Mathematics was always my favorite subject in school, because it wasn't reliant on theory or conjecture. Mathematics deal with absolutes; there is a correct answer for each problem. While it is true that numbers don't lie, statistics can be misleading. There is often more to the story than meets the eye. One such example would be Pittsburgh Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds.
A recent analytical breakdown of the Steelers secondary last season showed that opposing QBs achieved their highest QBR against the Steelers pass coverage when targeting Edmunds coverage responsibilities. I believe the parameters are set as whenever a defender is within three yards of a targeted receiver, but there may be additional criteria that I am not aware of. Regardless, this can be a misleading statistic.
Any completed pass is considered a positive result for the QBR, but that is only part of the story. Many opposing QBs were forced to quickly dump the ball off to a TE or RB in the flat to avoid the sack against the Steelers ferocious, league leading pass rush. I will give you two guesses which Steelers defender was responsible in coverage on these outlet receivers and relied on to limit the damage on such receptions. The majority of the time it was none other than Terrell Edmunds, and he performed admirably in those situations. He limited the YAC, often leading to a punt and a change of possession. However, the completed pass directly impacted Edmunds QBR against, even though the final result was positive for the Steelers.
Truthfully, Edmunds is fighting a uphill battle for approval in some fan's eyes. He is often judged unfairly, at no fault of his own. Edmunds didn't ask to be overdrafted, whether it was a round or two before his selection was necessary. He just goes out and gives his all each game, to the best of his ability. Maybe we all just need to adjust our expectations concerning Edmunds, and exercise a little patience with his development. Let's call it the "Bud Dupree Effect".
Edmunds and Dupree are far more similar than many realize. Both are far more athletic than instinctual. They are sinewy, quick twitch specimens that swiftly fly around the football field. They can create havoc for opposing offenses when properly motivated and placed in situations that accentuate their abilities. Both young men seem to be highly coachable, an important distinction for the Steelers defense moving forward.
Dupree enjoyed his best season in 2019, and for a variety of reasons. The contract year more than likely contributed to the motivation, but the coachability factor shouldn't be overlooked. While the jury is still out on Keith Bulter the defensive coordinator, there is no denying Keith Butler is a superior OLB coach. He has coached multiple Pro Bowl selections through the years, and arguably could have had two more deserving of the honor last season. Dupree's breakout performance last season seems to confirm Butler's hard-earned reputation as a linebacker whisperer.
There is reason to believe that 2020 will be Edmunds breakout season. Edmunds showed substantial improvement in his sophomore season, utilizing his speed to remain effective while he continued to learn the defense and adjust to his new teammates, especially when it comes to early-season addition Minkah Fitzpatrick. With a full off-season to study film of each other's tendencies and a training camp to apply those lessons learned, the tandem should be even more efficient next season.
Edmunds needs to work on his technique to improve his tackling, and focus on taking better angles to the ball in coverage and against the run. These are issues that can be improved with coaching, and as previously mentioned, Edmunds is reportedly coachable.
One of Edmunds bigger struggles may prove harder to overcome, and will depend on the coaches to put him in the best situations to be successful. Too many times last season Edmunds found himself in perfect coverage, only to fail to get his head around in time to get eyes on the football and make the play. Always a day late and a dollar short.
Edmunds lacks the instincts of a ball hawking safety. He can improve in these coverage situations through hard work and coaching, but will always be limited. Good thing that FS Minkah Fitzpatrick has this ability in spades. As they become more familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses, they will be able to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives. Think Polamalu/Clark 2.0, if you will.
Edmunds taking the next step in his development may be just what the Steelers defense needs to be truly dominant in 2020.