Has the Pittsburgh Steelers defense improved from 2014 to 2015 or it is about the same? 10 games into the season, it depends on which metric you’re looking at:
- The Steelers passing defense is 25th in the league,
- They’re 5th in terms of points allowed, sacks and take aways
Their passing defense is only a hair better than 2014’s 27th ranked unit, but the Steelers 2015 defense is greatly out performing their 2014 counterparts in terms of points allowed, takeaways, and sacks. And they’re accomplishing it with a front 7 that is as stout as any you’ll find in the league, and an accidental secondary.
- That’s right Steelers Nation, welcome to the 2015 Steelers accidental secondary.
2015 Pittsburgh Steelers Accidental Secondary
Take a close look at the depth chart ladies and gentleman, and you’ll find that in the Steelers starting secondary, only one of their defensive backs is where the Steelers projected him to be when they brought him to Pittsburgh.
That honor falls to Steelers starting free safety Mike Mitchell. When the Steelers decided to say goodbye to Ryan Clark in 2013, they’d already signed Mike Mitchell to take his place and in the process inject some youth into an aged secondary. Mitchell struggled a little in 2014, in part because of injuries, and in part because he was unaccustomed to playing with Troy Polamalu.
- But in 2015, Mike Mitchell is playing like a beast, to quote Behind the Steel Curtain’s Chris Carter and Andrew Kipp.
You could argue that William Gay is playing where Pittsburgh projected him to, and at the end of 2014 and during training camp the Steelers certainly expected him to be their starter. Which speaks very well of William Gay. But when the Steelers resigned William Gay in 2013 he did not get a starting cornerback’s contract.
Starting opposite William Gay is Antwon Blake is another accidental starter, and he does not carry that label simply because he was a waiver wire pickup. After all, Yancey Thigpen was a product of Tom Donahoe’s bargin hunting in 1992, and was a starter by 1994. But the Steelers projected Cortez Allen and not Antwon Blake their second starting corner going into training camp this summer.
That leaves Will Allen, whom the Steelers waited until Troy Polamalu retired to bring him back. Instead, the Steelers had their hopes set on Shamarko Thomas, who started during training camp, and then benched.
Even the Steelers nickel back slot is manned by an accidental “starter” in the form of Ross Cockrell, whom the Steelers picked up after he was cut by Buffalo after trading with Philadelphia for Brandon Boykin. When the trade was consummated, many felt Boykin would be the Steelers number 3 corner, if not challenge Gay and/or Allen for starting time.
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
What’s the moral of the story behind the 2015 Steelers accidental secondary? One plausible explanation offered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo is that the Steelers coaches and front office are not on the same page as far as the secondary is concerned.
- That’s plausible. It happened during the Steelers “plug and patch” era of offensive line building at the beginning of the Tomlin era.
But it could simply be that things don’t always work out as planned. If that’s the case, then credit Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, and Carnell Lake for having their understudies ready.
- With that said, the Steelers pass defense does appear to be the team’s weak link here in 2015.
Credit Keith Butler’s boys for clamping down in the Red Zone, but with the way the NFL is today, post-season play, if not December play, has a way of exposing weak secondaries. Ten games into the 2015 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have shown that they are made of tough stuff. Their a scrapping, resilient team.
But even with that said, Pittsburgh might only be able to go as far as the Steelers accidental secondary can take them.