Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

How The Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Can Become Dangerous


Recently I wrote a post on what each offensive positional unit for the Pittsburgh Steelers can do to make the entire offense be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Now, we will switch gears and focus on how the defense can become a headache for opposing offenses. The defense was not what it has been during previous years. The first half of the season was horrendous, but like the offense, somewhat picked up their play in the second half of the season. There were also some nice surprises that started to come along during the second of the season as we saw both Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds just absolutely dominate at times, and even Ziggy Hood was playing some pretty decent ball. Here’s what the rest of the defense can do in order to be as dominant as the couple players mentioned above.

Defensive Line

Like I mentioned above, Cameron Heyward was a very nice surprise last season. Many expected him to pick up his play, but he took it to another level no one knew he had (at least for the time being). This is also a good thing he excelled last season instead of the last year of his rookie contract because the Steelers have made some mistakes by not extending some very good players before their rookie contracts expired (Jason Worilds, Keenan Lewis). The only problem with Heyward this coming season is getting him extended, and the Steelers should do everything they can to do that.

Now to the rest of the defensive line, they didn’t play as bad as some of you think. You have to remember that there were 2 rookie linebackers starting. Ziggy Hood had a pretty solid season, and in order for the line to keep getting better, they need to retain him. That should be one of their top offseason priorities is to resign Hood for a modest contract. Steve McLendon didn’t have that bad of a season either. He wasn’t the pass rushing beast we saw in limited action the season before, but he still showed potential. It was his first season with a full time gig, and I think a full offseason knowing what to expect should benefit him greatly. He is one of those players who just need a little more time to develop. The best thing for the D-line is to just keep the starters consistent. Having a line consisting of Hood, McLendon, and Heyward playing next to each other all season will help them develop some good chemistry, as well as with the linebackers. No need to draft a defensive lineman early in the draft – to me it would be a waste of a pick. Let them get some games under their feet together as a unit, then let’s watch how their chemistry starts opening holes for Jarvis and Worilds, yes Jason Worilds.


Sign Jason Worilds! Release Lamarr Woodley! This is the most talked about issue with the Steelers this offseason. And yes, I am on the Worilds bandwagon. I personally was shocked when they drafted Jarvis Jones in the 2013 NFL draft.  I was more persuaded that Alec Ogletree at inside linebacker was the guy they needed, but no going back now. Worilds is younger and will not command the money that Woodley got, though he will still come with a hefty price. There have also been reports that Woodley has a bad attitude in the locker room, something not typically affiliated with the Steelers. This is their number one priority, to sign Worilds and release Woodley. Now to the other linebackers, Jarvis Jones will be starting next year. Bringing Joey Porter in was a fantastic move by the Steelers. He can do wonders for Jones, who has an incredibly high ceiling as a pass rusher. This doesn’t rank up with the Munchak hire, but maybe Porter is a coach in waiting with the Steelers.

To the inside – Timmons will continue to quietly hold down his spot without any recognition whatsoever and no pro bowls to show for it, maybe next year is the year? To the other spot – I can’t wait to see how Vince Williams improves in his second year. He had his struggles, but remember that he was a sixth round rookie who took over the starting job when Larry Foote went down and barked out the orders to the rest of the defense, in Dick Lebeau’s defense! He now has a year in the system and I think that will benefit him greatly. I don’t know how high his ceiling is as a complete player (pass rushing, man/zone coverage), but I can’t wait to find out. He should definitely have the opportunity to compete for the starting job with Foote and Spence this coming season, and I would love to see him steal it and never look back.


In my opinion, this is the most important position going into the offseason.  This is a position that must be addressed.  Ike Taylor needs to go.  I think he will be one of the veterans cut this offseason, and I wouldn’t be mad if it happened.  His play dropped considerably, and he is way too expensive.  I’ve had the Steelers picking corner in the first round since about the middle of the season, and I still think that’s where they need to go. There are two prospects that they could take in the first round that are worth it – Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State and Darqueze Dennard from Michigan St.  If one of the two are there when the Steelers pick, they need to grab them. Cortez Allen is the future of the cornerback position for the Steelers. Like many of the other young players, he is still developing, but this is the year I think he will break out, and maybe even reach pro bowl level. Remember, it took Keenan Lewis 4 years to break out, Cortez is going into his fourth year. Great things are coming from him, and he needs to be extended this offseason. Pair Cortez with a first round draft pick this year, preferably Justin Gilbert, and the Steelers are set with their starting corners for years to come.

