This just in, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is the best in the business when it comes to rushing the passer. The Steelers tied the official NFL record of registering a sack in a staggering 69 straight games in Monday's loss against the Washington Football Team, and will have a chance to break the record against the Buffalo Bills this coming Sunday night. The achievement only solidifies the Steelers legendary reputation of pressuring and abusing opposing quarterbacks.
This reputation is well deserved, and is definitely the reason we are starting to see some serious adjustments made by opposing offensive coordinators. Some recent opponents haven't had the experienced personnel necessary to make the adjustments needed to attack the weaknesses exposed recently in the Steelers defense due to a rash of injuries.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and the undermanned Baltimore Ravens didn't have the experience and/or healthy talent to exploit the mismatches, but the Washington Football Team definitely had enough of both to expose all the holes in the Steelers defensive coverages. Especially after the Steelers defense lost a couple more key contributors, starters actually, during the game.
After starting ILB Robert Spillane went down with a troubling knee injury, the Steelers defense was forced to play with Vince Williams and Avery Williamson manning the inside linebacker positions for the remainder of the game. Both young men are talented run stoppers, but struggle mightily in pass coverage, particularly when matched up one on one with running backs out of the backfield. Pay close attention when both players are forced to defend the boundaries in these matchups. That is when their lack of natural instincts in coverage and limited movement skills are definitely exposed.
To make matters worse, Spillane wears the green dot on his helmet signaling the fact he is in radio contact with the coaches and relays all defensive calls and adjustments. The defense suffered with their communication on the field against the Washington Football Team, especially after veteran standout CB Joe Haden was knocked out of the game with a concussion. The resulting confusion and discombobulation was immediately evident, and should be concerning for all Steelers fans moving forward. Thankfully, it sounds like Spillane's injury isn't the season ending variety according to initial reports, but adjustments to scheme and personnel will have to be made in his absence.
The Steelers have multiple options available in the meantime. The Steelers defensive line is the best in the NFL, excellence against both the running and passing game. They also have solid depth at their disposal. That fact is extremely important when discussing options to help the Steelers weather this present storm. I believe that the Steelers are more than capable of slowing down opponents rushing attacks without having to have Vince Williams and Avery Williamson on the field together at the same time. The Steelers could utilize ILB/S Marcus Allen along side either gentleman and benefit from his coverage abilities. The Steelers defense should be more than adequate with this personnel package, without creating the mismatches in pass coverage that exist with Williams and Williamson on the field together.
More good news on the horizon. The Steelers just signed seventh year veteran Cassius Marsh off the Indianapolis Colts practice squad. He is a proven NFL caliber performer who has predominantly played defensive end thus far in his professional career, but he has also logged limited minutes at outside linebacker. He is slightly undersized to play end full time for the Steelers, but he has ideal physical dimensions for a Steelers edge player. He has been brought to Pittsburgh to help fill the huge void created by Dupree's season ending injury, and prove quality depth to both the DE and edge positions.
Marsh was a fourth round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. The Steelers will be his seventh team in his seven professional seasons. He is in no way a standout performer, which helps explain the frequency with which he changes uniforms. He is not an explosive quick twitch athlete, which hinders his ability to garner starters minutes. However, Marsh is a savvy veteran who happens to be a student of the game. He sets a solid edge against the running game and has had marginal success rushing the passer. He has been credited with 173 total tackles and 14 QB sacks in 91 games thus far in his career. Considering his ability to add depth to two areas of need for the Steelers, this seems like a solid addition at first glance.
If Marsh can prove productive in short stretches of game action, that would allow the Steelers to utilize Alex Highsmith in pass coverage more often. That is the best attribute of Highsmith's game at the moment, and would help manufacture additional creativity on defense to help counter opposing quarterbacks going to a shorter passing game to neutralize the Steelers ferocious pass rush. Opposing defenses are adjusting to the Steelers offense in that manner lately, only fair the Steelers return the favor so to speak.
One additional little tidbit concerning Highsmith that many fans may have forgotten or where simply unaware of. Highsmith played some inside linebacker while in college at Charlotte. He moved around often to fill whatever role was needed for his undermanned alma mater, before finally settling at an edge position. That versatility may come in handy for the Steelers with the news just breaking that Vince Williams is going on the COVID list.
A potential addition that is far from a certainty would be the healthy return of Ulysees Gilbert lll from the IR. The Steelers have three weeks to decide what to do with the oft injured inside linebacker. If Gilbert is finally healthy enough to play, the Steelers could definitely use his specific skill set. Watching Gilbert's limited snaps earlier this year against the Tennessee Titans; the only film available of Gilbert on defense this year, it is quickly apparent that he excels in coverage, especially against running backs. After watching the Steelers abysmal performance against the Washington Football Team Monday, there can be little doubt that the Steelers could use his services. His health will be the determining factor.
Some adjustments, both schematically and in personnel, are needed. The great news is the Steelers are more than capable of doing just that. If all goes well, there is help on the way.