Their group of linebackers, the heart of their 3-4 defense, had one of its worst statistical seasons in decades.
The defense accounted for only 35 sacks, lowest since the 2003 defense had 35 and the 1990 defense had 34.
Worse was the scant number of "splash plays," as coach Mike Tomlin likes to call them.
To quantify "splash plays," add interceptions and forced fumbles, and by that measurement last year's Steelers linebackers made only 6 "splash plays."
That measure was the worst in the 13 seasons Dick LeBeau has spent on the Steelers' defensive staff.
In defenses LeBeau has coached here (three seasons secondary; 10 seasons coordinator), the top six linebackers have never had less than 12 interceptions and forced fumbles.
The previous 3-4 defenses pale when comparing sacks and/or "splash plays" to the LeBeau-era 3-4s, but only one other time has a group of 3-4 Steelers linebackers made only six "splash plays" – and that was in the strike-shortened 1987 season (Cole, Hinkle, Little, Merriweather).
The Steelers began playing the 3-4 defense in 1982.
Perhaps this all helps us better understand why the Steelers are looking so intently at linebackers this draft season.
Whether they're looking to replace Farrior, or moving Worilds inside, or searching for the 34-year-old Harrison's eventual replacement, or whether they're merely reacting to statistical evidence, the Steelers are making no secret about their interest.
These are the main outside linebacker candidates:
* Nick Perry (6-2.6, 271, 4.58) – No one his size at the combine was as fast, but a 4.66 20-yard shuttle does not indicate a smooth transition from DE to OLB. The two best Pac-12 OTs said at the combine that Perry is the real deal.
* Whitney Mercilus (6-3.5, 254, 4.68) – Should be nicknamed "Ming" by now. Mercilus was outstanding against Penn State and Ohio State. Similar in size and style to Joey Porter, but the redshirt junior had only one good year.
* Shea McClellin (6-3.3, 260, 4.66) – Those who subscribe to KEI theory (strength + jump numbers = explosiveness) won't like this Boise Stater, but the DE can get downfield to cover. Also, wouldn't shut up about his hero Mike Vrabel at the combine.
* Bruce Irvin (6-3, 245, 4.44) – Former WVU 3-3 backup DE had the best agility times of every front-seven player at the combine (and all but one safety in each category). The downside is he's been in jail and was arrested again recently for a minor disturbance. Steelers scouts can dream, though.
And here are the inside linebackers:
* Luke Kuechly (6-3.2, 242, 4.61) – Don't know whether he's the next Jack Lambert or the next Jack Ham. Best instincts I've seen from a college linebacker in years.
* Dont'a Hightower (6-2.2, 265, 4.64) – Big, fast, intimidating, intelligent leader would fit right into Farrior's "buck," or playcalling, position.
* Mychal Kendricks (5-11.1, 239, 4.46) – Cal MLB put up top times and jumps at the combine, but will likely be overdrafted. Reportedly struggled at the combine whiteboard.
* DeMario Davis (6-2, 235, 4.56) – … or this MLB from Arkansas State in the middle rounds. Followers of aforementioned KEI theory call Davis the second most explosive athlete behind Nick Perry. Stood up Cordy Glenn twice at the Senior Bowl to tackle RBs.
* Ronnell Lewis (6-1.6, 253, 4.67) – Like Irvin, Lewis was a backup 3-3 DE for a coach who didn't know how to use him. A true junior, Lewis is a fearsome special-teams killer. But where to play him?
* Nigel Bradham (6-1.7, 241, 4.59) – Was shown around Florida State campus during his recruiting visit by Timmons. Would have to play "mack" and move Timmons to the more cerebral "buck," but for whatever reason the Steelers are teaching Timmons to play OLB instead of the captain's position.
Wexell's Value Board for the Pittsburgh Steelers
First Round – Luke Kuechly, Boston College; Dont'a Hightower, Alabama; Nick Perry, USC.
Second Round – Lavonte David, Nebraska.
Third Round – James-Michael Johnson, Nevada; Olivier Vernon, Miami.
Fourth Round – Demario Davis, Arkansas State; Nigel Bradham, Florida State; Bobby Wagner, Utah State.
Fifth Round – Miles Burris, San Diego State; Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest; Travis Lewis, Oklahoma.
Seventh Round – Danny Trevathan, Kentucky; Sammy Brown, Houston; Adrian Robinson, Temple; Jerrell Harris, Alabama.