The Pittsburgh Steelers depth was a huge issue long before T.J. Watt’s injury. Here’s why they are too dependent on the health of their stars.
One of the biggest complaints I’ve had regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past few years is their inability to address the depth around the roster. While the starting lineup should be good enough to keep them competitive, their depth at many positions is concerningly poor. One of those positions is edge defender.
After building their defense around T.J. Watt and making the reigning Defensive Player of the Year the highest-paid defender in the league, you would think that the Steelers would have been more proactive in terms of offering an insurance policy in the event of an injury. After all, the team relies heavily on Watt for the pressure and splash plays he continually brings each week.
In some ways, they did have an insurance policy last year in Melvin Ingram. Though Ingram was playing well, things didn’t work out in the end and he forced his way out the door before the trade deadline. I blame both parties for this, as the Steelers could have been using him in a much heavier rotation in an effort to keep Watt and Alex Highsmith healthy and fresh.
This year, they didn’t seem to bother trying to bring in a capable backup edge rusher. After not doing much of anything to bolster the edge depth in free agency or the NFL Draft, the Steelers marched into the summer with Derrek Tuszka and Genard Avery as their backups at outside linebacker. Neither played even made it to Week 1 of the NFL season before being released.
While Malik Reed and Jamir Jones might be a slight upgrade over what they’ve had, these are still very low-level backups when compared to the depth at the position around the league. Many teams deploy a full rotation on their defensive line, but the Steelers rely heavily on their stars to get the job done.
Steelers must begin valuing depth
The depth issues stretch far beyond the edge defender position. In addition to being forced to deploy a combination of Malik Reed and Jamir Jones to make up for the absence of T.J. Watt, other positions would struggle in a big way if an injury were to occur.
Take cornerback for instance. While a player like Ahkello Witherspoon is nowhere near the household name that T.J. Watt is, losing Witherspoon to an injury would be a devastating blow, as it would force players like James Pierre and Arthur Maulet onto the field much more often.
Likewise, the offensive line depth is perhaps the worst in the league, and the Steelers don’t have a suitable linebacker to help fill in if Myles Jack were to go down for a few games.
Obviously, we can’t expect this roster to be great across the board, and every team has its weaknesses. However, if you examine the depth at most positions, there are a lot of players on the Pittsburgh Steelers that probably wouldn’t crack a 53-man roster elsewhere.
Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan did a serviceable job patching the holes in the starting lineup on both sides of the ball this offseason, but not enough emphasis has been placed on their lack of depth. Let’s hope that doesn’t come back to bite them during T.J. Watt’s absence or if anyone else goes down on a position with virtually no depth.