Shame on me.
Seriously, shame on me for thinking the Pittsburgh Steelers were moving in the right direction when they seemingly planned, through the NFL Draft and free agency, to build a team with one objective — beating the New England Patriots.
Why the shame? Because the thought of an actual NFL franchise doing such a thing is so preposterous, it’s hard to even fathom. At the time, when the Steelers were rattling off wins, it made sense and people agreed. But if you look back on the regular season, there signs of trouble along the way.
In their three regular season losses, the Steelers gave up the following yards on the ground:
Week 3 vs. Chicago - 222 yards
Week 5 vs. Jacksonville - 231 yards
Week 15 vs. New England - 77 yards
As the season approached, all the talk was about the secondary and how the team must run more man-coverage to beat the Patriots; how the team must be able to run with receivers as the defensive front gets pressure on Tom Brady; and how the focus should be slaying that mythical dragon which has had their number for so many years.
Unfortunately, the Steelers forgot about those teams who don’t play finesse football but prefer to line up and run it right down your throat. That’s exactly what the Bears and Jaguars do, and it shouldn’t be a shock the Jaguars ended the Steelers’ season in the fashion they did.
Build a team to stop the pass or to match up against a specific opponent, and you make your team vulnerable in a variety of ways —for example, against the run. This was never more evident than in the AFC Playoffs at Heinz Field when Jacksonville tallied 164 yards from scrimmage on the ground.
As most will point to, the loss of Ryan Shazier was huge, but fans should remember Shazier was in the lineup in Weeks 3 and 5 when the team was absolutely lambasted on the ground by their opponents.
All of those draft picks and moves to bolster the secondary are great—and the secondary did improve in 2017—but it’s time now for the Steelers to develop a more complete defense. This process certainly will include some question marks along the way.
- Replacing Ryan Shazier will be no easy feat
- Is Mike Mitchell going to be back next year?
- Is the combination of Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt good enough to consistently stop the run, or are they built more for rushing the passer?
- Linebackers, from left-to-right and top-to-bottom, need evaluated
For once, the secondary isn’t a question mark heading into the off-season. But if the playoff loss to Jacksonville taught the organization anything, it should be that the Black-and-gold defense is far from complete.
Forget the Patriots.
Stop the love affair and obsession with what they do and how they do it. Instead, build a defense capable of beating anyone. I honestly feel the Steelers’ defense is on their way to doing just that, but they need to finish the job.
Here’s hoping the team learned from 2017 and this education will make 2018 better.