Jon Bostic and Vince Williams aren’t exactly the same person on the field, but their aren’t benefitting the Pittsburgh Steelers by playing together.
We can all see why Tyler Matakevich is getting a shot to be the starter in Pittsburgh. Right now, the roster consists of three players fighting for two starting jobs, and none of them work well as a duo with any of the others.
Last season, the Steelers struggled stopping the run once Ryan Shazier went down. The team couldn’t find a run stuffer anywhere, and Vince Williams wasn’t the answer in the middle.
He’s an incredible quarterback finder, don’t get that wrong. On the pass rush, he’s the first guy this team wants on the field, and in some run situations, he’s perfect to find the running back at the second level.
They needed more help, though. Shazier was able to track any run play and stop the ball carrier before he even saw the line of scrimmage. But Shazier also brought the gift of pass coverage. While Williams was busy finding the quarterback, Shazier was dropping back to cover a running back or tight end.
Right now, this team doesn’t have that option anywhere. Williams isn’t a coverage man by any terms. Pittsburgh isn’t going to have him drop back when he’s such a powerful pass rush player. They aren’t going to have Jon Bostic do it either, though.
Bostic solves the run problem. He’s a player who will find a running back in the hole, but that’s all he’s good for. Not that that’s a bad thing. Pittsburgh needed a player like Bostic to include into this rotation, but they also needed someone to handle the second-half of an inside linebacker job.
This could be where Matakevich come in to play. How good is the third-year player in coverage? Well, during his senior season at Temple, he recorded five interceptions and five pass deflections. Not bad for a do-it-all inside backer in the American Athletic Conference.
So, maybe Matakevich has the coverage skills to be that second part of the trio. He’d be playing a lot of reps if this team is trying to make this combinations of run stuff, coverage and pass rush work. But they’ll have another weapon in the arsenal to round off this group.
The inside linebackers won’t get it done by themselves. Even if Matakevich is going to fill the drop back aspect of Shazier and Bostic the run stop, they need more players. You can’t expect these two to alternate every other down and be just as productive in the fourth quarter as they were in the first.
Pittsburgh needs to include Terrell Edmunds into the mix. Without him, they’ll never play four quarters of productive football, each week. He may not be an option in run protection, but having him play coverage will not only ease the workload of Matekevich, but it’ll help Bostic ovoid situations where he needs to defend the pass.
Edmunds isn’t the size of an inside linebacker, so having him step up to stop a rusher, or rush the quarterback isn’t going to lead to much success. He needs to focus on being the part of Shazier that neither Bostic or Matakevich can.
While Matakevich is a quality coverage option, he’s no No. 50. Shazier had the speed to keep up with anyone he defended, and to replace him with a player who’s below average in speed isn’t realistic. But having Edmunds there to contain deeper routes and man coverage on running backs and slot receivers will lead to much fewer open receivers in the middle.
It also helps Bostic avoid these situations. If this team is constantly putting Williams and Bostic on one side and Edmunds and Matakevich on the other, they have the combination they need for most downs. Bostic and Williams will be the combination on running downs and goal line situations, but outside of that, the two should avoid being on the field together.
It’ll fill all voids left by Shazier. It hands all aspects this team was searching for at the end of last season, and it’ll make the entire defense as a whole appear better and more fluent.
Replacing one of the league’s best linebackers isn’t easy. Pittsburgh needs to make this a group effort to find all the elements Shazier brought to the field on every down. Then, and only then, will they solve the biggest issue left on the defensive side of the ball.