ESPN analyst Mina Kimes sees the Pittsburgh Steelers defense as dominant unit in 2023, but sees a “potential pitfall” in the team’s group of inside linebackers.
The rest of the defense got strong marks from Kimes in her appearance on Monday, crediting the way the team dealt with the absence of superstar outside linebacker T.J. Watt to finish 10th in scoring defense in 2022.
“I thought they held up reasonably well despite the fact that the didn’t have T.J. Watt, one of the best players in the NFL, for a big chunk of last season,” Kimes said. “Alex Highsmith … really emerged as a true bookend at pass rusher. So this should be one of the more formidable fronts in football.
“I think in the secondary, the combination of experience with Peterson and then the youth with Joey Porter Jr. also, really looks good.”
But where she sees is a potential issue is in the middle of the defense, where the Steelers’ years-long quest to find reliable options has resulted in a near-complete turnover at the position group.
Devin Bush, Myles Jack, Robert Spillane and Marcus Allen are all gone from the 2022 squad, and Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, Tanner Muse and Nick Kwiatkoski are in their place.
But the quality of the free agents, particularly in pass coverage, is not overwhelming. The Steelers spent only $2.72 million on Holcomb, and he is the most expensive of the four free agent additions to the room.
“My concern, and frankly, it’s been a concern, with Pittsburgh, ever since the retirement of Ryan Shazier, and that’s at linebacker,” Kimes said. “Because looking at that depth chart, that’s what stands out to me. The very middle of the defense as continuing to be an issue, both potentially in run defense and in coverage.
“You’ve got Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts coming in as a free agents, and if I was an offense playing that team, that is what I would look attack, in the pass game, as well as running the football. I think that could be a potential pitfall in an otherwise really good unit.”