Pittsburgh Steelers: So, What's Next for the Defense?

TJ JenkinsAnalyst IDecember 16, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 22:  Ziggy Hood #96 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes the quarterback during the game against the Washington Redskins at Fed Ex Field on August 22, 2009 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has had trouble finishing games this year, they still remain in the top five as far as the league rankings for total defense. 

Through last week they're allowing 294.1 yards per game, good for fourth in the NFL. They once again hold the number one spot against the rush, albeit by a slim margin, letting opposing teams gain only 84.9 yards on the ground. That's a mere .1 yard away from the next best team—the Green Bay Packers.

Not surprisingly the pass defense has suffered with the absence of Troy Polamalu in the secondary. The pass rush is very underrated this year with no one talking about them even though they're just two sacks behind from tying the Minnesota Vikings for the league-lead in pass rush. 

Along with losing Polamalu the Steelers also saw defensive stalwart Aaron Smith go down for the season with a shoulder injury. 

But, on to the good stuff—the position rotations. Same concept that I used with the offense, a nice way to get the younger guys involved without completely giving up on the current starters. 

The defensive end position is an intriguing one, first round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood is listed on the depth chart as the starter alongside veteran Brett Keisel. 

Along with those two seeing playing time there needs to be more of a balanced rotation, but not only for the sake of the younger player's experience. The fact that these are 3-4 defensive ends we're talking about. They're big guys, they get winded easier than probably anyone sans the nose tackles. 

In order to keep them fresh and assure their success in tying up blockers, they're going to need to suck some wind on the sidelines every now and then.

Throw into this rotation draft pick Ra'Shon "Sonny' Harris," Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke and there is no reason that any of these men should get tired. 

That's a five man rotation. Perhaps we will see some flashes of brilliance from the rookies. 

At the nose tackle spot I'd personally like to see if Hood could get the job done in Casey Hampton's stead. Chris Hoke is a decent backup, but like Hood is more than likely too small to be a long-term replacement at the position. Not to mention Hoke is older than I'd like a replacement to be. 

Hoke and Hampton already rotate, with Hampton experiencing more success, if only Hampton had some facade of conditioning then maybe a rotation wouldn't concern me as much. 

With the inside linebacker position it's kind of a pick your poison situation. The savvy veteran James Farrior seems to be losing a step every week. He's generally solid in run support, but very suspect in the coverage game: just ask Ray Rice.

Lawrence Timmons on the other hand is a polar opposite of  Farrior. He's young, fast and agile. His run support needs work, but I trust him more in coverage. He's an athletic machine and is extremely talented when rushing the quarterback. 

Keyaron Fox is a career special teamer so far and that's all we truly have ever asked of him. He's very good covering kicks. He's developing well, fairly solid in both run support and coverage. If you recall the game against the Vikings when he returned the pick off of Chester Taylor for the touchdown then you've seen the man in action.

If we could somehow find a way to evenly rotate the three not only would they stay fresh, but it would give us three different skill sets to work with defensively, potentially causing matchup problems and confusion with the opposing offense.

As far as the cornerback position goes, I'd really like to see rookies Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis getting some playing time, just to see what they bring to the table. 

Steeler fans are doing nothing but spewing venom whenever William Gay's name is mentioned, so why not give one of the young guys a few quarters of playing in his stead? 

If you really want to mix it up, allow Ike Taylor to play strong safety while letting Gay and one of the rookies, or even both the rookies play the cornerback spot. 

Essentially, what we want to do is see who's hungry. See who's ready to step up and be another leader on this team. Someone absolutely has to rally the troops here or we're in for a long couple of years.