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Random Steelers Observations: Bye Week edition

News flash: NFL defenses are catching up and catching on. They have adjusted to all the pre-snap motion meant to create mass confusion for their schemes.

For the third year in a row, we are witnessing the ebb and flow of this evolutionary NFL battle, and defenses are gaining the upper hand. Each year, the scoring averages, explosive plays, and possession numbers have decreased.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still teams like the Miami Dolphins talented enough on offense to dominate overmatched defenses, but we recently learned that a disciplined defense like the Buffalo Bills can severely limit that productivity.

This past week, we watched as the talented Cleveland Browns defense shutdown the surging Forty Niners offense by relentlessly attacking them from pillar to post, start to finish. Nothing easy, and no pitch and catch opportunities that so often allow Purdy and company to find their rhythm. Then the New York Jets upset the heavily favored Philadelphia Eagles later in the day utilizing a similar defensive philosophy. Shoot, even the New York Giants almost pulled off a similar upset against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football with yet another strong defensive performance.

I wholeheartedly believe that the Steelers are capable of joining this defensive revival taking place around the league, but they have to make a couple of moves to get there. First off, they desperately need to trade for another man coverage capable corner prior to the deadline. Then they need to commit to playing their best personnel packages, regardless of experience level. It’s well past time that Tomlin stops living in his fears, and puts what’s best for the team ahead of his own sizeable ego.

Now it’s time for some of my random Steelers thoughts and observations.

  • As long as the Steelers are scouring the possible trade market in search of secondary help, they might as well inquire about Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds has been a reliable reserve for the Eagles, but his presence would be far more valuable back in the Steel City. Andy Weidl has a strong connection with his former employer, and it never hurts to ask. It’s criminal how much the Steelers are asking Minkah Fitzpatrick to play out of position. My offseason fears have been validated.
  • Alex Highsmith is having another superb season, but only has 2 sacks thus far. That being said, he has tons of QB pressures, but I don’t hear PFF raving about his impact like they do for Myles Garrett. I guess all QB pressures aren’t created equally. You know, I actually agree with that statement. Countless times this season Highsmith has arrived at the QB just as he is dumping the ball off to a wide open outlet, a frustrating byproduct of Teryl Austin’s soft zone coverages. Garrett benefits immensely from the most aggressive defensive concepts in the NFL, thanks to Jim Schwartz. All pressures aren’t created equally.
  • The more Steelers cast-offs that find sustained success elsewhere would seem to suggest two things; scheme fit and personnel usage issues. The first is primarily a front office issue, while the latter points directly towards the coaching staff’s decision making. Scheme fit issues have hopefully been addressed with Khan’s ascension, but the personnel usage issues still remain. How Tomlin and his band of yes men handle personnel throughout the remainder of the schedule should speak volumes about whether numerous coaching staff changes are required after the season. To be completely honest, it’s not looking good.
  • This is actually difficult for me to admit, but Diontae Johnson is returning this week, and not a moment too soon. I thought that his absence would allow the Steelers to discover all their other offensive weapons, and quit force feeding so many targets Johnson’s direction. Instead, it quickly became even more apparent how severely limited Matt Canada actually is. Without Johnson, the Steelers lacked an accomplished route runner who could quickly and reliably corral 7 to 8 yard receptions whenever necessary to set up favorable down and distances. Johnson’s presence should benefit the entire offensive unit, but especially Kenny Pickett. I believe Johnson catches his first touchdown this week. He’s definitely due.
  • Broderick Jones is both the present and the future at left tackle for the Steelers. He proved no less against the Baltimore Ravens. If the Steelers go back to Dan Moore Jr as the starter this week, it will only prove that Mike Tomlin is hopelessly trapped in the past. The unwritten rule that you don’t lose your position due to injury is outdated. Truthfully, Moore should lose his starting spot because of his performances pre injury. Moore gives solid effort, but his athletic limitations are exposed at LT. I love how frustrated Jones has been this week in interviews with the lack of clarity from the coaching staff, because he has every right to be. Give me more warriors who want to go to battle, not collect a paycheck sitting on the bench.
  • I believe that Patrick Peterson’s extensive experience against Cooper Kupp will serve him well on Sunday. This is an overlooked aspect of Peterson’s presence in the defensive backfield. He is very familiar with the Los Angeles Rams offensive attack, and any insights could prove invaluable.
  • I expect Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander to get the bulk of the minutes against Matt Stafford and the Rams aerial attack. I would love to see more Elijah Riley at strong safety, and less Keanu Neal. Neal can easily be targeted in coverage, forcing Fitzpatrick to fill the void. Fitzpatrick is a complete safety, but his ball-hawking abilities are elite.
  • Similar to the aforementioned Peterson, I expect Markus Golden to have a standout performance against a very familiar opponent. Golden has exceeded any reasonable expectations this season, and the Steelers are reaping the benefits of having quality depth at the linebacker positions. Increase rotational usage, and keep your superstars as fresh as possible late in the season. Once again, play the talent at your disposal.
  • Lastly, I am excited to get Anthony McFarland Jr and Pressley Harvin lll back in the fold. McFarland has been desperately missed on kickoff returns, and I never want to see Gunner Olszewski on the field in a Steelers uniform ever again. The Steelers punt game survived without Big Press, but it was thriving prior to his injury. He was easily having the most consistent stretch of his NFL career. Hopefully he can pick back up where he left off.

I am hoping that the Steelers can overcome the Curse of the West Coast this season, after an offseason of roster turnover and upheaval. But just to be on the safe side, can somebody pick up a bucket of KFC chicken for Jobu? If you don’t get the reference, I highly recommend that you watch the cult classic Major League movie asap. You can thank me later.

Go Steelers!


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