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Fixing the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers — The Defense

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The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs, and the team needs fixing. Today we focus on what needs to change on the defense.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As we all now have to wait two weeks until the Super Bowl, it seems to be an appropriate time to not just sit back and complain about what could have been in 2018, but what needs to change to make 2019 special.

First, I do believe the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers can be a special team, but not if they continue with the status quo. In today’s article I focus on the defensive side of the ball, and what needs to change to make sure the outcome next season doesn’t duplicate this season and missing the playoffs altogether.

Before digging deep into the specific changes, I decided to handle this series with a worst-case scenario type attitude. In other words, I am assuming Morgan Burnett gets his wish and is released, and the Steelers try to re-negotiate a new deal with Bud Dupree in lieu of his 5th year option.

With that said, let’s roll up our sleeves...we have some fixin’ to do.

Coaching

Well, where do we begin? Do you have the rest of the week? There are some glaring issues with the coaching staff, and the fan base is wondering if the minor changes which have taken place will ultimately help, or continue to hurt, the Steelers’ defense.

At a time when everyone, and their brother, thought Keith Butler would be getting fired at season’s end, here he is back for 2019. Oh, but wait — there’s more! After firing Joey Porter the team has reportedly decided to put Butler himself in charge of the outside linebackers in lieu of bringing in a new coach to help.

The Steelers’ made some defensive coaching changes this offseason, and also made some additions which make fans wonder what the defensive coaching will look like in 2019. The addition of Teryl Austin to help assist with the defense, and primarily coach the secondary, combine with Butler focusing on the linebackers again makes you wonder if they will have almost a dual coordinator look in 2019.

Either way you slice it, one fact remains as the team heads into next season. If this defense is going to resemble anything close to a championship level unit, the coaching needs to be better.

Personnel

The personnel, from a player standpoint, is something which might seem to be a never ending uphill battle, but I disagree. Looking at the defense from top to bottom, when talking about starters I feel this defense is just a few players away from being a more complete group.

Clearly the decline of Artie Burns has the Steelers thinking cornerback in some way, shape or form this offseason. The gaping hole left by Ryan Shazier continues to be a Grand Canyon type gap in the middle of the defense. Morgan Burnett, who was signed to be the nickel and dime backer, now says he wants a chance to play safety and wants to be traded. Some might say Vince Williams is a liability, but if he is paired with the right linebacker partner he truly can thrive.

In other words, while there are clearly needs on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t think they are as dire as many might suggest. Add a cornerback, safety, inside linebacker and maybe some help on the edge and this defense could be legit. The only other needs would be depth along the defensive line.

No, the sky isn’t falling from a personnel standpoint, in my opinion.

Game Play

While the personnel department might not be as bad as many think, the on field portion of this equation certainly has some issues. The Steelers’ inability to take the football away is the most glaring issue, but tackling continues to plague this Keith Butler unit.

After spending the vast majority of training camp focusing on tackling, did it really improve? I would say no. The angles defenders take, mainly Terrell Edmunds, are enough to make fans cringe. This defense just needs to improve the basics to really see some improvement across the board.

Tackle better. Play better angles. Catch the football when you have the opportunity to take the ball away. Sometimes it is that simple.

Overview

The Steelers’ fan base loves to hate on the coaching staff, and they certainly deserve their share of the blame. However, they aren’t the ones on the field missing tackles and dropping would-be interceptions. This defense does have potential, but it will be up to everyone from the General Manager down to the players to reach the totality of that potential.

Will it happen? I could, but if recent history is any indication of the offseason plan, both in free agency and the NFL Draft, fans have every right to remain skeptical.

With that said, this Steelers defense did have some highlights this season, mainly in the sack department. T.J. Watt posted a 13 sack season, the team tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 52, and have produced 108 sacks the past two seasons. But the hard truth is this defense just didn’t make enough plays to get this team to the postseason. Can it be fixed? Absolutely, and fans better hope it gets rectified soon!