WHERE HAS THE OUTSIDE LINEBACKER PRODUCTION GONE?
This isn’t another column about the broken line of succession for the Steelers at outside linebacker. I’ve written that article and spouted off on air about that for years now.
I’m done openly begging for the next pair of players to step up and carry the torch as Lloyd and Green passed it to Porter and Gildon…to Harrison and Woodley…with a Chad Brown and a Clark Haggans mixed in along the way.
I’m resigned to the reality of the Steelers current situation at that position. It’s a collection of four guys trying to equate the productivity of two. Heck…maybe even one.
One of them is an oft-injured first round draft choice (Jarvis Jones), who no one wants to call a bust…but also certainly can’t be called a success. Another (Bud Dupree) is a rookie who is learning nicely but still is worthy of the “work in progress” tag. The third is a reliable reserve cast aside by Buffalo (Arthur Moats). But no one who should be counted on as an impact performer.
And of course the final one (the aforementioned James Harrison) is a team legend on his second go round with the organization who defies the odds of how much water he can slurp up from the Fountain of Youth. But it’s starting to run pretty dry.
Want the unfortunate evidence? Harrison has just two sacks this year. He has none in the last three games. And he has managed just three tackles in that three game stretch.
But the problems extend well beyond Harrison. The four Pittsburgh OLBs combined for just three tackles over 70 defensive snaps against Oakland last Sunday. There were no tackles for loss amongst the group. And the entire defense failed to sack Derek Carr despite his 44 pass attempts.
On Tuesday at his weekly press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t call out that group specifically. But he did say, “I thought (vs Oakland) we could’ve done a better job in one-on-one rush opportunities. I didn’t think we created enough pressures on third downs. We weren’t creating the type of negativity that we’re capable of. We could’ve been more competitive in one-on- one rush opportunities.”
Defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward were likely part of that criticism too. Neither of them impacted that Raider game as much as they have in previous weeks either. But those two have combined for 7.5 sacks (with Tuitt playing just six games) while the four OLBs have totaled nine in nine games.
Yet, when presented with the specific lack of results by the outside linebackers Sunday, Moats & Jones tried to make the debate more about Oakland’s scheme than issues from within the unit.
“They ran a lot of quick game and ran it up the middle. It’s hard to make plays up the middle if we are outside,” said Jones.
Moats echoed that sentiment. “If it’s inside runs or passes, you [hide] aren’t going to have that many opportunities, whereas if you are at an inside position the ball is coming right at you and you have more opportunities,” he said.
To be fair, both added “…it’s on us to be more productive.” But 70 snaps and just three combined tackles between four players? Forty-four drop backs and zero sacks? That seems like a lot of “opportunities” to do more than what the Pittsburgh OLBs did. And a look at the box scores the last three games suggests this wasn’t a one week blip for the OLBs either.
Clearly under new defensive coordinator Keith Butler, the emphasis has shifted towards the ends getting up field and pressuring the passer more often. But that doesn’t mean the OLBs should become non factors in the run or pass games.
Perhaps this week against the Browns an opportunity exists for that position group to find its swagger again. Cleveland has allowed 30 sacks. That’s the second highest total in football. On the flip side Oakland and Cincy are near the bottom in sacks allowed.
Since the Browns have come back into the league, they’ve provided a cure all for many Steeler ailments. Maybe they will again in this instance for the Steeler OLBs.
TIOPS BY THE NUMBERS
James Harrison – 357 Snaps, 25 Tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 Sacks, 1 forced fumble, 14 Hurries
Jarvis Jones – 243 Snaps, 20 Tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1.5 Sacks, 1 forced fumble, 4 Hurries
Arthur Moats – 307 Snaps, 17 Tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 Sacks, 6 Hurries
Bud Dupree – 332 Snaps, 16 Tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 4 Sacks, 3 Hurries [/hide]