The Pittsburgh Steelers and defense are a match made in heaven. The franchise has been known historically for elite displays of defense and continue to try to operate to that standard even today.
The 2022 Steelers defense, with the extensions of Minkah Fitzpatrick this season and TJ Watt last season, is now the most expensive defense in the league. While that is something that may not seem all important on the surface, it signifies the team has done well with drafting and development as well as using free agency (and in Fitzpatrick’s case, good trading) to assemble a defense that’s one of the best in the league.
TJ Watt is a 4-time Pro Bowler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and one of the best edge rushers in the league. Cameron Heyward is another 4-time Pro Bowler who considers himself in his own tier with Aaron Donald when it comes to the best interior defensive linemen in the league. Minkah Fitzpatrick is already a 2-time Pro Bowler in his young career and has solidified himself as one of the best safeties in the league.
That’s three elite pieces of a defense…not many teams can say they even have two.
The Steelers defensive supporting cast is nothing to look past, either. Pittsburgh brought in CB Levi Wallace and ILB Myles Jack this off-season, two known names in the league who have had solid beginnings to their careers, but are looking to take that next step. Tyson Alualu is a former first round pick who has also been solid in the middle of the defensive line since the Steelers signed him five years ago.
Alex Highsmith is everyone’s favorite pick when looking at players that could have a breakout season and is another example of great draft development by the Steelers. Chris Wormley quietly had the best season of his career in 2021, recording 7 sacks and 51 tackles. There is still belief Devin Bush can be the wrecking-ball linebacker the team aimed to have when they traded up for him four seasons ago.
This Steelers defense is elite and has the potential to be the best in the league, again. But who are they competing against for that title?
1. Los Angeles Chargers
This defense was seriously upgraded this past off-season after already being a top 15 defense with Derwin James and Joey Bosa. The team traded for 6-time Pro Bowler and former DPOY Khalil Mack to form a ridiculous edge combination and signed former New England Patriots CB JC Jackson, who has 22 interceptions and 47 passes defensed in the last three seasons alone. With head coach Brandon Staley being a defensive-minded head coach, this Chargers defense will be elite as long as they can stay healthy.
2. Los Angeles Rams
Expect both LA teams to be at the top of the pack in their respective divisions again this season. Sean McVay and the Rams are coming off a Super Bowl win but aren’t done. The team extended Aaron Donald this past season and is still in good contract terms with Jalen Ramsey. Their biggest move was adding 8-time Pro Bowler Bobby Wagner, which now gives them arguably Hall of Famers at all three levels.
3. Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ biggest off-season move was on offense with the trade for Russell Wilson. But, they brought in former Dallas Cowboys star edge rusher Randy Gregory to pair him with Bradley Chubb. They field one of the best safeties in the league in Justin Simmons and also feature Patrick Surtain II, who had a great rookie campaign (4 INT, 14 PDs, 58 tackles). Ronald Darby and Kareem Jackson round out a solid secondary.
4. New Orleans Saints
The Saints defense is one of the more under-appreciated defenses in the league. Marshon Lattimore and Demario Davis are two of the best at their positions, while Cam Jordan is still a very solid edge rusher. The team brought in Tyrann Mathieu to provide a quality, elite presence in the secondary. Former DC Dennis Allen is now head coach, so familiarity is still there for the Saints defensive schemes.
5. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo finished last season first in DVOA, EPA per play, yards per play, and points per drive, then added Von Miller to a deep group of edge rushers. Ed Oliver, Greg Rousseau, and Shaq Lawson form a great defensive line, while Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds round out the linebackers with Miller. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde boast the best safety duo in the league, and even with Tre’Davious White potentially missing part of the season rehabbing his ACL tear, the Bills seem like a near lock to have a top defense.
What do you think, #SteelerNation? Where will this Steelers defense end up by the end of the 2022 season? Did I miss any defenses that could rival the Steelers? Let me know in the comments or @anthonyravasio on Twitter.