So, now we’ve come to the side of the ball where the Steelers’ bread is buttered. For years, the Steelers’ defense has instilled fear and respect in opponents. From the days of the Steel Curtain, through the years of Blitz-burgh and the Zone Blitz, to this latest incantation, defense has been the hallmark of Pittsburgh Steelers football.
The most natural place to start this conversation is with the play of the line.
The Steelers finished the season with the number 2 ranked rushing defense, allowing 90.6 rushing yards per game. That’s not bad. However, they were 14th in the league in sacks. That’s not great.
The problem is, as with so many other areas, the line is getting older and the younger guys are not playing up to their potential yet.
For the most part, Casey Hampton (age 35), Brett Keisel (34), and Ziggy Hood (26) did what defensive linemen in a 3-4 defensive scheme are supposed to do: Occupy offensive linemen so the linebackers can make plays.
But you do need some production out of the line in terms of sacks and turnovers, too. For a Steelers defense to be ranked so low in sacks is a concern, at best.
And the fact of the matter is some of their rankings in yardage allowed can be attributed to the fact that opposing offenses were working on short fields a lot because of turnovers.
With the age of Hampton and Keisel, the Steelers desperately need guys like Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon to step. In fact, it would not surprise me if Hampton was released during this off season, maybe Keisel, too.
The Steelers will probably have to address the D line in this year’s draft much like they did with the O line in 2012. Let’s hope the injury bug doesn’t bite the young guys on defense like it did their offensive counterparts last year.
Of course, there is always the chance a pick will be a bust. The Steelers took NT Alameda Ta’amu in the fourth round in the 2012 draft. He managed to get cut from the Steelers twice and will most likely never see a game in a Steelers’ uniform.
That is the kind of thing you cannot afford in the middle rounds of the draft. With those 3rd, 4th, and 5th round picks, you must find value. That is the formula for success teams like Baltimore and New England use. The Steelers must adopt the same formula.
I’m no draft expert, but it seems to me that the Steelers must address their D line early in the draft, because the play of the line this year was just this side of sub-par.
The aging D line held their own, but in a league where holding your own means going 8-8, that’s not good enough. Hampton will almost certainly be gone this year, and Keisel may go with him, so there will be an opportunity for young guys to come in and perform. For 2012, considering their age and the horrible situations their offense put them in far too often, I give the D line a C.