Steelers to Watch in 2015: Defense
I’m still recovering from that dreadful game against the Baltimore Ravens. It’s never good to watch your team lose a game on their home turf. Especially to a hated rival. Especially in the playoffs.
That said, it’s time to look ahead. There was certainly a slew of players on the Steelers‘ roster that were on the decline this year, underperformed, or didn’t earn themselves a spot on the 2015 roster, but for now let’s look at the bright spots.
Boy, were we excited about Ryan Shazier a few months ago. A few injuries and the adjustment to the new level of competition limited the rookie linebacker, but there were flashes. If he can stay healthy in 2015, he’ll be fun to watch.
Sean Spence was a bonus for the Steelers this year. He split time with Vince Williams–and Shazier when healthy–but the fact that he played the entire season and notched 50+ tackles in a limited role (53% of defensive snaps according to Football Outsiders–compare that with Lawrence Timmons’ 98.7%) is a great sign after his devastating knee injury.
If these guys can stay healthy, then the Steelers can have one heck of a rotation on the inside. Spence and Shazier could take part in some interesting blitz packages with their speed and agility.
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The performance of the linebackers in 2015 will hinge on the defensive line, and a player to watch is Stephon Tuitt. He came on strong at the end of the season, replacing the injured Brett Kiesel.
Tuitt and Shazier teamed up for a forced fumble and recovery in the Wild Card game against the Ravens, and hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. Tuitt should be Cam Heyward’s shadow from here on out, especially during an important offseason.
Mark Kaboly of TribLive noted that once Tuitt was inserted into the starting lineup in week 14, the Steelers’ defense allowed an average of 84 rushing yards per game for the rest of the season. They allowed 53 against the Ravens.
Outside of a few special teams tackles and the blocked punt against the Ravens, Shamarko Thomas didn’t do much in 2014. Will Allen is a free agent, and Troy Polamalu might have played his last football game, so Thomas has a chance to contribute.
Even if the Steelers do sign Allen–I think they should–they still need to give Thomas the chance to make some splash plays. That’s why they drafted him. The young safety needs to do all he can to stay healthy in 2015.
Keep an eye on the secondary as a whole. Antwon Blake and Brice McCain filled in admirably in spots, and were keys to the win against Cincinnati that gave us the division championship. Let’s see how these two can improve.
That’s what I’m looking for on defense in 2015. For once, this is a pretty young defense heading into the offseason. Next week, we’ll take a look at what I’m watching for on offense.