    That responsibility goes to Mike Tomlin and hopefully it gets resolved.

  2. DrGeorge

    July 30, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    For the three years before Dick LeBeau left the Steelers, I argued here that he was being asked to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse — that is, to make a top tier defense out of mediocre talent. No coach can do that. Money decisions favored the offense, in what appeared to be an orchestrated effort to hamstring and shed the older, expensive, and lengendary LeBeau for a young and more tractable defensive coordinator. LeBeau resigned, Butler was anointed, but the result was the same — because the underlying problem (mediocre talent) remained. Three years later, veteran talent has gone and new talent has come in, but the quality of the defense remains much the same. Butler is not to blame for this anymore than LeBeau was to blame. The cause lies with Tomlin and team management in allowing the offensive talent to get so far out of balance with the defensive talent. Talent follows the money.

    Here’s a telling observation: what Steelers’ defensive players were chosen for the Pro Bowl in 2016? Think hard. You got it — zero. How about 2015? Can’t recall? It was Timmons. In 2014? Polamalu. That’s it, folks. Only two Steelers’ defensive players in the past three years made the Pro Bowl.

    Such honors are not dispositive, of course. Pro Bowl selections are made in equal measures by fans, players, and coaches, and some of our guys may have been unjustly overlooked. I’ll grant that. But it does give an indication of how our defensive personnel is viewed generally, and it isn’t flattering.

    All of which is to say that Butler has more problems to solve than a weak secondary. The pass rush, run stopping, linebacker man-to-man coverage, and basic tackling must improve, too. A team, even one with an outstanding offense, can only go so far with a mediocre defense. The last three years provide all the proof needed of that.

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