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Steelers dominant defensive performance shouldn’t be downplayed due to Case Keenum

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The Steelers’ defense got a huge break when quarterback Sam Bradford was ruled out of Week 2 with an injury. But that didn’t stop them from doing exactly what they planned against backup Case Keenum—Dominate.

Minnesota Vikings v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

I had the good fortune to attend the Steelers Week 2 matchup against the Vikings at Heinz Field on Sunday.

On my way to the stadium, I learned that Sam Bradford would miss the game due to a knee injury. I must admit, I never thought I'd see so many people relieved that the 8-year quarterback, and former first-overall draft pick, would be out of action.

When I discovered Case Keenum would be stepping under center for Minnesota, my first reaction was to send a few "Hahaha!" texts to my friends and family, but then I thought back to December 2015, when the Ravens signed Ryan Mallett off of the street just days before Pittsburgh’s Week 16 matchup in Baltimore, and the Steelers’ defense subsequently made Mallett look like Johnny Unitas.

But as Sunday's game commenced, I was quickly reminded that this isn't your slightly-older-brother's defense any longer; this is a unit comprised of youth, athleticism and the ability to take advantage of a compromised offense.

It's not about the breaks you get in sports, it's what you do with them. After limiting Keenum to 167 yards passing, and the Vikings’ entire offense to 237 in a 26-9 victory on Sunday, one gets the sense that the Steelers’ defense won't be allowing many sub-par quarterbacks to perform like Hall of Fame legends in the foreseeable future.

In fact, if this unit keeps progressing at the rate one would hope, and given the infusion of young talent in recent years, there might be a time when the top quarterbacks in the NFL consistently struggle to handle the black-and-gold’s ultra-talented defensive line (e.g if Stephon Tuitt gets healthy sooner rather than later, look out!). Additionally, the Steelers’ ultra-athletic and deepening linebacker corps (assuming that T.J. Watt‘s groin injury is less serious than Tuitt's biceps issue) plus that ever-improving secondary might add further to the challenges faced by opposing quarterbacks. From my vantage point in Section 228, Artie Burns looked like a budding shutdown cornerback.

Maybe I'm just looking at things through black-and-gold-colored glasses, but Pittsburgh's defense seemed so fast and aggressive on Sunday that it's hard to imagine Bradford having much better luck than Keenum did.

The proof will be in the pudding as 2017 progresses, and the quarterbacks on Pittsburgh’s schedule will change from sub-par to elite. But as I look ahead to the next opposing passer the Steelers will have to face in Chicago in Week 3—either starter Mike Glennon or number one pick Mitch Trubisky—I have confidence Pittsburgh's defense will do the job and do it well.

Is the Steelers’ defense a finished product? Not at all, but it's certainly getting closer to being one each and every week.