clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Detailing the best and worst case scenarios for the Steelers defense in 2016

New, comments

So everyone knows what the best case scenarios are for the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers, but what about the worst case? We outline each in this training camp feature.

Wild Card Round - Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Today we’ll continue reviewing the best case and worst case for each position while we jump to the defense. The unit has a lot of question marks and has much more boom or bust potential than the offense. Again, we are going to mostly ignore injuries as an example of worst case since that’s an obvious answer. For the Steelers’ sake let’s hope we see most of the best case examples in 2016.

Defensive Line

Projected Notable Players:
Cam Heyward
Stephon Tuitt
Javon Hargrave
Daniel McCullers

Best Case: Ask just about any Steelers what they think about Cam Heyward and they’ll tell you he should have made the Pro Bowl last year. With some new depth at the position they Steelers will be able to rotate Heyward out more to keep him fresh later in the games which could lead to more splash plays and his first pro bowl appearance. You can copy that sentence for Stephon Tuitt. McCullers improves his footwork and leverage to become a force in the middle for the downs he plays. Hargrave provides some depth and makes a couple plays filling in on obvious passing downs.

Worst Case: Hargrave doesn’t develop well enough to be trusted leading to Heyward and Tuitt being ineffective late in games. A lack of a pass rush from the linebackers allows offensive lineman to focus on the Steelers defensive line and more time for opposing quarterbacks to find open receivers. McCullers isn’t on the field enough to be effective and when he is in the game he still is being out leveraged by offensive lineman. A tired and thin defensive line allows opposing teams to find room running the football late in games when the Steelers need big stops to get the ball back.

Linebackers

Projected Notable Players:
Ryan Shazier
Lawrence Timmons
Jarvis Jones
Bud Dupree
James Harrison
Arthur Moats
Vince Williams

Best Case: Ryan Shazier stays healthy for a full year and we see more of what we saw in that Cincinnati playoff game more regularly. James Harrison plays in obvious passing downs and continues to consistently pressure the quarterback and control the edge on run plays. He becomes Pittsburgh’s all-time sack leader with three more sacks. Bud Dupree has learned how the NFL works from his rookie season and explodes in his sophomore year providing consistent pressure off the edge which combined with the defensive line gives the Steelers a fearsome pass rush. Similar to Markus Wheaton on the offense, Jarvis Jones takes to heart the incentive to perform in a contract year and finally shows more production rushing the passer. He continues to be strong against the run. Lawrence Timmons continues to be his steady self cleaning up anything in the middle while being the leader of the defense. Arthur Moats and Vince Williams continue to contribute on special teams while providing trustworthy depth when players need a break.

Worst Case: Shazier is again forced to miss times and whispers about him being too fragile to be a linebacker in the NFL become louder. Age catches up to James Harrison to the point that he is riding the bench more than he’s on the field. Bud Dupree isn’t ready to make the big leap as a pass rusher and that becomes a big weakness for the Steelers all year long. Jarvis Jones remains a nonfactor in the pass rush and his coverage skills are exposed. Lawrence Timmons play begins to drop off and nobody is able to pick up the slack. Due to injuries or ineffective play Moats and Williams are counted on more than they should be and their limitations are exposed. As a group they are not able to pressure quarterbacks and take pressure off their young secondary.

Secondary

Projected Notable Players:
Artie Burns
Williams Gay
Mike Mitchell
Sean Davis
Senquez Golson
Ross Cockrell
Robert Golden

Best Case: Artie Burns is a quick learner who may not start week one but can contribute in some packages. William Gay continues to hold down the outside corner position and is able to turn in a few more big plays intercepting the and taking off for the end zone. Senquez Golson comes back healthy from his various injuries and is ready to contribute during some packages like Burns while his knowledge of the playbook and Steelers system gives him a bit of an edge over other players seeing NFL action for the first time. Ross Cockrell starts the year as a starting corner and provides more consistency than Antwon Blake did. Mike Mitchell continues to be a force to reckon with when he hits receivers coming over the middle while his ball hawk skills make quarterbacks think twice about throwing deep. Sean Davis wins a starter safety job out of camp and is able to match up well with some of the big tight ends the Steelers will face in 2016. Should Davis not be ready to start right away Robert Golden holds down the spot like he did when he took over for Will Allen last year. He continues to be solid against the run when asked to help out. Eventually the young players show enough promise to see the field more and more as the year goes on and the secondary goes from the biggest cause of concern to an acceptable unit.

Worst Case: Burns, Davis and Golson all struggle seeing the field in the NFL for the first time providing the team with limited depth. Williams Gay bites too much on fakes looking for an interception making him susceptible to giving up big plays. Mike Mitchell gets injured again so we see more of the inconsistent 2014 Mitchell than the 2015 Mitchell. His over aggressive play leads to costly penalties and the new automatic ejection rule on unsportsmanlike conduct leads to an ejection in a crucial game. Cockrell and Golden prove to be inconsistent starters over the course of the year. The unit shows no signs of depth and needs to be addressed again in the next offseason. Once again it is up to the Steelers offense and pass rush to bail them out.

Special Teams

Projected Notable Players:
Chris Boswell
Jordan Berry

Best Case: Chris Boswell leads the NFL in points while kicking for a dominant offense for a full sixteen games. He is able to place kickoffs in such a way that allows the other players to get down field and prevent big returns. Jordan Berry is able to consistently flip field position for the Steelers and help out his defense. The coverage units prevent big returns and are able to force a few turnovers. Shamarko Thomas is able to regain some of his value by becoming a standout special team’s player. Eli Rodgers or Demarcus Ayers are able to become dependable return men able to give the offense good field position while limiting the hits Antonio Brown will take.

Worst Case: Boswell proves to have been a one year wonder and experiences big setbacks in regards to his accuracy and the Steelers once again must scramble to find a kicker. Berry is unable to consistently get off good punts and filed position becomes an issue all year for the Steelers. With new players being asked to fill in on special teams the team gives up big returns and commits lots of sloppy penalties. Nobody is able to take the punt return job from Brown and he is injured on a return. The kick returners fail to give the Steelers decent starting position past the 25.