To the safety position, bye-bye Ryan Clark. He will always be remembered as Troy Polamalu’s partner in crime, but now it’s time for the next great safety duo. Shamarko Thomas is, yet again, another one of those young guys that needs some time to develop. This guy can be a beast! He is also the future (like Cortez) of the safety position with the Steelers. The Steelers are in need of another safety to pair with Shamarko, and I think that Tre Boston out of North Carolina is a perfect fit for them. He will be available in the third or fourth round, and another trade is possible in order to draft the guy. The Steelers need to find a corner and a safety in the draft, and Justin Gilbert and Tre Boston both seem like they were born to be Steelers. I am excited to see if they go in that direction in the draft, and they really should.

Basically, the Steelers defense is already in place, besides half of the secondary who will need some time to get used to the defense anyway. The Steelers need to keep their defensive line consistent, making them a unit to build some chemistry. They need to let their young players develop and extend them now, so when they get to Heyward and Worilds level, they are already under contract. The last thing is to go all in with the secondary in the draft, spending 2 picks in the first 4 rounds to find replacements for Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor. If the Steelers do that, give it some time and the defense will once again put fear in the hearts of the opponents, like the days when Joey Porter was around!

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Pittsburgh Steelers

  • [email protected]

    OK, Levi, I agree with you overall in what needs to be done (let Woodley walk, re-sign Worilds, DEFINITELY draft either a S or CB in the first round and then what you didn’t take in the 1st round later in the draft, goodbye to Clark). However, big disagreement on the D line approach. Here’s why.
    We basically played last year without an adequate player at the position that is arguably the keystone of any good 3-4 defense – nose tackle. I recently read that no NT in the entire NFL was pushed further off the line of scrimmage on a regular basis than McClendon. Not a knock on McClendon, who I think is a real talent. Rather, he was played out of position and it showed. Here’s the kicker and it’s a beauty if you are a Steelers fan (from Cincinnati?)….
    By drafting a TRUE NT in round 3 or 4, someone that can clog the middle and eat up blockers, two good things happen:
    1. McClendon can be more effectively used as a pass rusher by switching him to DE, thus preventing us from having to sign Ziggy Hood again (major disappointment). Having McClendon and Heyward on either side of a massive NT would allow them to really wreak havoc, and
    2. By drafting a true NT in the middle rounds, we FIX TWO POSITIONS WITH ONE PICK. We get our NT but also fix Hood’s position by sliding McClendon there. A pick saved that would otherwise have been spent on a stud DE like Hagemann for example.
    I think Justin Gilbert would be a great pick, and we need to trade away one of our compensatory picks to go get him if in fact he is not there at 15 for us (which I think he will be considering all the picks consumed by QB selections in the first 10 picks). We wouldn’t have to move up too far, if at all, to get him in my thinking.
    BTW, although he had a horrible season I’m not sure Ike is done just yet – given our idiotic move to let Lewis walk last year, I’m not sure he wouldn’t be better than a rookie in that spot for just one year to let the draftee CB develop.

    Maybe in your reply you can identify how a kid from Cincinnati becomes a Steelers fan?

    • Levi Combs

      One scenario that could happen is to resign hood and move him to DT and move McClendon to DE like you are saying. I also have a very hard time believing that the steelers will spend a pick in the first three rounds on the defensive line. There are too many other needs right now and they did offer McClendon a new contract for a reson. They saw something in him to feel comfortable enough to get rid of Casey Hampton, and i truly believe that McClendon hood and heyward will be the starting d line next year if not for several more years depending on how they perform next season.

  • Craig

    I’m going to have to agree with tcirish. Even though Heyward stepped up in the second half and was a beast, Keisel was still average at best and we lacked a good NT. The run defense was simply awful all year and that is directly related to the nose. That position has to get better immediately if DLB is going to stick around with his 3-4 zone.

