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2014 Steelers season scenarios: Steelers double their 2013 interceptions total

It's a lofty number, but the offseason moves the team has made were geared to boost this team's takeaway ability. That's an area that has sagged considerably over the last three years.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Scenario: The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense intercepts 20 passes this year, doubling their 2013 mark.

Why it will happen: The Steelers put in a huge amount of work finding defensive playmakers, particularly in their front seven. Pass rush begets interceptions. The more pressure they can force, the more hurried quarterbacks make bad decisions.

It's the basis of the zone blitz defense. While commonly associated with sacks, the defense is designed to disguise both the rusher as well as the player in coverage. Throwing into the teeth of the coverage happens when players are able to get through protection and get to the quarterback.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones had a substandard year in terms of an average NFL pass-rushing outside linebacker. There's plenty of reason to believe the 2013 first round pick will show a marked improvement in terms of strength and creativity with his pass rush. Combine that with a healthy (hopefully) Jason Worilds playing on the defensive left side - the spot he's clearly more comfortable playing - and the Steelers' pass rush will improve quite a bit from where it was last season.

Also, defensive end Cameron Heyward didn't start the entire season. Giving him 16 games, he could challenge Aaron Smith's eight sacks from 2004, the most from a Steelers defensive end under Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh. That team had 39 sacks and 19 interceptions, having won 14 consecutive regular season games for the best regular season record in franchise history.

Why it won't happen: Free safety Mike Mitchell was brought in to help boost the overall athleticism of this unit. While he will no doubt help in that regard, he'll make mistakes. It's his first year in this defense, and there's bound to be some growing pains as the team adjusts to the amount of new players having been brought in this offseason. It's a blessing and a curse. The more athleticism they have, the better, but they also need to make up for a high level of continuity this defense has enjoyed over the last few seasons.

The cornerback position, led by Ike Taylor for the last several years, isn't one that's necessarily going to intercept a huge amount of passes. The Steelers are playing zone the majority of their snaps, and play off receivers more often than they press. This leads to a limited amount of opportunities for cornerbacks, the primary defenders outside the numbers. Taylor averages less than two interceptions a season over a long career. William Gay is right around that same level. Cortez Allen has showed plenty of potential to be a takeaway artist from the cornerback position, getting the four or five picks a cornerback in this defense would likely need if the Steelers were to end up with 20 as a team will be difficult.

Keys: Cornerback playmaking aside, it will come down to how the Steelers utilize their inside linebackers. The likely trio of Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Sean Spence gives LeBeau plenty of athletic firepower. Timmons is known to intercept a pass or two, and it's mostly due to pressure situations. He can step into short passing lanes the quarterback doesn't see due to duress, and it's the same kind of mentality Shazier and Spence are developing. It's possible the Steelers could get seven interceptions from their inside linebackers in 2014, leaving another 13 to be distributed between the secondary (which includes Troy Polamalu, and his 32 career picks) and outside linebackers.