Tackles Must Provide Stability Against AFC North Foes Loaded With Dangerous Edge-Rushers
Jul 29, 2013; Latrobe, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Mike Adams (76) walks towards the field during training camp at St. Vincent College. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sports
I understand that it was only the Steelers’ second preseason game, but starting offensive tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert turned in some underwhelming performances during Pittsburgh’s loss on Monday night to Washington.
Between the penalties, poor pass-protection, and Gilbert’s “lolleygagging” on Kerrigan’s pick-six, Pittsburgh’s tackles put on quite the dreadful show. The Steelers’ bookends had better find ways to improve quickly though, especially since they will have to contend with a number of lethal edge-rushers within their own division.
Cincinnati finished third overall with 53.0 total sacks in 2012, and they have arguably the most talented depth along their defensive line of any team within the division. Although the Bengals can produce plenty of pressure within the A & B gaps with Geno Atkins and Domata Peko, their defensive ends can bring more than enough heat off of the edge as well.
In fact, I would say that Cincinnati has one of the best “four-man rotations” of defensive ends in the entire league. Overall, the Bengals top four on the depth chart racked up a combined 26.5 sacks last fall, and Michael Johnson led the group with 11.5. Not to be outdone, Johnson’s backup Wallace Gilberry added 6.5, while Carlos Dunlap (6.0) and Robert Geathers (3.0) added another 9.0 from the other side to boot.
I am sure most of you know that some guy named “James Harrison” also signed with Cincinnati this past spring to help in the pass-rushing department. While he might be on the down-side of his career, the veteran still racked up 6.0 sacks last fall while he battled knee and back issues. I’m sure that ‘Deebo” would love nothing more than to feast on Pittsburgh’s inexperienced tackles during their two meetings this year.
Before his Achilles injury, Terrell Suggs had enjoyed two terrific seasons in a row. He combined to record 25.0 sacks during the 2010 and 2011 sesaons, and the defensive end won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011. Now fully healthy, Suggs is set to get back to his old havoc-wreaking self in 2013.
Baltimore might have lost Paul Kruger to Cleveland as a free agent back in March, but that did not stop general manager Ozzie Newsome from acquiring an even more potent replacement in the form of Elvis Dumervil. Thanks to a fax machine snafu, the Ravens acquired a player who has recorded 63.5 sacks during his six seasons as a professional. Dumervil and Suggs have made life extremely difficult for numbers of offensive linemen during their respective careers, and the veterans will be an extremely tough duo for opponents to deal with when they are on the field together.
I should also add that Baltimore’s 2012 second round pick Courtney Upshaw could also see more playing time this fall when he spells the veterans on the outside. The former Alabama linebacker racked up 55 tackles and 1.5 sacks during his rookie campaign, and should only improve with a season of experience under his belt too.
While Cleveland’s pass-rush does not worry me as much as the ones belonging to Cincinnati and Baltimore, the Browns’ brass upgraded in the talent department this past offseason. As I mentioned before, Cleveland added arguably the best free agent pass-rusher on the market when they inked Paul Kruger to a multi-year deal. Although Kruger underachieved during his first three years with the Ravens, he broke out in the final year of his deal and logged 9.0 sacks for the eventual Super Bowl champions.
The following month, Cleveland added another potent piece to their pass-rush when they selected Barkevious Mingo with the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft. Although Mingo is still raw and a bit skinny, he has the power and speed to develop into a lethal pocket-collapsing threat at the professional level.
Although the additions of Kruger and Mingo are nice, it is a huge plus for the Browns that they have Jabaal Sheard to help them too. Sheard was Cleveland’s leader in sacks during the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, and the former Pittsburgh Panther racked up 15.5 sacks during his first two seasons in the league. With Kruger, Sheard, and Mingo, new defensive coordinator Ray Horton has a triumvirate of outside linebackers at his disposal to supply ample pressure in his complex scheme.
With so many potent edge-rushing threats within Pittsburgh’s division, it will be up to Gilbert and Adams to gel right along with the rest of the Steelers’ young offensive line. While it will be a “tall order” for the young duo to face the types of edge-rushers within their division, they will be heavily responsible for Roethlisberger’s health and the overall success of Pittsburgh’s passing game.
Gilbert and Adams will not be able to get away with playing like they did against Washington against any of their divisional foes, let alone any of the other teams around the league. Thus, I earnestly hope that we can see some marked improvement from these two as the 2013 campaign progresses. Otherwise, Pittsburgh’s chances of competing within their own division will plummet considerably.
Players Stats & Info. Provided By: ESPN.com, Steelers.com and Pro Football Reference
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