As the Steelers prepared for their 2020 regular season, one of the questions that came up over and over again was whether or not the defense could be as prolific at taking the football away as it was a season earlier, when it recorded 38.
Considering the unit totaled a less than pedestrian 15 in 2018, that was a legitimate question, to be sure. Also, prior to 2019, taking the football away had been a major problem for Pittsburgh’s defense for close to a decade. The Steelers averaged roughly 19 takeaways between 2011-2018, or almost half as many as was the standard for Super Bowl teams over the years.
Nobody had any concerns about the defense’s ability to get after the quarterback, something that Keith Butler’s unit had been quite relentless at doing since the second half of the 2016 campaign.
So, with two games already in the books for the 2020 regular season, how are things looking for the Steelers defense? Things are looking pretty good.
Pittsburgh has recorded 10 quarterback sacks so far—including a whopping seven in a 26-21 victory over the bucking Broncos Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field. To reiterate, that’s no surprise for a unit that hasn’t been on the negative side of 50 sacks in any season since 2016. As for the opportunistic side to the Steelers defense? It would appear it’s willing and able to try and reproduce the results of a season earlier. With two more takeaways on Sunday—including a fumble recovery by cornerback Mike Hilton off of a strip sack by linebacker Bud Dupree and an interception by cornerback Joe Haden—Pittsburgh now has four on the season.
If you’re good at math, or even bad, you can probably figure out that the Steelers will finish with 32 on the season if they keep up this current pace.
Not quite as prolific as 2019, but just about good enough for Super Bowl work. A lot of people say luck is involved in taking the football away. Maybe when you’re talking about a quirky bounce here or a dropped interception there over the course of the season, that could be the difference between finishing with 38 takeaways and 32. However, when you’re simply talking about being good at creating turnovers, there isn’t much luck in that.
Nope, you need a whole lot of Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Minkah Fitzpatrick. In other words, you need play-makers, you need defenders who can relentlessly wreak havoc and create a plethora of opportunities. If enough footballs get stripped away from enough quarterbacks, if enough passes reach the mitts of enough defensive backs and linebackers, and if enough of your defenders are really talented, that leads to an opportunistic defense.
The Steelers have an opportunistic defense.
Will Pittsburgh produce 38 takeaways again in 2020? That remains to be seen, but the Steelers defense is clearly talented enough to repeat or even exceed that number.
And there will be little luck involved, if it does.