The Pittsburgh Steelers are known for their defense. It’s been this way since the 1970s, but has this particular standard been upheld over the past few seasons? How about in 2021, to be more specific?
Considering the Steelers finished last season last in run defense, I think it’s safe to say there is no need to dive deep into the statistics when trying to consider if last year’s defense would fall into the dominant category.
But that’s last year. What about this year? Have the Steelers done enough this offseason to help get their defense out of the middle of the pack and back into a top tier unit?
Let’s take a look at the moves made so far this offseason:
CB Levi Wallace
LB Myles Jack
DT Larry Okunjobi
S Damonate Kazee
LB Genard Avery
CB Ahkello Witherspoon
NT Montravius Adams
S Terrell Edmunds
S Miles Killebrew
CB Arthur Maulet
S Karl Joseph
2022 NFL Draft
DE DeMarvin Leal
LB Mark Robinson
What about the players who were lost from last year’s defense? Let’s take a look:
LB Taco Charlton
DT Stephon Tuitt (Retirement)
Still on the open market
CB Joe Haden
When you look at the above lists, you can’t help but notice the team has done a lot to try and rectify their deficiencies in 2022. In fact, it’s safe to say it is exciting to see what the defense can do this season.
If you’re excited by the potential on the defense, know you aren’t alone. Minkah Fitzpatrick talked about his excitement level after signing his new contract last week.
“I’m really excited.” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m excited about getting Ahkello (Witherspoon) back. I’m excited about Levi (Wallace). I’m excited about Myles (Jack). We drafted well in the front. We have a young, but experienced defense. We got older guys that are great mentors, are great at coaching and getting the new guys ready to play because we’re going to need some new guys, new faces to step up. I’m excited about this upcoming season.”
When you consider the other facets of the Steelers’ defense, you have to throw in the fact no one knows what to expect with this 2022 defense. Keith Butler is gone, and Teryl Austin is the new defensive coordinator. Throw in how Mike Tomlin and Brian Flores will put their own stamp on the defense and this year’s defense could be something totally unique.
Throw in the fact the Steelers have the highest paid defense in the NFL, and you would expect the pay to match the play, right? Does it provide a sense of motivation for a player like Fitzpatrick, who is now the highest paid safety in the NFL? At least for Fitzpatrick, it isn’t the money which motivates.
“I don’t necessarily think the money motivates us, but just how we conduct ourselves.” Fitzpatrick said. “Last year was not to our standard at all. And I know myself, T.J. (Watt), Cam (Heyward), all of us were not happy or pleased with the way the season ended. Especially how in that playoff game, it was an embarrassment honestly, was not our typical selves.
“That’s what motivates us. The money is a blessing, and the money creates opportunity for everybody around us and our families. With the money they’re saying we trust you to be the best and prepare to be the best and compete against the best and play A plus plus on a consistent basis. I’m trying to hold myself to rather than just saying oh, I got paid so now I got to play well. These guys trust me with this amount of money and this amount of responsibility. Now it’s my duty to go out there and play at a high level and show them that I deserve this compensation.”
So, back to the question at hand. Have the Steelers done enough to have a dominant defense? The addition of a player like Wallace will help with the versatility of the defense. The addition to Okunjobi will absolutely help an aging, and soft, run defense. The addition of Jack will give the team options at linebacker.
Will all of this translate to not just a dominant defense, but wins? There is no way of knowing that until the proverbial bullets start flying when the regular season starts. But first, the team reporting to training camp on July 26th at Saint Vincent College will be when the team starts to get answers to these questions.