With the draft coming up, in the past three months I have read continuing arguments about the defensive versus the offensive needs. What the team's problems were last season. What the Steelers need to do to fix it and who we (the Steelers) need to draft. Some has merit. Some is misconception. Both sides of the Steelers contributed to their seven losses last year. Just as both sides contributed to their nine wins.
Let us start with the defense; The most glaring problem is that the defense gave up way too many third- or fourth-down conversion and long plays in the second half of games last year. Mostly in the fourth quarter. The DB's & LB's couldn't come up with turnovers (dropped interceptions and unrecovered fumbles). The Steelers were minus-three in the turnover battle.They gave up way too many big plays due to coverage mistakes and missed tackles. In shortm the "bend but not break" defense of the Steelers gave a lot more bend and broke a few times last season.
Three of the games the Steelers lost were mostly the fault of the defense. In the losses to the Bears, Ravens and the Raiders, the Steelers' defense gave up 34 total points in the fourth quarter. They let the other teams convert too many long plays. Many of the mistakes were not necessarily due to the quality of the Steelers players.The mistakes could have been due to poor game preparation, not staying with their assignments or both.
For the Steelers' defense to get better, they need to have better play and fewer mistakes from the corner and safety positions. Get younger at the LB position and possibly change around who who is playing the mack and buck positions in some of the sets. If the Steelers think they need to draft another CB, they had better do it in the first or second round. In the second round, the Steelers would probably be looking at the fifth or sixth CB in the draft. They did not have a second-round pick last year and by the time their pick came around in the third round, K. Lewis was the 13th CB picked in the draft last year.
Now for the offense; In the fourth quarter, the Steelers did not stick with the high-percentage plays that they should have used to convert downs. I don't know if it was planned or it was Ben's doing, but they tried too many mid- to long-range passing plays on every series. Also, Ben needs to throw the ball away more in the red zone. Serveral sacks in the zone caused longer missed field goal tries that made the difference between winning and losing in three or four games.
In the games the Steelers lost, their offense only converted 26 percent of their fourth quarter third downs, versus 52 percent of the fourth quarter third downs in the games they won. In the losses to the Browns and Bengals, the Steelers' offense only had third down conversion rates of 20 and 21 percent for the whole game. That is too many three-and-outs to let your older defense get enough rest.
There is nothing wrong with mid- and long-range passes if you have a great offensive line. The Steelers don't, so they need to use the shorter high percentage passes more than they did in 2009. In the fourth quarter, the Steelers' offense needs to stay on the field and convert downs to keep their aging defense on the bench when they are tired.
For the Steelers' offense to get better, they need to improve their offensive line, use a fullback and/or draft a Bettis type bruiser back to punish opposing defenses. Or use a short, higher-percentage passing attack more than they did in 2009.
The upcoming NFL draft will, I am sure, be helpful in improving the Steelers' team, reguardless of who they pick. But it will not be a cure-all. There are other needs to be addressed to get them back to being playoff contenders instead of pretenders.
Special teams: What can I say that is good about special teams play? Nothing I can remember anyhow.
For the special teams to get better, send them to vocational school to learn how to build walls and fences.