Imagine if you will, this scenario. It’s third and long, and the Steelers bring out their nickel defense. The plan is to get to the quarterback with four, leaving everyone else in coverage. Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt line up as defensive tackles, while Ziggy Ansah (or any free agent DE) and first round pick (best available DE at pick 28) line up at defensive end. The opposing quarterback has no chance, and is sacked for a loss.
A man can dream right? Think of how devastating Heyward and Tuitt could be if teams actually had to worry about blocking the Steelers edges. If they actually had to devote resources to block Pittsburgh’s defensive ends. It’s a scenario other teams around the league are hoping the they never figure out. The Steelers have already done the hard part. They’ve produced not just one, but three outstanding defensive tackles. All of whom have the skills to rush the passer from the interior.
Now the other part of the equation comes into play, acquiring quality defensive ends to compliment the tackles. Obviously the team would have to sign at least two veterans to play the position. One high-end player, and another back-up type for depth. I wrote about the perfect free agent for this in an earlier post Steelers off-season options: Ziggy Ansah. Next, Kevin Colbert would have to use the team’s first round pick on an edge rusher. It’s not the greatest defensive end class in recent memory, but at pick 28 there should be some good options. Picking another end later in the draft would be wise as well to further help with depth. There’s always the possibility of using Cam Heyward as a defensive end, particularly on running downs.
A switch to a 4-3 defense would also help the back-end of this defense. First of all, it would take the pressure off the outside linebackers of being the primary outside pass rushers. Dupree and Watt could then focus on stopping the run and dropping into coverage. Those are the types of things the two already excel at. Switching to a three linebacker scheme also solves the problem of replacing Ryan Shazier. Take whatever draft picks or free agent money the team has surely put aside for an inside linebacker, and use it on a defensive end. Assuming Colbert gets this done, it would almost assuredly improve the secondary as a by-product. It’s no secret that a good pass rush can cover up most flaws in the defensive backfield. Not to mention not needing so many complicated blitzes to get pressure should eliminate a lot of the blown coverages we so often see with this unit.
The key to having success as a 3-4 defense is having at least three Pro-Bowl caliber linebackers. The reality is the Steelers currently have nobody on the roster who comes close to that caliber of linebacker. So logic would say why not shift the focus to the strength of the defense. Build on the already ultra talented line by obtaining the ends they need, and make this unit nearly unstoppable. Then watch the domino effect as the rest of the unit improves from having a dominant line up front. There are certainly obstacles to making this kind of switch. The main one being this defensive staff has never run a 4-3 scheme before. It may be that a new defensive coordinator would have to be brought in to run this new defense. Anyone familiar with my blog knows I’m more than ok with that happening. As I mentioned earlier……a man can dream right?