Thursday, December 04, 2014

What defense?

Last Sunday, the Saints scored 35 points on 54 plays against a Steelers defense with flailing corners, invisible safeties and a limp pass rush. Thirteen plays by New Orleans went for 10 yards or more.

Again, we ask: Where are the linebackers? Where are the safeties? Where are the sacks? Where are the takeaways?

Every team has been hit by injuries, and the Steelers are no different. Absent have been three young guys who were expected to get significant playing time. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier, both first-rounders, and safety Shamarko Thomas, have played hardly at all this year.

For Jones and Thomas, this is the second consecutive year they haven't shown much. At this point, the Steelers still don't know what they really have in all three of these guys.  Much was expected of them, and little has been delivered. Not necessarily their fault (because of injuries), but their absence has not helped the team.  It's worrisome, especially considering the pricey investments the Steelers made in them: First-round draft investments in Jones and Shazier, and the trade of the this year's third-round choice to Cleveland to draft Thomas last year. So far, those investments haven't paid off.

Free-agency duds
On the other hand, and not happily, we do know pretty much what we have in the free agent signees the Steelers added to the defense this past off-season.

It's safe to say few people are impressed with the performance of safety Mike Mitchell and Cam Thomas. Both have been downright abysmal, and neither would be missed if they weren't here next year.

Backup linebacker Arthur Moats is just that: a backup linebacker and special teams player. Just a guy. He has not exactly exceeded expectations when he's had the opportunity to play linebacker. Brice McCain has had some positive moments, most notably the game-sealing pick-six TD return against Jacksonville, and he's probably played better than most people expected. He's been more or less okay, but he's not a shutdown corner by any means. The same goes for Antwon Blake, only less so.

It's safe to say, too, that linebacker Jason Worilds has not played up to his $10 million one-year contract. His performance has been underwhelming, to say the least. He's lucky he got his money already, because it will be a major surprise if he gets anything close to that again.

The defense's inability to stop the run has been a real problem this year. They've been gashed by Cleveland (twice), Baltimore, Houston and New Orleans. Terrance West, Arian Foster, and Mark Ingram have had 100-yard games against them, and Bernard Pierce rushed for 96 yards.

The Bengals like to run the ball, and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has made it a point to do so.

We'll see how it shakes out on Sunday in Cincinnati, but we should expect for the Steelers to see a heavy dose of Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard.

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