Sep 29, 2013; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel (99) during the NFL International Series game against the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Steelers 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some “Beard.” The man is a class act through and through. But, if any Pittsburgh Steelers fans feel overjoyed about Brett Keisel signing a two year contract with the Steelers, you my friend are feeling more nostalgic than practical.
Especially after Thursday night’s shellacking of this defense.
The Steelers ranked near the bottom in rush defense last season. Between the draft and other offseason moves, the team hoped that it would vastly improve not only the rush defense, but also apply more pressure to the quarterback (and thus increasing the chances for turnovers). Well, after three preseason games, the Steelers defense ranks dead last in the league in rush defense – weighing in at 167.7 yards per game. The Eagles rank 27th in the league at 133.3 per game and the Steelers offense was able to gain how many yards on the ground Thursday night?
But I digress…
If Thursday was to be a dress rehearsal for what we can expect with this defense, the Steelers are well on the other side of trouble. They were ripped apart from top to bottom – even with the Eagles’ 2nd team offense on the field – and it all starts with the defensive line. It always does. The defensive line is key and central to everything else that happens. They are the first line of defense (har har) to how each play unfolds. It doesn’t matter how good your linebackers are. It doesn’t matter how good your corners are. If that defensive line cannot apply their physical will on the offensive line and create holes, weaknesses, or get behind the line of scrimmage themselves, then the Steelers will have many MANY more games like Thursday night. Even Cam Heyward said they were a disappointment that night.
Ben Roethlisberger is like 3-1 when it comes to wearing a particular jersey number and that player being signed later in the season. Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Thus, we turn to Keisel. And, can we really turn to Keisel for a thing like this? The Steelers think they can. A two year contract speaks volumes of the comfort level the coaching staff has with their current line. Turns out after Thursday night, that their intuition is at least correct. But, can we look to Keisel as an answer? Let’s face it, he was part of that defensive line that ranked 21st in rush yards. He will be 36 in just a few short weeks. No doubting the fire still burns hot in Keisel’s competitive furnace, but he’s also lost a few steps. If he can’t be significantly better than Stephon Tuitt or Nick Williams, then what is the point of having him there other than to be a backup and veteran and mature presence? Are the Steelers reaching?
There could be value in that part at least – a veteran and mature presence. If the Steelers can commit to the idea that Tuitt and Heyward are the team’s future success on the defensive ends, then (Tuitt more than anyone) will have bumps and bruises along the way. Keisel can be a solid veteran presence in the sense that he can talk to guys like Tuitt and keep their spirits up. Help him mature. Help him with technique and tricks. To take playing time away, valuable snaps, from someone like Tuitt (who has the potential to be a very good DE) however, would be the Steelers shooting themselves in the foot for the following season and the one after that.
Is Keisel the answer to this defensive line problem? I don’t believe so. If the Steelers coaches think so, then we are in for more disappointments, another lackluster season, and certainly sitting on our couches watching other teams duking it out in the playoffs.
And, there’s no grasping for straws with that assessment.