    • Levi Combs

      We all have to remember that we did have a rookie linebacker calling out the shots and jarvis jones struggling to get within feet of the quarterback. I would say give McClendon one more year before you jump off the bandwagon. And Cameron heyward will get better as scary as it is. I think there is the potential with hood McClendon and heyward to be a very sold line. This year is where the steelers need to overload on the secondary position. The d line will have to wait

  • theo


    • Craig

      Getting rid of the 30 somethings is essentially gutting the team, theo since numerous starters from last season are over 30. I agree with you whole heartedly that the young guys need the playing time and let them do the work for the defense. But by letting the old guys go, you are essentially gutting this defense….

      • Levi Combs

        When players like Ike Taylor just played the season he played and foote at 33 who is coming back from a major injury, it kind of helps the steelers in their decision making to cut he veterans. So sometimes it’s not gutting the defense, it’s making the smart move when they are younger replacements who could be the future. No one wants to see another Keenan Lewis leave and everyone hates to hear jason worilds talk about how he didn’t get enough playing time early in his career when we are desperately wanting to resign him. The younger players need to get on the field, it may or not be gutting the defense, but in this case I think it’s making the smart move and planning for the future.

    • Levi Combs

      This years veteran cuts very well could be woodley foote and Taylor. Foote should be good as gone with all the young inside linebackers. Woodley is up in the air, and no matter how much I want him cut, I really think that the steelers will retain Taylor for one more season with polamalu. With foote keisel and Clark gone, that gives some significant youth to the defense and only two players over the age of 30, being Troy and Taylor. So your wish could come true starting this season with all the youth on the defense.

  • theo

    first of all i would see what i can get for troy in terms of picks which we could use for this drat.IKE,FOOTE WOODLEY need to go we need to stop letting talent get on the field to late then letting them walk because we dont have the money to sign them all because we want to be loyal we cant be a player in free agent market because we never have enough money this has to change or it’s always going to be like this we cant only rely on the draft we need to make key moves bring in freeagents every year it’s the same thing u need talent to win and you need good young talent

    • Levi Combs

      I completely agree that woodley Ike and foote need to be gone. There are younger replacements for each except for Ike, which I obviously hope that they will find one in the draft. I think the good young talent is already on the team, they just need time to develop.

  • William Cross

    Sigh… I’d prefer to let the Pittsburgh Steelers not take advice from a child writer.

    • Craig

      And what have you done lately, Will? Kid has more courage putting his opinions out there to be subjected to your poor ridicule. Look how brave you are hiding behind the veil of the internet. Classy.

      • Levi Combs

        Thank you for the support. I see you have commented several times on the few posts I have and would like to thank you for giving my articles some attention and would love to continue to hear your feedback.

    • Levi Combs

      After consecutive 8-8 seasons, I hope they are willing to take advice from anyone who is offering it to them.

      • Nine

        I hope they don’t listen to you, and I hope they don’t listen to me. They are better at this than either one of us.

  • Seaneroz

    LeBeau and personeel are the problems. I am sick and tired of hearing his defense takes about 3 or 4 years to figure out. The rest of the NFL has figured it out and you cant keep waiting on players to take 3 to 4 years to develop. The Steelers dont have depth or talent for this to continue. Look at Seattle and some of the other better defenses. They are physical and have speed…The Steelers used to be physical and have not had speed for several years now, especally in the secondary….A much needed upgrade is necessary in the secondary. Get rid of that zone blitz scheme….it doesnt work anymore, they are to predictable on defense. Get some corners that can play press coverage along with upgrades with the linebackers and d line that can pressure the QB. There defenses has always struggles against the elite QBs…they will not win another SB with this formula. Organization has to let Tomlin coach up the defense and pick the personeel they want along with coaching staff. Who ever wrote this article is plan on silly…..watching Seattle’s defense in the Super Bowl was a eye opening experience is saying the Steelers have a long way to go before they can reach that caliber of defense again with the current personnel and coaching staff. LeBeau needs to retire.

