Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Preseason Disappointments so Far
On the whole, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason has been much more active than preseasons of the past. The Steelers franchise is typically quiet when it comes to offseason personnel changes, allowing things to come to them rather than being proactive on that front.
Nevertheless, even with all the activity that Pittsburgh has had, everything hasn’t been rosy. This front office and coaching staff have made some rather questionable choices, and we have to just hope that these moves don’t come back to bite this team down the road.
However, which moves (or lack thereof) have been the most disappointing? Here’s my top five disappointments of the preseason for the Steelers.
5. Offensive Tackle Position Needs an Upgrade
This one may not seem like a huge thing, but it really is. Yes, I recognize that in the second half of the 2013 season, starting tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert played better. They didn’t play great, but by my charting, the starting tackles allowed only one sack in the final seven games of the year.
However, one area where these tackles failed was in the running game. I was hopeful that the Steelers would open their minds to the notion of an upgrade, in particular at left tackle. Historically, the Steelers have had some great offensive linemen. Unfortunately, those greats have almost exclusively been guards and centers.
If this team fails to get that outside zone-blocking game going, look for poor play at the tackle position to be at the heart of it. Neither Beachum nor Gilbert has the lateral agility necessary to kick out and work down the line on those slow developing zone runs.
4. Landry Jones
When the Steelers drafted quarterback Landry Jones in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft, it was done so with an eye towards the future. Jones had been one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football the season before, and so he was an acceptable risk at pick No. 114 overall. The Steelers obviously were looking for a prospect to back up and possibly even replace Ben Roethlisberger.
Now, as we sit just days before final cuts for the 2014 season, Jones has done nothing to assure a spot on this roster. In fact, Jones has looked worse this year as opposed to last in terms of accuracy and decision-making ability.
At this point, it would be best to just jettison Jones, go with two quarterbacks, and try and find an eventual replacement next season. This team has too many spots where depth is a concern to squander a spot on a marginal football player like Jones.
3. Cornerback Still a Big Problem
Coming in next on the countdown of sadness is Steeler front office's apathy toward addressing the cornerback position. After watching the cornerbacks on this roster backslide in the second half of 2013, I thought there would be major turnover in personnel.
Instead, it looks to be more of the same as Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay are once again being charged with stopping some of the best wide receivers in the league. The only additions this team made was to bring in free-agent cornerback Brice McCain and draft Shaquille Richardson in the fifth round of this year's draft.
Fast-forward to now, and McCain is a bubble player to make the roster, and Richardson is in all likelihood headed to the practice squad. If the defense continues to struggle (see the next slide), lack of talent at cornerback could be a key reason.
2. The New Defense
What is the world is Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau trying to do? As the preseason has gone on, the most disturbing trend I am seeing is the gradual transition to a base 4-3, “big nickel” alignment.
How can it be a base defense and a nickel? Well, it is a numbers game. According to James Wexell of scout.com (subscription required), the Steelers have used this nickel set on 70 percent of the snaps taken by first-team defense this preseason.
I thought the goal was to use the offseason to tweak their base 3-4 defense, not to wad it up and throw it in the garbage. All this undersized 4-3 front is doing is making opposing run games salivate at the opportunity to run the ball straight at it. Just line up three wide receivers, spread out a light defense and pound the ball right down its throats.
If the Steelers had no intention of committing to a 3-4 base defense, then they should have focused on bolstering the defensive front. Instead it is too small to stop the run, but there isn't enough speed behind it to cover if the front seven can't rush the passer.
1. Bell and Blount, Up in Smoke
You knew that I had to save the best for last, right? With the news that running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were charged with marijuana possession (H/T to ESPN's Adam Schefter) during a traffic stop, the two-headed running back attack rocketed to No. 1 on this list.
I don’t even know where to begin with how wrong all of this is. And there will be no diatribes about how the rule is bad. The rule is the rule. You want to debate the fairness of the rule? That’s a different discussion. This was just irresponsible behavior by two men who put themselves ahead of the team.
It is hard to speculate how much, if any of this will impact the 2014 season. The wheels of justice turn slow in cases like this from an NFL perspective. There’s no excuse for selfish actions like this.
The AFC North is going to be incredibly competitive, which means even one game without Bell and/or Blount could be catastrophic for the season. Even if neither miss a game, both have a mark against them as far as the league office is concerned, which means the next mistake would be huge.