Tweaking Defensive Strategy Will Help Pittsburgh Steelers

By Clyde A. Speller
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Entering a new football season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are changing their approach towards the game. First came the change on the offensive side of the ball with a zone-blocking scheme, and now there will be some tweaks on defense as well.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is changing how the Steelers’ defensive ends are rushing on the front line. Instead of pushing inside in attempts to collapse the pocket and free up the outside linebackers on their outside rush, LeBeau is asking his defensive ends to attack on the outside.

This change seems to be welcomed by the defensive front, especially by 12-year veteran Brett Keisel.

“We definitely need to get more pressure up front,” said Keisel. “There’s been an emphasis more on [ends] getting on the edge rather than just pushing the pocket, getting on the edge and trying to make something happen.”

Making this defensive adjustment should definitely help Pittsburgh increase their sack numbers from the past two seasons. From 2011-12, the Steelers had average numbers in the sack department with 35 and 37 respectively. Those numbers are a far cry from their 2010 sack total of 48.

Having the defensive ends attacking on the outside will also be beneficial to several players. Fifth-year defensive end Ziggy Hood is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is in desperate need of a breakout year so that he could get a contract extension with Pittsburgh, or become a high-value commodity during free agency in 2014.

The same can be said for 2011 first-round draft pick Cameron Heyward, who has yet to live up to expectations.

Obviously, outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds and rookie Jarvis Jones should be able to flourish on the outside with this change as well. However, this tweak in the system will put pressure on the inside linebackers to contain the middle more.

Finally, if the pass rush intensifies due to this change, the Steelers’ secondary will be primed to have a boatload of interceptions. Because of a lack of a pass rush in 2012, Pittsburgh’s defensive backs only hauled in six of the defense’s 10 interceptions.

Some may find it hard to believe, but the Steelers were the top-ranked defense in the league last year. If these adjustments pan out the way LeBeau plans, then finding Pittsburgh atop the NFL in defense again won’t surprise anyone in 2013.

Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller, or add him to your network on Google+

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