After losing to the Minnesota Vikings in what was almost a magical comeback by Pittsburgh, the Steelers are now 6-6-1 and in must-win mode the rest of the season. Keith Butler’s defense has struggled in just about every category, but most notably the run defense. The Steelers are giving up nearly 140 rushing yards per game, and the most recent performance was as bad as any in 2021.
Fresh off an injury, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook gashed the Steelers for over 200 yards on the ground, going through open running lanes that were wider than a pothole on a Michigan side street. Speaking of Michigan, Devin Bush and Chris Wormley are part of a front seven that has been depleted with injuries throughout the season, and, while T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith do not seem to be dealing with serious injuries, the defensive line is not going to get much healthier.
The Steelers announced the signing of defensive end John Simon to the practice squad on Monday, but it would not be a shock to anyone if he was added to the 53-man roster sooner rather than later. Simon was a former fourth-round pick of the Ravens who is remembered by most as a part of the 2018 Patriots team that won the Super Bowl. In 99 career games, Simon has recorded 21 sacks, 25 tackles for loss, 54 QB hits, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Only 52 of those games has Simon been a starter, and there has only been one season where he started all 16 games, but he has been a fantastic rotational piece wherever he has gone.
Simon came out of Ohio State as a less-than-impressive athlete who won with his effort and toughness. Despite a surprisingly strong showing at his pro day, he slipped to day three and was taken by the Baltimore Ravens, seeing very little action in his one season with them. Simon was then given a chance with the Texans, hanging around three years and recording ten sacks in that time span. After spending one season with Indianapolis, Simon went to New England, played a prominent role in Bill Belichick’s defense, and became a full-time starter in his final season in Foxborough. He signed with Tennessee before training camp this summer, but he was unable to hang around for a full season. After being cut by Tennessee, the Steelers decided that it would be worthwhile to bring him in to bolster the depth on the edge.
But what does he bring to the table that the Steelers can use? As mentioned at the beginning, the Steelers run defense has been horrendous this season. While Simon may not be the most gifted athlete, he maintains a nice, low pad level while also having the functional strength needed to set the edge. He lacks the “sand in the pants,” as he is more top-heavy, but it has not negatively affected him as a run defender up to this point in his career.
Simon’s high motor and excellent strength are what allow him to have an impact as a pass rusher. He is not incredibly bendy or agile, and his jump off the line of scrimmage is less than stellar. However, he has a good feel for finding the best way to get into the backfield and pressure the quarterback. He does not have a huge repertoire of pass rushing moves, but he has enough functional strength and short-area quickness to beat tackles to either the inside or the outside. He wins the battle for leverage quite often, which makes up for his slight lack of lower-body strength.
Simon’s greatest positive, however, may be his presence and example in the locker room. This Steelers team is immature in many areas, and although there are several high-character veterans on the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers can use as many good influences in the locker room as possible at this point.
After Simon signed with the Colts in 2017, Texans coach Bill O’Brien gave a positive review of him during his stint with the Texans, praising his character and work ethic.
“He is kind of an unsung hero type of player. He’s a guy who personifies doing your job. He does a good job every week of going out and doing what he’s coached to do.”
In the same article linked above from colts.com, Kevin Bowen added a quote from Simon himself on what he brings to the table.
“Just a grinder. I try to do everything the right way. I’m going to play 60 minutes plus. I’m a great locker room guy. I will give you everything I have on a daily basis.”
Simon will not be taking a lion’s share of snaps, but when T.J. Watt needs a breather and it is an obvious running situation, Simon could find himself making a big difference on a Steelers team that is vying for a playoff spot and is in desperate need for a good run defender.
But what do you think? Can John Simon be a difference maker for the Steelers? Do you think he will have a prominent role by the end of the season? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC for all the news you need leading up to the Steelers’ matchup against the Titans on Sunday.