The fine folks at FootballOutsiders.com, who produce one of the best almanacs available to the general public, took the time to sit down with BTSC to answer some of our questions about the Pittsburgh Steelers as they head into the 2015 regular season.
Topics of note include the Steelers ability to get to the passer with so many high draft picks throughout their defensive front seven, the offense's goal of scoring 30 points a game, where the Steelers struggle in terms of red zone offense and of course we couldn't let Cian Fahey go without talking some Cover 2 defensive theory.
Check out the Q&A session with Football Outsiders:
The Steelers main question marks are on the defensive side of the football. The team has spent many of their recent draft picks on their linebacking corps. What are the expectations for this unit, in terms of sacks and pressuring the quarterback?
Pressuring the quarterback is going to be very difficult for the Steelers this season. They lack individual pass rushers, which will likely push them towards blitzing more in search of creating pressure through numbers. The problem with that is they lack talent in the secondary also, so they can't afford to stress their defensive backs with more difficult assignments in space.
Bud Dupree was the team's first-round pick and a star at the combine, but he is very, very raw so expectations should be muted for his rookie season. Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones have proven to be limited pass rushers, while James Harrison's career is in its final stages. On the defensive line, Stephon Tuitt is a work-in-progress whose potential is much higher against the run than as a pass rusher. That leaves Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon as the main sources of penetration.
Ben Roethlisberger is the captain of one of the most lethal offensive units in the NFL. With Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant at his disposal, is it safe to assume if the team doesn't meet the 30 points a game goal they set for themselves this season could be deemed a failure?
It likely will be a failure if they don't land somewhere around that average, but not simply for that reason. They will need to be one of the most productive offenses in the NFL because their defense figures to be one of the worst once again. The real challenge for the Steelers offense is being that productive without turning the ball over too much. They have the talent and ethos to successfully manage that though.
In terms of the offense, their main struggles have been in the red-zone. If you can point to one aspect which the team needs to improve for the red-zone offense to become more effective, what would it be?
Ben Roethlisberger's ball placement has been an issue over recent seasons and it becomes a greater issue in the redzone. Obviously throwing the ball in the redzone is tougher because the space tightens and safeties move closer to the line of scrimmage. The hope is that Martavis Bryant's size and ball skills will make him an effective option on fade routes outside. This should lessen Roethlisberger's need to be precise.
Much has been written and talked about the team's porous secondary and it's struggles in 2014. Why would a switch from the Dick LeBeau coverage schemes to the Keith Butler Cover-2 and Tampa-2 philosophies help a secondary which is still very much in question?
Switching to more Cover-2 looks would alleviate the pressure on both safeties and cornerbacks. It would make the team even more susceptible to the run though, which is a trade-off that needs to be figured out before the season begins. Tampa-2 coverage would likely require a transition to a 4-3 front, unless they take an unforeseen approach to the coverage scheme. The Steelers have multiple linebackers with the range to allow them to run Tampa-2. Each of Lawrence Timmons, Sean Spence and Ryan Shazier have that kind of athleticism.
The Steelers have seemingly gone from old and slow to young, inexperienced and fast. With that said, who are some younger players who are destined for a breakout season in 2015?
It's hard to pick anyone on the defensive side of the ball. Ryan Shazier is the obvious option. He needs to show better discipline with his decision-making and put a greater emphasis on reading blocks instead of chasing where he thinks the ball is. Shazier has all the physical talent to be a star though. Brandon Boykin is another who likely still qualifies as young. He is just 25. Boykin was traded away by the Eagles because of his size, but he has the traits to be a star cover cornerback who will line up both inside and outside.
On the offensive side of the ball, there is only one name to chose: Martavis Bryant. He showed it for a short spell last season, but the Steelers should expect even more from him over 16 games this season. His physical talent is special and his route running is better than given credit for. Couple those aspects of his play with his ball skills and he can be one of those uncoverable receivers. A scary thought across from Antonio Brown, who is also pretty damn uncoverable.