The great John Madden had a way with words. He was the Yogi Berra of the NFL. Oftentimes making profound statements that seemed incoherent at the time. One of my favorites was when he uttered the phrase “Usually the team with the most points wins the game”. The statement at the time was not only hilarious but also an absolute truth. Many of us in Steeler Nation tend to forget this truth from time-to-time. We obsess over what we presumably don’t have instead of focusing on what we do have.
The Steelers defense doesn’t have to be great, just good enough to win the game. Last season they weren’t up to the task when it mattered most. That is the bad news. The good news is the Steelers’ brass are more than aware of the problem and are taking measures to correct it.
They have added some new blood to the coaching ranks in hopes of addressing the team’s issues with tackling and communication. These are areas where a team can show rapid improvement with better technique through coaching and a renewed focus on each shortcoming.
Last week the Steelers finally dipped their toes in the free agency pool to address a couple of huge holes in the defense. They signed two outside free agents at positions of need to team friendly deals. Sound familiar to anyone? Both players are solid if not spectacular additions.
One, Jon Bostic, is a player who I feel hasn’t yet reached his full potential after playing for multiple teams and being bitten by the injury bug. He hasn’t been able to find his groove, and his game may blossom with some stability.
The other, Morgan Burnett, is an immediate starter with a proven track record at the NFL level. His game is a perfect fit for the Steelers defense and his tackling and communication skills are just what the doctor ordered. The Steelers defense has been lacking this type of player for quite some time. Ever since Ryan Clark rode off into the sunset.
While most of the big plays last year were the direct result of missed tackles and pre-snap communication issues, the defense had another equally disturbing issue. They were ‘soft’, to quote Art Rooney II, and especially so after Ryan Shazier’s injury. Calling a defense soft is akin to player’s evaluation stating; “He is short, but he is slow too.”
The Steelers are in the middle of addressing this issue, made apparent by both free agent signings and the type of players the team has done their due diligence on leading up to the draft. Both Bostic and Burnett are solid tacklers with good instincts and football IQs. This is clearly a shift in focus for the organization which is a positive development considering things may have become slightly more difficult for the Steelers in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.
Due to a relatively weak inside linebacker free agent group, and few immediate impact players at the position in this draft class, just about every mock draft has predicted the Steelers picking linebackers Rashaan Evans out of Alabama or Leighton Vander Esch out of Boise State. A couple of recent developments may have thrown a monkey wrench into those draft predictions.
First, Vontaze Burfict gets a four game suspension for PEDs and suddenly the Bengals are showing interest in Evans. We all know how much the Bengals enjoy drafting any player they presume the Steelers want. To make matters worse, Burfict is blaming his decision to take illegal drugs on trying to recover from the knockout shot JuJu Smith-Schuster put on him last season. So if the Steelers lose Evans to the Bengals, it is all JuJu’s fault.
That is too funny. Sorry, I just had to put that in there.
Then it was reported this week that the Patriots are really interested in Vander Esch. This is a disturbing development if the Steelers really are targeting him in the draft because we all know the Patrots always have a stock pile of draft picks and love to wheel and deal to get the player they want. The Steelers may not get the opportunity to draft either player if they stay in their present draft position.
But never fear Steeler Nation, all is not lost. There will be plenty of talent available when the Steelers finally get to make their pick, even if those two players are gone. Players who can help solidify the defense for the upcoming season. That is really all they need.
Take last year’s Super Bowl for instance.
Both offenses flying up and down the field with little to no resistance to speak of. The scoreboard lighting up like a pinball machine. This is what the NFL wants. It was the perfect scenario for the league. An exciting, well played, competitive game coming down to the last play to decide the winner. All eyes glued to the TV screen till the final second. Couldn’t have worked out any better for the league. They even had a first-time winner.
Recent rule changes and the evolution of modern offenses have made the notion of a dominant defense obsolete. Truly dominant defenses like the Steelers possessed in the mid 70s, or the ‘85 Bears, have become extinct. If the Jacksonville Jaguars defense which Ben Roethlisberger and the offense carved up in last year’s playoff loss, is the best the league has to offer, I rest my case. Roethlisberger hung 469 yards and five touchdowns on the best defense in the NFL last season. Six touchdowns when you take his last second impromptu lateral to Bell into account.
All I am saying is; Don’t panic Steelers Nation! The defense should be just fine next year. If not, there is always hope in the offense. Remember what John Madden once said “You can’t win the game if you don’t score any points.”