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Mark Madden

Mark Madden: Steelers defense the problem

| Tuesday, June 5, 2018, 7:04 p.m.
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell is hemmed in by the Jaguars' Colais Campbell and Myles Jack in the third quarter Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back LeVeon Bell is hemmed in by the Jaguars' Colais Campbell and Myles Jack in the third quarter Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 at Heinz Field.

The Steelers would do well to minimize turmoil in 2018.

Then again, they navigated through choppy waters so often in 2016 and '17 that doing otherwise might disrupt their routine.

The media doesn't need to invent problems when it comes to Steelers silliness. They will crop up regularly. It's organic now. It's in the Steelers' DNA.

When Reggie Bush said on NFL Network that coach Mike Tomlin needs to "implement some sort of a culture shift," I laughed out loud.

Tomlin doesn't feel the Steelers culture is even remotely a problem. If you don't believe Tomlin, just ask outside linebackers "coach" Joey Porter.

Le'Veon Bell blew off most of a walkthrough the day before the playoff loss to Jacksonville. James Harrison slept during meetings. Tomlin didn't flinch.

That said, the current "controversies" are anything but.

Bell playing the victim via yet another putrid rap song inspires eye-rolling at an injurious level. The NFL's draconian CBA keeps free agency from being free via the franchise tag.

But Bell made $12.1 million last season and will earn $14.5 million this season. He can't possibly be characterized as oppressed.

Bell's rhyming, by the way, is unspeakably bad. To suggest he could make a career out of it seems insane.

But Bell is not currently a Steelers employee, so he has no obligation to be at organized team activities, minicamp or training camp. Despite the unrealistic nature of his demands given the abundance of adequate running backs and the NFL's state as a passing league, Bell has every right to try to maximize his income.

Bell's only sin is making himself more unlikable every time he opens his mouth or gets on social media.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown skipped most of OTAs. That got some knickers in a twist. It shouldn't have.

OTAs are optional. Anybody who no-shows is within his rights. For lesser lights, that would certainly be ill-advised.

For Roethlisberger and Brown, it doesn't matter one bit.

There's no criticizing the performance of either. Throwing/catching a few less passes in springtime won't hinder them at all.

Roethlisberger is 36, Brown 29. Each is at the point of his career (especially Roethlisberger) where rest might help more than toil. Brown never stops working, anyway. If Brown thinks it's beneath him to catch passes from the backup quarterback, maybe it is.

These non-issues have obscured what might not be obvious from OTAs but should be looking at a depth chart: The Steelers have zero chance to win a championship with their defense as constructed.

The depth chart further confirms it's unthinkable the Steelers didn't do anything in the draft or free agency to better patch the gaping hole left by the injury to Ryan Shazier.

Start Jon Bostic or Tyler Matakevich? That's a one-way ticket to Palookaville.

Play more safeties and fewer linebackers? Uh, Troy Polamalu retired. It's not like the Steelers are overflowing with quality safeties.

The only way scheme can overcome the cataclysmic deficiencies on that defense is if coordinator Keith Butler comes up with some revolutionary new packages for second-and-2. The Steelers may face that plenty.

The Steelers offense might be able to outscore every team. But it can't do so every game.

The Steelers defense might be able to patchwork some level of competence. But it can't do so every game.

Given the variables, there's a playoff loss in there somewhere or perhaps a critical regular-season defeat. It's difficult to win postseason games with a subpar defense.

Cleveland just signed linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who helped Philadelphia win last season's Super Bowl. The Browns have a good offensive line, a growing cache of weapons and better linebackers than the Steelers.

What the Browns don't have is Roethlisberger, the all-time winningest quarterback in the history of Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium. But the Browns may nonetheless be a tricky opponent Week 1 at Cleveland.

Breaking news: Brown took shots at Tomlin and former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians on social media. Uh, maybe. It's hard to decipher. Brown is a much better receiver than he is a wordsmith.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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