Well, it seems the Steelers indeed will be without Vince Williams against the Atlanta Falcons at home on Sunday. Williams has been an incredibly underwhelming presence on the defense, and I dare say he’s currently playing himself right out of a starting job, should one of his three understudies step up.
But that would imply this experiment might possibly prove to be a positive. After all, there are three hungry linebackers who want their shots at getting more snaps once Williams returns to the fold. Maybe these guys will offer something Williams does not, and they might at least somewhat remedy an ailing defense as it goes against a top-5 offense in the NFL.
Unfortunately for us all, the Steelers’ coaches not only ignore the shortcomings of these backups, which cause the idea to be so horrendous, but they also refuse to watch the tape, to give them an idea of the guys who ought to be playing. It seems that’s a huge issue with the Steelers’ current coaching staff.
Offensively, it’s curious how the Steelers never use play-action when it works every time they run it. Or why not give Jaylen Samuels some opportunities to play when James Conner and Stevan Ridley are getting stuffed? In the case of their linebackers, though, it’s why not give Matthew Thomas and L.J. Fort all the snaps after what they’ve shown on tape.
If anyone watched tape from the Ravens game, they’d see that, in relief of Vince Williams, L.J. Fort actually played pretty well. Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora broke down in two GIFs how L.J. Fort made a difference in the run game right away.
Fort makes two excellent reads and navigates through traffic well on both. The rip on the first one is particularly well done. That’s what they call ‘getting skinny.’ On both plays, you can see Fort has the athletic ability that the Steelers have been missing. His range allows him to make those plays and, if anything, he deserves more snaps for plays like this. But instead, he’s shunned to the sub-packages for Tyler Matakevich in base.
The most egregiously non-athletic ILB in the NFL is going to be the one you want covering running plays and going into the flat to deal with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman?
That’s not going to work, and this ‘sprinkling in’ of Matthew Thomas needs to be in higher doses. We know Thomas is a raw project, but this team needs some athletic play-making in the middle of the defense.
Who offers that? Matthew Thomas and L.J. Fort — so play them.
Unfortunately, personnel decisions aren’t the only reason why this is a terrible idea. Since we all know it should be Fort and Thomas getting the bulk of the playing time, why are we rotating three ILBs in the first place?
First off, the Special Teams is already hurting heavily with two of its top-3 players down for the count this week. Nat Berhe is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle and Darrius Heyward-Bey is out with an ankle injury. If Matakevich happens to get injured, and he is a great special-teamer, you’ll be down your three core special-teamers. Not exactly what I’d like to see.
But even more importantly, you’re now running two councils — one of four guys at CB2 and three now at ILB. In the past two weeks during which you employed that CB2 council, there were frequent instances of 12 men on the field and 10 men on the field. Personnel didn’t know the play call on many occasions. So now you suddenly think this will change because of this rotation?
I highly doubt it and I predict more 12-men-on-the-field penalties this week. You are without your two main communicators on the defense in Vince Williams and Morgan Burnett. Those two are the guys that would communicate the defense if you will. Who does that now?
It will likely have to be either Cam Heyward or Joe Haden, which means your main means of communication will never be in the middle of the field. If it happens to be Sean Davis, the young kid ought to be focusing on his improvement at FS — not worrying about handling communication on top of it. And if it’s Jon Bostic — well how do we even know he’s ready to call plays from a playbook he picked up about five months ago?
Disarray is going to be afoot on the Steelers’ defense this week and possibly worse than ever. In terms of communication, Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler better have their straps buckled in tight.
They’ll need it.