Pittsburgh Steelers fans have a long history of cheering for top defenses, and it has been awhile since Steeler Nation has employed a top 5 defense of their own. There were some expectations of greatness for a few years, until Ryan Shazier went down with a severe back injury in 2017. The Steelers again had to rebuild the middle of the defense with the additions of Devin Bush and Minkah Fitzpatrick, and that paid immediate dividends in 2019 when the Steelers returned with a top 5 ranked defense. They were #5 in yardage with 4,866 yards, and that total featured a defense that was #3 vs the pass at 3,113 yards and #14 against the run with 1,753 yards.
The Steelers tied for 5th in points allowed with the Minnesota Vikings at 303 points. So how does their #5 ranking in both yardage and points allowed stack up? It was the highest ranking in both categories since 2011 when they were tops in the league for both categories.
Individually, some players on the revamped defense also earned some milestones. Defensive Player of the Year finalist and pass rushing specialist TJ Watt had 14.5 sacks last year. That is the most sacks by a Steelers defender in a season since 2008 when James Harrison had 16 sacks. Hopefully TJ can pass 16 sacks in a season soon, and if he does, it will be the most sacks by a Steelers defender in one season.
Early season acquisition Minkah Fitzpatrick paid immediate dividends when it came to catching interceptions. He led the team with 5, and tied with Joe Haden. It was the first time since 2010 that a defender had more than 5 interceptions. Troy Polamalu led the team with 7 that year. In the 9 years between those performances, no player had more than 3 interceptions in a season. To find two teammates with at least 5 interceptions each, you have to go back to 2000 when Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott each had 5 interceptions. It’s been 19 years since that feat has occurred, but Steeler fans that love rooting for great defense will have a lot to cheer about, because this young defense looks like it will be a top tier defense for years to come!