As I explained in Part I, I decided to go back and review the Steelers/Lions games from the standpoint of a scout, since the Steelers are clearly setting up their game plan with the idea of winning it as a very secondary concern. So let’s look at some of the guys on the bubble in the defensive front.
The first question is, who was getting the playing time, and where? I would go through and figure it out myself except that there’s no need to duplicate the fine work done by Dave Bryan at Steelers Depot. The big questions are, 1. Who starts at nose tackle in the 3-4 alignment, 2. Who backs up Tuitt and Heyward, and 3. Who plays in the sub-packages?
To see the earlier posts in this series, click the links: 1.Veteranosity vs. Youth, 2. Quarterback, 3. Defensive Tackle, 4. Tight Ends, 5. Inside Linebackers, and 6. Running Backs and Offensive Line
The battle for the outside linebacker slots is an odd one. The odd part (or depressing, depending on how you view life) is that the Steelers can’t seem to find anyone to beat out a 38-year-old man. That 38 year old would, of course, be James Harrison, and the Steelers have tried everything to replace him. They tried cutting him (actually, they tried that several times at the other end of his career as well.) They tried retiring him, but he was back a few weeks after a touching ceremony with tears all around. They tried sending his BFF, former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, off into the sunset. (They haven’t been real successful with this move lately, as the offensive coordinator they sent into the old folks home is a highly regarded head coach. LeBeau is defensive coordinator for the Titans.) Pretty soon his age is going to match his jersey number.
Many of you know Jerry Olsavsky played for the Steelers. His career spanned the end of Chuck Noll’s career and the first trimester, if you will, of Bill Cowher’s stint as head coach—1989-1997.
Looking at the Steelers’ record during this time period is interesting. There are a lot of entries during these years in the slot for playoff results (in Pro Football Reference’s Franchise Encyclopedia page). There is a Wild Card loss, two Conference losses, three Divisional losses, and a partridge in a pear tree. Or, more precisely, a Super Bowl loss. I can see why Bill Cowher earned the reputation as a great regular season coach—between 1992 and 1997, Cowher’s first six years, the worst record was 9/7, and the rest were double-digit wins. But he never quite closed the deal.
What you may not know about Olsavsky’s NFL career is that he signed with one current rival and played for another—he signed with the Bengals during the post-97 offseason, and played for the Baltimore Ravens. This would be his last year in the NFL.