During the offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel spoke of tactical changes for the 2013 defensive line. Instead of the pass rush relying on the linebackers, the Steelers wanted to also attack the quarterback with their defensive tackles and ends.
This change of emphasis was apparent in their season opener against the Tennessee Titans, and it may have been one of the only bright moments in Monday’s film sessions.
Titans quarterback Jake Locker was only sacked once during the game, but the pressure up the middle was a big reason Locker connected on just 11 of 20 passes. Nearly all of the quarterback pressure on Sunday came from the defensive line, particularly Keisel, Cameron Heyward, Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon.
It’s quite a change from a typical Dick LeBeau 3-4 defense. McLendon had four pressures while the outside linebacker group of LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones had just two, both by Woodley, who was credited with the Steelers’ only sack. Granted, the Steelers did not have that many opportunities to get to Locker as the Titans ran the ball on 42 of their 63 offensive plays.
It is possible that the new scheme may have led to the Titans’ success on the ground — 112 yards, one TD and 10 rushing first downs. However, give some credit to the Titans, who have one of the league’s best (and most expensive) offensive lines. Hall of Fame guard and Titans head coach Mike Munchak has the talent and system to run successfully on any defense in the NFL.
Of note, on the Titans only TD drive, nine of the 11 plays were run directly at ILB Larry Foote (per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). Prior to going down in the fourth quarter with a season-ending bicep rupture, Foote struggled to fend off blocks and came up empty handed on several attempts. The Steelers will get a chance on Monday to see if back-ups Kion Wilson or Florida State rookie Vince Williams will improve run support.
Wilson and Williams played extremely well in preseason against non-first-team talent. Williams played mostly the “Buck” linebacker position in exhibition. He exhibits a natural ability to diagnose plays and is a ferocious tackler. He was listed as the back-up to Foote on the depth chart, yet Wilson is currently slated as the starter for Monday night.
The unknown fourth-year player from South Florida, Wilson, played both the “Buck” and “Mac” linebacker position in preseason. He earned his spot on the roster by becoming one of the Steelers’ top special-teams players thanks to his speed and sure tackling. He took over on Sunday after Foote’s exit and will get his first NFL start against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The inside linebacker battle was one of the best this preseason due to the competition the Steelers added in the offseason. And it seems the front office was smart to begin preparation for Foote’s eventual departure, even though they gave him a three-year deal this spring.
Williams and Wilson may both get an opportunity to receive defensive snaps on Monday. The battle to be a part of the great Steelers tradition of linebackers like Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, David Little, Andy Russell, Levon Kirkland and James Farrior continues in prime time.