This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who pays close attention to the game of football, but the ‘secret’ on how to abuse the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is out there. It might have taken some teams longer than others, but there it has become very obvious how offenses are approaching the Steelers’ defense to maximize success.
It is simple, really. Just keep the two inside linebackers on the field as much as possible.
If there is a glaring weakness in the Pittsburgh defense, it would be at inside linebacker. While we have written, and talked, about the absence of Ryan Shazier a lot here, his absence is noteworthy on a weekly basis, and when you analyze the snap counts from the team’s Week 4 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football you see just what I’m referencing.
In my opinion, by drafting Terrell Edmunds in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the team believed they would be able to utilize this big safety in a hybrid inside linebacker role. Morgan Burnett would play alongside Sean Davis, and Edmunds could the the ‘rover’ in the middle. Clearly, Burnett was injured in the game, and Mike Hilton’s absence compounded the issue, but the Steelers going against two tight end sets has left them vulnerable in more ways than one.
When everyone is healthy, Jon Bostic and Vince Williams are on the field for the run-heavy look, and offenses are shredding them because of it. In the Week 4 loss, the Steelers played Williams 65 snaps, 86 percent, and Bostic 58 snaps, 76 percent of the plays.
On the flip side, the Ravens deployed two tight ends often. Nick Boyle registered 55 snaps, Maxx Williams 40 and Mark Andrews 26. Talk about a lot of tight end play from the opposition.
Even in the team’s Week 3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where the Steelers possessed a huge lead in the first half, the Buccaneers tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate saw 48 and 31 snaps respectively.
This isn’t a new trend, but one which wasn’t abused with teams who have the tight ends to pull it off when Ryan Shazier was healthy and active. With Shazier, they had a knifing linebacker in run support, and an athlete fast enough to run with the more receiver-like tight ends in the passing game.
How can the Steelers fix this issue? It doesn’t come without paying a price. They can continue to die a slow, painful death watching Bostic and Williams attempt to cover, or they can gamble with a smaller, but more athletic, player manning the middle of the field.
In my opinion, I’ve seen enough in the first quarter to know I don’t want to test Bostic and Williams more than they already have been. I would be all for Edmunds becoming the player in the middle in certain sub packages, or giving Matthew Thomas a shot at trying to be the stop-gap for this leaking defense.
With a 1-2-1 record, and a defense making history in all the wrong ways, I don’t see how you keep continuing to do what you have done, expecting a different result. In fact, some say that is the definition of insanity.
Only time will tell.
If you want to see the complete Snap Totals for the Steelers in Week 4, you can check the chart below, or click HERE.