Now that the off-season is officially upon us, the time has arrived for the Steelers’ front office and scouting department to kick it into high gear. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are entrusted with adding the last few pieces to what is arguably the most talented team in the league, helping them reach their full potential and bring home another Super Bowl trophy.
The good news is there are precious few glaring needs or gaping holes to be filled. Thankfully, there’s no rebuild required, maybe just a tweak here or there.
The offense is uber-talented but inconsistent. Hopefully, under Randy Fichtner’s guidance, they can finally find the identity needed to maximize their talents after Todd Haley's departure. I’ll be more than happy to never see another bubble screen thrown to our 6'4" freak of a receiver or watch him struggle to accelerate from a standing still position all while trying to make defenders miss in space. Taking a player blessed with great deep speed like Bryant and using him this way is akin to taking your sports car mud-bogging.
Then, how about asking your All-Pro running back, who isn't particularly swift, to run sweep plays outside the tackles against stacked boxes in short yardage? These types of play calls and an inexplicable resistance to using the no-huddle made it difficult for the team to justify renewing his contract. That plus the fact, from the outside looking in, he seemed like a bit of a jerk and, according to reports, Ben Roethlisberger didn't like him very much.
With that said, the offense appears primed for a breakout season, if healthy.
The defense is another story.
While there were glimpses of dominance sporadically in multiple games, those instances were book-ended by frequently undisciplined play and far too many blown coverages—especially for a team that predominately utilizes zone defenses. Ryan Shazier’s value was never more visible than after his injury when, without No. 50’s game-changing speed to cover up many of his teammates’ mistakes, the defense’s shortcomings were amplified.
The front office will undoubtedly look to strengthen the inside linebacker position, as well as possibly both safety spots mainly through the draft and also free-agency. Additional help at defensive tackle might be needed to help strengthen the run-defense. The defense already has high draft picks and young talent at each level, but they’re still missing something. I think the Steelers need an organizational shift in mind-set concerning talent evaluation and a renewed focus on proper tackling technique.
These adjustments actually go hand-in-hand. Tackling technique can be taught to a willing pupil, but any coach worth his salt will tell you the player has to have the “want to”. That simply means he has to possess the desire to run full speed into the ball carrier with his head up, wrap his arms around the runner, and drive the player to the ground. It takes a special mindset to be a defensive player, and it doesn’t hurt to be a little crazy.
The Steelers have made a concerted effort in recent drafts to focus on highly-athletic players with superior measurables — especially targeting players that would improve the team’s overall speed. But the problem with that way of thinking is that many of the players who fit the mold, so to speak, have gotten away with poor technique and lack of preparation by relying on their superior athleticism. That won’t cut it at the NFL level. The Steelers should continue to focus on players with high character and superior athletic abilities, but also search for players via the draft or free agency that have displayed the required “want to” to be special. This can be observed on film, or confirmed by coaches or teammates.
Ask yourself one question: “Who is the Steelers’ enforcer?” Every Super Bowl champion Steelers defense has had an enforcer, and sometimes more than one. Even teams that lost in the Super Bowl had identifiable enforcers.
Jack Lambert was the ultimate enforcer on the greatest football dynasty the NFL has ever seen. He would swoop in like a great bird of prey, arms wrapped and padded displaying his incredible wingspan, and simply destroy the ball carrier. The man simply didn’t miss tackles, as he displayed superior technique and desire. Nobody disrespected his team, just ask Cliff Harris.
Who provided that last season for the Steelers?
Greg Lloyd assumed Lambert’s mantle so well they made T-shirts that read, “Avoid Lloyd” and “I wasn’t hired for my disposition.” Dan Marino once said Lloyd was the only man he ever feared on the football field.
Who was feared on the Steelers’ defense last season?
Joey Porter would fight you before or after a game if he felt disrespected — even if it meant he would be ejected, as he once was during a Browns vs. Steelers pre-game warmup. He once even waited for Ray Lewis outside of the Ravens’ chartered bus to discuss a perceived indiscretion.
I saw a lot of trash-talking before games this season, and too much of it after a player making a tackle 15 yards downfield, but did anybody have the marbles to back it up?
Say what you will about James Harrison, but he was definitely an enforcer. I really thought they were trying to save him till later in the season to keep him fresh for the postseason. I kept telling anyone who would listen how they were going to play him soon because they knew what he brought to the table. He just needed to knock the rust off, but what he provided was attitude. Without him, they lacked the fear factor. I’m still convinced Eric Fisher looks under his bed each night to make sure Harrison isn’t hiding there.
Hopefully the Steelers can acquire an enforcer this off-season to bring that kind of defensive presence back to Pittsburgh, and catapult them to another Super Bowl title.