After Pittsburgh got pounded by the Ravens in a 35-7 Week 1 loss Warren Sapp referred to the Steelers defense as “old, slow, and it’s over.” It has taken them several years it seems to take those words to heart. This offseason, however, the Steelers went about the free agency and draft with some very clear goals in mind.
They wanted to get faster and younger and get back to being a defense that instilled fear in the hearts of their opponents. Through all the changes that have been made to the Pittsburgh Steelers defense this offseason, are they back to being Blitzburgh?
The Steelers defense had been reluctant to change for a while. Even after getting their asses handed to them in Week 1 in 2011 they finished the regular season with the No. 1 overall ranked defense finishing first in total yards allowed and total passing yards allowed per game. In 2012, same thing, led the league in yards per game allowed and passing yards allowed, were second in rushing yards allowed per game in 2012. What did those rankings get them though? Not a damn thing.
In 2013 the Steelers defense plummeted to be ranked 13th overall and had their lowest sack numbers since 1990. On top of that the team finished with another 8-8 record and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive year. Something had to give. For the Steelers defense to get back to Blitzburgh they would need to finally address the “old, slow and over” from both the roster and the sidelines.
In the past few seasons the Steelers parted ways with great defensive players like Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, and James Harrison. This offseason the moves were a lot more dramatic. They cut LB LaMarr Woodley, who they at one point had made the highest-paid defensive player in Steelers history, but who they hadn’t gotten very much production out of since signing that contract.
Clark has since signed with the Washington Redskins and there is still some speculation that Keisel could be brought back in a depth role for the defensive line. Also to take care of the “old” part, the Steelers have brought back fiery linebacker Joey Porter, not to play but to serve as a defensive assistant coach, aimed to instill a sense of fire and urgency into the outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds.
To take care of the “slow” part the Steelers needed speed. Their first free agent signing this offseason was Carolina’s FS Mike Mitchell, who replaces Ryan Clark to play alongside Troy Polamalu. In addition to the speed Mitchell brings to the secondary, the team injected a heavy dose of speed with their No. 1 draft pick of LB Ryan Shazier, who’s 40-yard-dash time at the Ohio State Pro Day was faster than most receivers and corners in the draft.
To take care of the “it’s over” part the Steelers have realized that the old ways of doing things are not working any longer. Long gone are the days were a young defensive player will be riding the pine for years behind veterans while they can learn the complicated schemes of Dick LeBeau’s defense. The Steelers need these young guys and they need them now. There aren’t very many veterans for the rookies to learn from. Ryan Shazier started offseason workouts first on the depth chart at his position. Something that hasn’t been done in decades with the Steelers.
The Steelers know that the defense can’t get away anymore with the paper rankings of least amount of yards or points allowed if it means they don’t get to the quarterback and cause turnovers. That’s Blitzburgh. The Steelers need a defense that can get to quarterbacks quickly, and with all this youth and speed they just might be doing that again this season for the first time in a long time.