The Pittsburgh Steelers revamped their inside linebacker core this offseason, adding Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and just today reportedly signing Nick Kwiatkowski. While she thinks the Steelers will have a good defense, ESPN analyst Kimes thinks that the inside linebacker group will be the Steelers’ downfall, a problem she said the team’s dealt with since Ryan Shazier’s career-ending injury.
“The very middle of the defense as continuing to be an issue, potentially both in run defense and in coverage. You have Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts coming in, both as free agents, and if I was an offense playing this team, that’s what I would look to attack in the pass game as well as running the football. I think that could be a potential pitfall for an otherwise very good unit,” Kimes said on Monday’s NFL Live.
It’s a fair criticism. Neither Holcomb or Roberts are going to be factors in the passing game, which is one of the reasons the team brought in Keanu Neal. Neal can help serve as a nickel back on clear passing downs so teams can’t attack either Holcomb or Roberts. Holcomb is coming off an injury too, and Roberts has never really been a three-down linebacker at the NFL level.
I’m pretty confident Holcomb will have a solid year, and Roberts is a downhill linebacker who can provide some thump in the run game. So I’m not nearly as concerned about the two of them in the run game, especially with a front of Larry Ogunjobi, Keeanu Benton and Cameron Heyward in front of them. I think both Holcomb and Roberts will be able to get downhill and make plays against the run.
Outside of slot corner though, the inside linebacker spot is probably the weakest on Pittsburgh’s defense. That’s not a huge knock against Holcomb or Roberts, because the Steelers’ defense is among the league’s best. But if you’re looking for a broad area of concern, that’s the one I think a lot of people would point to, so I don’t fault Kimes for doing so. But I think her saying that both Roberts and Holcomb could be attacked against the run is a little bit overblown, as that’s a strength of both of their games.
For now, though, everything is speculation until the defense hits the field for real. Maybe Holcomb struggles coming off his injury and neither he and Roberts can be difference-makers in any facet of the game, or maybe they take a step up and become competent against the pass. I wouldn’t count on either of those things happening, but the point is we don’t really know until we see them during game action. And I’m excited to find out how the whole team looks.