There's two things Pittsburgh fans consider necessities that every Steelers team needs to possess.
A strong rushing attack, and a nasty, hard-hitting defense predicated on making a quarterback's life a living nightmare.
While Le'Veon Bell and Pittsburgh's offensive line has kept the Steelers' rushing attack among the best in the NFL, the Steelers' defense is looking to regain their place among the league's better defenses in 2015.
In the era of high-octane passing offenses, it's more important now than ever to have a strong pass rush. More often than not, this was an issue in 2014, as Pittsburgh finished 26th in the NFL with 33 sacks. They sacked Drew Brees just once in the Saints 35-32 win over Pittsburgh in Week 13 when the defense watched Brees throw for five touchdowns. Pittsburgh's defense got to Joe Flacco just once as well in the the Steelers 30-17 loss to Baltimore in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs as Flacco riddled Pittsburgh's defense for 18 completions and two touchdown passes.
Out of the teams' 33 sacks in '14, newly retired Jason Worilds was tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks. James Harrision was the only other Steeler besides Cameron Hayward to tally over five sacks last season, recording 5.5 in 11 games.
Steelers fans know the importance of what having a stellar nose tackle can do for a defense, especially in regards to putting pressure on the quarterback. It's no surprise some of the strongest defensive units in Steelers history were when the team had strong nose tackles and defensive ends who provided a constant push up the middle to collapse the pocket.
In the 1970's it was defensive tackle Ernie Holmes, while nose guard Joel Steed played the key role in Pittsburgh becoming "Blitzburgh" in the 1990's. Five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton's impact on the Steelers defense earlier in this century is well-documented, as the Steelers finished in the top-five in total defense in 10 of Hampton's 12 seasons, with Pittsburgh's defense ranking No.1 overall six times.
After finishing No.1 in overall defense in each of Hampton's last two seasons, Pittsburgh's defense slipped to 13th overall in 2013, it's worst standing in a decade. The defense finished 18th in total defense last season, and it's continued lack of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks ultimately led to their demise in the playoffs.
While the Steelers brass has made no secret about their desire to draft a defensive back with their No. 22 pick in the NFL Draft, the team should also consider the benefits of obtaining a strong nose tackle who has a chance make an immediate impact.
One such player is nose tackle Malcom Brown, who hails from Hampton's alma mater, the University of Texas. A projected first round pick, Brown started each of the Longhorns games over the past two seasons, and despite facing double teams early and often last season, he managed to make 64 tackles (14 for loss) to go with 6.5 sacks.
CBSsports.com's draft assessment of Brown is very positive, stating that the 6'4'' Brown "definitely passes the eye test with a tall, wide frame and carries his 315-325 pound frame very well, showing easy movement skills. Brown looks natural on his feet with the range and redirection skills to make plays away from the line of scrimmage.
"Frequently among the quickest off the ball, showing the ability to penetrate and create havoc on behind the line of scrimmage. Brown locates the ball quickly, keeping his eyes up even as he is fighting through multiple blockers and works hard to get to the action, spinning and sliding to get involved. Gets his hands up in passing lanes, showing good body control and timing on his leaps to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage (six over his career). Still developing talent whose best football appears to be ahead of him."
Brown's highlight tape at Texas more than reinforces his high draft reviews. Throughout the video, Brown showcases his deceptive speed, quick feet and his ability to fend off double teams to harass opposing quarterbacks. A facet of Brown's game that won't appear on the stat sheet is the motor that Brown seems to play with on every snap. Hall-of-Fame safety Ronnie Lott used to call them "woo hits", hard hits on the opposition that cased that reaction from players and fans alike. Brown delivers "woo hits" throughout the video that included his lick on on the unsuspecting quarterback at the 1:04 mark. It looks as if Brown plays with a controlled aggression and fury that could be infectious on his teammates. Brown could bring a nasty attitude to the defense not seen since Joey Porter roamed the field in the Black and Gold.
Pressure is the name of the game in today's NFL. Just ask Peyton Manning about such a thing in regards to Pittsburgh's defensive dominance in the team's playoff upset of the Colts back in 2005. It all starts up front, and if the Steelers can pair defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Hayward with an ace at nose tackle, Pittsburgh could possess one of the best young defensive lines in football, which could go a long way in bringing the Steelers defense back to prominence.