    • Levi Combs

      Thank you for your feedback. I am going to agree and disagree with you on several of your comments. First, I would like to agree with you that secondary is in dire need of an upgrade. Although I do believe that two spots are already in place, Shamarko and Cortez, there are still 2 more with Taylor and Polamalu on the downside of their respective careers. I am going to disagree with you on the coaching staff and upgrades on the defense. The Steelers do have one of the best, if not the best defensive coaching staffs in the league. Not only are they experienced, but they are loyal. Dick LeBeau is not only in the hall of fame for his playing career, but also for his coaching career. Keith Butler is defensive coordinator in the waiting, and if he wasn’t good at his job, why are we worrying every year of him taking a coordinator spot for a different team? Carnell Lake has done a fantastic job since he arrived. Look what he did with Keenan Lewis and how he turned William Gay’s career around. John Mitchell has been with the team since 1994 and is extremely underrated around the league for his coaching accomplishments with the Steelers. He has worked been through it all with the Steel City and has turned late round draft picks to superstars in the hearts of Steelers fans (Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, even Steve McLendon went undrafted). Second, it isn’t as easy as it sounds to just “get” upgrades along the entire defense and to play at a pro bowl level. The Steelers have addressed the defense heavily the last 5 years (Ziggy Hood 1st round, Jason Worilds 2nd round, Cameron Heyward 1st round, Jarvis Jones 1st round). Their investments are starting to pay off, in a big way. The way it is with the Steelers defense, it does take time, no matter how much we hate it. It has proved time and time again that young players need time and soon enough they will breakout. It happened with Keenan Lewis, Jason Worilds and Cameron Heyward just in the past two seasons. Those guys are future superstars. The Steelers have addressed the defensive line and linebackers heavily recently, so this year it’s time for the secondary. Also, where are they just going to magically upgrade the d line and linebackers like you said? Free Agency? That means getting rid of Jason Worilds. The Draft? There goes upgrading the secondary position early. The Steelers are in a transition period, moving on from their old Super Bowl winners to their new ones. Unfortunately, it has taken 2 seasons, but don’t worry, all it takes is patience!

      • Seaneroz

        I agree with you response and disagree with your
        response. I agree with your views on Allen, Thomas, and even Gay. I believe Gay
        was coached up this year and played well. Loyalty with the Steelers has always
        been a standard with the organization. As a result they are the best franchise
        in the NFL in my opinion. LeBeau being a HOF player is always mentioned. He was
        a HOF player but coaching is a different story. Yes, he has been great for the
        Steelers organization and the players love him. It’s time for a change.
        Question, when has the Steelers defense led by LeBeau stop an elite QB. Tom
        Brady owns the Steelers he beats up the Steelers defense every time. I believe
        his record is like 7-1 against the Steelers. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron
        Rodgers, all have winning records against the beloved LeBeau defense. Don’t get
        me wrong, I know they all are elite QB, but they all seem to have career games against
        the defense and put staggering passing numbers. As I mentioned in my initial
        post, the defense is too predictable. Case in point, everyone knows its zone
        scheme and the defense is trying to confuse the offensive on how many defenders
        are rushing the QB on any given play and playing zone behind it. QBs know to
        get rid of the ball fast to avoid the pressure and the Steelers don’t have
        corners that play tight press coverage. When they are playing against elite QBs
        they just get shredded in the secondary. They tend to draft corners that are
        long and can tackle but can’t cover or make plays. Troy P was the only member
        who could make plays on the backend. My last point, what is so hard about his
        scheme that players take 3 years to get comfortable. I understand taking the
        leap to college to the pros is a major leap. His scheme is too complex and
        needs to be simplified to let the players play and go after the ball. Whomever
        they draft they need to hit the jackpot on every pick because they need the
        help. Tomlin has no power on the decision with LeBeau. He had no power on Bruce
        Arians either….that’s another topic….As you mentioned the rest of the coaching
        staff is pretty good I believe, give Butler a chance to coach the defense and
        give him input on the type of defensive players he wants to coach already. He
        has been waiting for several years for the promotion. If not it’s going to
        continue to be a long few seasons with LeBeau still running this defense.

        • Levi Combs

          Im gonna agree with you on a lot of this. I would like to see the younger players on field sooner and the defense not be so complex. I believe this will be LeBeau’s last year as the DC for the Steelers, and if for some reason it isn’t and he stays for another couple seasons, then this will more than likely be Keith Butler’s last season “waiting” to be the DC. I don’t think he will wait another season after the 2014 season to become the DC for the Steelers.