Jordan DeFigio, @fidgenewton
It’s a little too early in the season to predict anything with certainty, given team activities have yet to start.
But it might be a safe bet that the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is a force to be reckoned with.
After Steelers GM Kevin Colbert spent several seasons making moves to strengthen the secondary (including a blockbuster deal to land safety Minkah Fitzpatrick), he got down to business as soon as the off-season began. Colbert went to work placing the franchise tag on Bud Dupree and exercising the fifth-year option on TJ Watt, solidifying the core of the defense for the upcoming season.
As if that isn’t exciting enough, let’s add to the equation. Since, of course, those names listed above don’t account for the presence of Cam Heyward, Steven Nelson, Joe Haden, Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Mike Hilton, and Stephon Tuitt who’s fresh off an injury that required surgery on a torn pectoral muscle. The team also added some depth in the draft with the selection of Alex Highsmith, Antoine Brooks, Jr., and Carlos Davis. And if Terrell Edmunds can live up to the potential the Steelers’ brass saw in him when they selected him first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, look out! *Cam Sutton also comes to mind as a player to keep an eye on in 2020
The cast of characters is in place. The stage set. What kind of potential does this group have?
In 2019, the Steelers defense led the league in takeaways (38) and sacks (54), meaning they became the first franchise since the introduction of the statistic of the sack to lead the league in both categories. Watt sat atop the team in sacks at 14.5, followed by Dupree at 11.5. Dupree also had 4 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries, while Watt added on with 2 interceptions, 8 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries. Fitzpatrick ended the season with 5 interceptions for 1 touchdown, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries for 1 touchdown. Bush led the team in tackles with a whopping 109 (72 solo and 37 assists), along with 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 4 fumble recoveries for 1 touchdown. Haden had an impressive year himself, including 5 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. And Nelson, well, no one wanted to throw the ball his way and he still managed to grab 1 interception and 1 fumble recovery.
Starting to get the idea? These guys are MONSTERS. Opposing offenses are going to have their hands full trying to move the ball.
While the Steelers’ strength of schedule may be one of the easiest in the league, no win is a guarantee in the NFL. They will have to fight for each stop, each takeaway, each victory. But the defense only proves to get better. And with a Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm of the offense, the Steelers have just as good a chance at a championship run as anyone else.
JuJu Smith-Schuster recently said that Ben Roethlisberger was the team’s missing piece. And that is absolutely true. But until last year, the defense was the team’s missing piece (just imagine what could have been if this defense was playing in the era of the Killer B’s). Now, the Steelers have both.
And we get to sit back and watch the magic happen.
What are YOUR predictions for the 2020 Steelers defense? Sound off in the comments below.