Any team is only as strong as it's weakest links. That will be the focal point of this article.
I wish I could tell you that nobody likes to dwell on the negative aspects of being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but the truth is there are plenty of fans in our midst that are more than willing and able to focus on the various inadequacies and shortcomings of our favorite NFL franchise.
If you don't believe me, check out the discussion threads of any article that leans even the slightest bit critical. Oftentimes, feel good articles fall by the wayside, hardly noticed. The old adage that "sex sells" is true, but never discount the value of manufactured drama.
I am admittedly an optimistic Steelers fan, consciously choosing to focus more on the positives than the negatives. I love writing the Stock Up portions of my in-season Steelers Stock Report articles; the Stock Down segments, not so much.
However, sometimes we must focus on the areas where the Steelers didn't quite measure up in 2022, especially important during this crucial stage of the rebuilding process. For that reason, I wanted to acknowledge what I consider to be the three biggest weak spots scattered throughout the Steelers starting personnel.
Those below the line contributors would be Devin Bush, Tyson Alualu, and Kevin Dotson. The good news about these three individuals is that two most likely won't be returning, and the third could simply be playing out of his preferred position.
Devin Bush is in desperate need of a change of scenery. After a solid start to his NFL career, Bush has to be considered a potential draft bust for the Steelers after failing to return anywhere near his All Rookie team performance after suffering a torn ACL during his sophomore campaign. The Steelers have waited patiently on Bush, understanding how difficult it is to return both physically and mentally from such a devastating injury.
The Steelers declined to pick up the fifth year option on the 10th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft after Bush looked like a shadow of his former self in 2021. There was hope from within the organization that Bush would rebound in 2022, like so many players do during a contract season, but any improvements in Bush's game were minimal at best.
Bush is an undersized, pursuit linebacker. He is over reliant on his speed and mobility to be effective. While those attributes substantially returned in 2022, his "want to" remained on the disabled list. Bush has been contact adverse since his injury, and would rather try to avoid contact altogether rather than try to engage and disengage from a blocker. You know it's bad when fans from divisional opponents are mentioning this tendency on discussion threads and on podcasts.
The Steelers 3-4 defense is set up for their inside linebackers to feast, or rack up the statistics in other words. The Steelers inside linebackers were basically invisible in that regard in 2022, especially when it came to splash plays, and Bush was the main culprit. Bush was credited with 81 tackles on the season, with 44 of the solo variety, but he had zero sacks, forced fumbles, or fumble recoveries. You can add 2 pass defenses to his tally. That just isn't going to cut the mustard, folks. Bush sounds ready to find work elsewhere, and I for one hope he finds it. Just not in Pittsburgh, ever again.
Tyson Alualu's struggles this season are a tale as old as time. The dude got old, quick. After suffering a lower leg injury that ended his 2021 campaign in the early stages of the season, Alualu and the Steelers hoped that he would be able to rebound completely and continue his career revival in Pittsburgh. Similar to the aforementioned Bush, Alualu was the 10th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. After his mediocre tenure in Jacksonville left him destined to be another draft bust, Alualu found football nirvana in Pittsburgh.
After a couple of seasons as quality depth, he found his professional niche as the Steelers starting nose tackle. It was a short stint, but boy was it beautiful. Alualu teamed with Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to give the Steelers the best defensive line in the NFL in 2020 in my opinion. That level of brilliance was nowhere to be found this season. Age and the injury had robbed Alualu of his ability to anchor against double teams, and the quickness to close running lanes on the interior. The desire was there, but the flesh wasn't willing. It's always sad to watch our favorite players fade away, but I believe Alualu's NFL journey has come to an end. A very Kimo Von Oelhoffen like tenure in Pittsburgh.
Lastly, we have Kevin Dotson. I struggled to decide between Dotson and Dan Moore Jr. as the third weakest link, as both gentlemen struggled at times this season, but Dotson was the choice based on his experience. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Steelers out of Louisiana, Dotson looked like the powerful people mover that the Steelers had been missing when he stepped in for an injured David DeCastro at right guard early in his rookie season. That short initial stint was actually the best he has ever looked in the NFL.
Sadly that early success was short lived, and he returned to the bench upon DeCastro's healthy return. Since that time, Dotson has started plenty of games, but they have all been at left guard. He has never looked as comfortable or efficient on the left side, after playing on the right side his entire collegiate career. Dotson has also had the misfortune of playing for 3 difference offensive line coaches during his short professional career, with 3 different blocking philosophies. That's a lot of change in a short period of time.
Although Dotson isn't athletically an ideal fit for the Steelers current scheme, he showed real improvement over the course of the season. The missed blocks and blown assignments diminished in frequency as the season wore on, and he even had flashes of brilliance in the running game late in the season.
I believe Dotson could have a Chukwuma Okorafor like emergence in 2023 with a possible change to right guard, and some coaching plus personnel stability around him.
In conclusion, the Steelers need serious upgrades for two individuals who appear destined to not return next season, and the third weakest link appears capable of fixing himself with a little help from his franchise.