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Point-Counterpoint: Is the Pittsburgh Steelers Secondary the team's weakest link?

BTSC contributor Dani Bostick and community member Matt Priem present two opposing views on the Steelers secondary.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody can argue that the secondary is the Pittsburgh Steelers biggest asset. Whether or not the secondary is the team's biggest liability, however, is up for debate. Matt Priem, also known as Steelgator13 on BTSC, argues that the secondary is the team's biggest weakness. Dani Bostick takes the opposite view and attempts to argue that the secondary is not the team's biggest liability.

Matt Priem's Point: Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary is the team's biggest weakness

Is the secondary the Steelers' biggest weakness?  Well, I guess that depends on what you consider a weakness.  If you're talking about the least talented unit on the team, then yes the secondary is the biggest weakness.  Cockrell and Blake were picked up off the scrap heap after being released by their former teams.  Gay and Mitchell have each been allowed to walk twice in their careers, and not because their teams couldn't afford them, and the 33 year old Allen has had 3 teams pass up the opportunity to retain his services.  Looking at the Steelers' starting DB's (including rotational player Brandon Boykin and often used backup safety Robert Golden) you have two fourth rounders, a fifth rounder, two undrafted free agents, and Mike Mitchell drafted in the 2nd round by the Raiders (which translates roughly to being a 4th round talent).

There are other ways of defining the weakest unit on the team besides talent level, though.  There's also effectiveness.  Of course, the Steelers secondary are also the least effective unit on the team.  The Steelers have the 3rd best running game, the 5th best passing game, the 5th best pass rush, the 6th best run defense, and the 31st pass defense.  One of these numbers is not like the others.  You can attempt to explain how the horrific amount of yardage the Steelers secondary concedes is not really as bad as it looks, but their production is bad across the board  The 6th highest completion percentage?  The 7th highest yards per attempt?  The 9th most passing touchdowns?  The 12th highest opponents passer rating?  Antwon Blake and Willie Gay have had big interception returns for touchdowns, but overall they're not good.

If you're defining the team's weakness, though, as their Achilles heel - the flaw that is most likely to prove their undoing... well, yeah, it's still the secondary.  Dani might have a case that the Steelers inability to keep Ben on the field is the team's greatest weakness, but that's pretty abstract.  Right now, Ben is healthy, and as Villanueva gets better (which is every week) it gets more and more likely that he'll stay that way.  Our secondary can't cover the likes of Michael Crabtree, Torrey Smith, Doug Baldwin, John Brown, Kenny Britt, and Travis Benjamin right now, and they could get injured too.  Other teams pretty much have to attack us through the air to keep up with our offense, so the secondary is going to have the most opportunities to cost us a[nother] game

So is the secondary the Steelers' biggest weakness?  It turns out really whatever you consider a weakness, the secondary is the biggest one on the team.  There are worse weaknesses to have, and they still may be good enough to get us another trophy, but they are the one unit the coaches have to scheme to protect, and they will be the focus of the offseason.

Dani Bostick's Counterpoint: No, the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary is NOT the team's biggest weakness

The opposite of "biggest weakness" is not "greatest strength." It would be difficult to present a compelling argument that the Steelers secondary is main driver of the team's success this season, but they are not the Achilles heel of the squad.

The Steelers secondary is inconsistent and unpredictable. Will they cover the league's best tight end? Against the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh defensive backs, essentially said, "Nah. Not today."  What is the defensive backs' philosophy on the art of tackling? For some players, a slight brush of the shoulder against the defender's jersey, if done with speed and good intent, is a legitimate way to tackle. Do coaches have a problem keeping one of the more talented defensive backs on the bench? Not really. Brandon Boykin was a great bench warmer for most of the season.

If there were a dance version of the Steelers secondary, it might look like this:

via GIPHY

In other words, sometimes some players are just doing their own thing.

Does any of this mean that the defensive backs are the team's biggest weakness? Not at all.

1) While the Steelers pass defense is weak, the front seven is partially to blame.

2) The Steelers secondary is one of the most fiery units on the field, bringing fierce enthusiasm, and dynamism. There is no stat that measures energy, but when the Steelers secondary is on, they aren't just playing well, they are bringing hard hits, nastiness, and passion to the game that few other units can replicate.

3) Yes, the Steelers secondary is error-prone and gives up too many yards. Still, there have been many times they have been the source of momentum-changing plays. William Gay's pick six against the Bengals was overshadowed by his excessively epic celebration, the interception itself provide some insurance against a last-minute collapse. The secondary has had many such plays this season.

4) The secondary is rebuilding. Troy Polamalu was far from his top level of play when he retired, as was Ike Taylor, but losing two key defensive backs certainly hurt the team. Making the transition more difficult, Steelers second-round pick, cornerback Senquez Golson, never saw playing time in the regular season due to an injury sustained in the offseason.

5) Some of the problems with the secondary are actually problems with coaches and the front office. The team acquired Brandon Boykin from the Philadelphia Eagles, and then made the perplexing choice to keep him on the bench for most of the season. The team could have made better choices in terms of personnel, both players and coaches. Carnell Lake could end up turning this unit into an NFL-leading powerhouse, but Lake is no Mike Munchak, who was able to transform the offensive line very quickly.

There is much room for improvement in the Steelers secondary and they certainly have made more than their share of errors and bad plays. Nonetheless, there are other factors to consider when it comes to the defensive backs. They have also stepped up at critical times. Some of the Steelers losses had nothing to do with the secondary and were a function of injuries at other positions.

What do you think about the Steelers secondary? Greatest weakness, or taking an unfair amount of heat?

Do you want to weigh in on Point/Counterpoint? Pitch your ideas to Dani Bostick. via Twitter @danibostick