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Can 2022 Steelers Defense Create Next “Steel Curtain” Era?

AP Photo / Keith Srakocic

Can 2022 Steelers Defense Create Next “Steel Curtain” Era?


The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a variety of team identities over the years. Currently, the team has been viewed as being a great defensive team with superstars such as TJ Watt, Cam Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. That isn’t to say that there aren’t other studs on the defense, as the team has great linebackers with Devin Bush and Robert Spillane. Couple those two with free agent acquisition Myles Jack, and you have a solid foundation that could possibly become the next legendary Steelers defense.

During the 1970s, Pittsburgh built their legacy on their defense, being referred to as the “Steel Curtain” following a radio station contest, won by a high school ninth grader, to name the D. Steel Curtain played perfectly off the post-World War II phrase Iron Curtain, coined by British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. This group, particularly the front four of “Mean” Joe Greene, L. C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White, is most known for helping Pittsburgh win four Super Bowls over the span of six years, but each player carved out a legacy of his own. Eventually, the nickname extended past the D-line and included all other players on the defense. Most of the original members had multiple All-Pro selections and Pro Bowl selections to add to their star-studded resumes. Not only that, but all of them are members of the Steelers All-Time Team and the team’s Hall of Honor. It’s amazing that so many players on the same team, at the same time, could have so much success as a collective unit, as well as individually. This also leaves large shoes to fill for anyone who plays on the defensive side of the ball for the black and gold, but the modern-day members of the 2022 team certainly have the potential.

Steelers Steel Curtain

From left to right, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood made up the greatest defensive line of the Super Bowl era for the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo: Getty Images)

Can 2022 Steelers Defense Create Next “Steel Curtain” Era?

Most players on the defensive side of the roster are on the younger side, which means if they stay together long-term, all the talent will be playing in their prime in Pittsburgh. For starters, the inside linebacker core is young with Myles Jack and Robert Spillane each currently 26 years old with Devin Bush being just 23. When both are healthy, Bush and Spillane already created a dynamic interior linebacker duo. Adding another young stalwart like Jack into the mix, the potential to have one of, if not the league’s best trio in 2022 is theirs for the taking. Even though these three will be in the main rotation, you shouldn’t count out guys like 23-year-old Buddy Johnson, 24-year-old Ulysees Gilbert III, and 25-year-old Marcus Allen being part of a stacked linebacker room.

Defensive lineman Tyson Alualu is currently the oldest member of the roster at 35, with Cam Heyward not being that much younger at 33, both of whom have plenty left in the tank. Chris Wormley at age 28 and Isaiahh Loudermilk at 24 will be the ones called upon the most in filling the void after the sudden retirement of Stephon Tuitt. Other solid contributors will probably include names like Carlos Davis at 25 years old, and Henry Mondeaux at 26. Having any of these players up front will make for a nice compliment to the outside linebackers.

When talking about the edge rushers, the first name that comes to mind is TJ Watt. Watt is currently in his prime at age 27 and is under contract for the next three years after his contract extension in 2021. On the other side of the line, Watt is joined by up-and-coming star Alex Highsmith. Highsmith has been improving each year after being drafted in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft and will continue to do so at just 24 years of age.

Steelers Alex Highsmith TJ Watt

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 19: T.J. Watt #90 and Alex Highsmith #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate a sack against the Tennessee Titans in the third quarter of the game at Heinz Field on December 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Last, but by no means least, we must discuss the secondary. This section of the defense is led by Fitzpatrick and his new four-year contract extension. Having a 25-year-old ball-hawking safety inked for the long-term will help give the Steelers more stability at the position. Terrell Edmunds being 25, Damontae Kazee and Miles Killebrew being 29 means that Fitzpatrick will also have aid in the backfield with him over the next few years. As far as the cornerbacks are concerned, there’s plenty of young talent with Tre Norwood being the youngest at 23. Justin Layne comes in as the second youngest at 24, with James Pierre following right after at 25. Cam Sutton and off-season addition Levi Wallace round it out as they’re both listed at age 27.

As previously mentioned, the original “Steel Curtain” had many Pro Bowl and All-Pro members on the team. Watt, Heyward, and Fitzpatrick are currently the only players on the defense to have an All-Pro selection while playing for Pittsburgh. Even though Myles Jack does have an All-Pro selection to his name, it came during the 2020 season playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Unfortunately, unlike the other three, Jack hasn’t yet registered a Pro Bowl appearance for his career. He, like many others, can change that this upcoming season. Hopefully they’ll not only have success on reaping in those accolades, but also bringing home the big piece of hardware the stars of the 1970s became all too familiar with, multiple Vince Lombardi trophies.

 

What do you think? Can this year’s defense kickstart the next “Steel Curtain” era in Pittsburgh? Let us know down below.

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Name: Matt Tristan Hometown: Binghamton NY Birthday: 08/10/1994 Played football in high school and college (St. John Fisher College - Division 3) Majored in Communication/Journalism Minor in Sports Management Steelers fan forever

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. David Duffy

    June 18, 2022 at 10:41 am

    Your being way to optimistic in your assessment of some of our young players and depth pieces. The Defensive line is very suspect right now. Heyward is a stud but he is also a year older. Alualu is 35 and coming off a significant injury. We don’t know what we are gong to get with Alualu. Wormley is a complimentary player replacing a former stud in Tuitt. We have a hole at defensive tackle with Tuitt gone. I am hoping that Alualu can return to form and Montravius Adams can provide solid relief for Alualu without much drop off. I also hope Alualu will have a positive effect on Womrley and Loudermilk and the inside linebackers from a run support perspective.

    Loudermilk needs to take a step up and Leal needs to develop quickly for us to cover what we lost in Tuitt. Those are big if’s. Highsmith needs to take the next step which to me out of all the projections, I feel the best about his development. The Middle Linebackers need to gel and support the run first and have the ability to cover the middle of the field. The talent is there but will Coach Flores be able to get it out of them. I really feel like we missed the opportunity to add to this group in the third round with Leo Chenal in the draft. The guy is gong to be a star for KC.

    The Defensive backs should be better than last year. IF we can get back to the way we were two or three years ago. I believe Levi Wallace is a solid addition. We also have more depth with Kazee now. I don’t see the defense being as elite as it was two years ago but I can see us being top 15 this year. Perhaps taking a little bit of a dip in the pass rushing category but improving significantly in the run defense and possible turnovers in the back end.

  2. Pingback: The Steelers' Top 5 Most Dominating Blowout Wins in Team History - SteelerNation.com

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