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Steelers Name New Starting Linebacker



Steelers LB Blake Martinez
Steelers linebacker Blake Martinez comes out of the tunnel before the team's game against the New England Patriots, Dec. 12, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Steelers have named linebacker Blake Martinez as a co-starter alongside linebacker Mykal Walker at the spot across from Elandon Roberts in the defense. That comes with two other changes, including Keeanu Benton as the starting nose tackle and Godwin Igwebuike as the starting kick returner.

Martinez played 17 snaps on Thursday against the Patriots, while Walker played 25. However, Walker was responsible for two touchdowns against the Steelers’ defense in the first half. The more the game progressed, the more Martinez played, and he seemed to do just fine. Pittsburgh did not ask him to move mountains, but they made sure he was an adequate partner next to Roberts.

Walker was picked on for two straight games. His coverage stats look ugly. Pittsburgh is faltering in the middle of the field in the worst way, and that has established cracks in a bend that don’t break defense, which has started to break a lot more recently.

Hunter Henry and JuJu Smith-Schuster were the Trey McBride-like equivalents of this game. Two big-bodied, physical receivers that the Patriots attacked over the middle of the field to make plays. More than that, Ezekiel Elliott turned out to be an exceptional performance. But that was mainly due to the Steelers putting their linebackers in bad spots. Walker got caught looking in the backfield and having to get to the flat far too often. Realistically, they put Walker in bad spots to succeed and did not adjust until it was far too late.

Martinez is known as a guy similar to Roberts, who can work downhill and be a tackle machine as a run defender. But with Walker getting picked on throughout these games in coverage, it might be worth seeing what he has in the bucket. Myles Jack could also see significant time if the Steelers want to look at another option.