Scenario: The Pittsburgh Steelers finish 2014 with their defense ranking outside the top 10 among NFL defenses.
Why it will happen: The Pittsburgh Steelers' front office has began the rebuilding process on the defensive side of the football by allowing some aging veteran players to retire or go to another NFL team in hopes of continuing their career. Going from older and slower leads to becoming younger and faster, but with the youth comes inexperience and mistakes that could become critical to the success of the defense.
The Steelers finished 13th in total defense in 2013. 21st against the run allowing 115 yards per game on the ground, and 13th against the pass allowing 222 yards through the air a game. The main reason why the Steelers could see a repeat performance of the 2013 defense is that the answers they have brought in to plug holes left are either rookies, or new to the complex Dick LeBeau defense.
Brett Keisel might return, but if he doesn't, it will be up to Stephon Tuitt to step in and make an impact as a rookie. Same could be said for Ryan Shazier who is filling in for Larry Foote at the inside linebacker position. Mike Mitchell was brought in to secure the back end of the secondary that was vacated by Ryan Clark.
On paper, all of these moves seem like upgrades, but only time will tell if that is true. Relying on rookies to solidify any position can show a lack of depth at a particular position and an overall weakness within a unit. With veterans being replaced with young talent could mean trouble for a defense that struggled mightily in 2013.
Why it won't happen: As previously stated, the Steelers replaced aging veterans with young speed. Although that can lead to mistakes, the speed and athleticism they will now deploy on the defensive side of the football is more than capable of making up for mental mistakes.
Ryan Shazier ran a 40-yard dash time in the combine that was faster than most wide receivers, and it will be that speed that will allow him to simply run to the ball and make plays. If Dick LeBeau is able to dumb down different aspects of the defense for specific players, there is no doubt that these young playmakers can do just that, make plays.
This defense looks to be able to do two things that the 2013 version struggled with, stifle the running attack of opponents and get after the quarterback. It has been well documented that the Steelers will be able to access different types of blitzes and coverages with the speed that they now have in their system. All of that could lead to a top 10 defense in 2014.
Keys: Utilizing the horses in the stable will ultimately lead to the demise or success of the 2014 Steelers defense. They have tremendous potential, but also an unusual amount of inexperience on the defensive side of the football. With that comes the need to put players in the position to make plays. Limit players like Ryan Shazier to coverages and packages that will ultimately have him able to utilize his skill set and help the defense succeed. If the defense is too complex for the young players, like it was in 2013 for Jarvis Jones, then you could see some slow and sloppy play rather than the speed and playmaking ability fans expect.