You can tell a lot about a defense by looking at some simple statistics. Simple averages can tell you trends on how they do vs. the run compared to vs. the pass, but you can break it down even further to see where the team succeeds, and fails.
One way to gauge the success, or failure, of a defense is to see who led the team in tackles. In 2021, the Steelers leading tackler was Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Yes, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
What does this tell you? It tells you the defensive front was so bad at stopping the run, it was a safety who was coming down into the box and having to make tackles. Not ideal for any defensive unit.
When you compound that simple statistic with the Steelers’ rank vs. the run in 2021, it all makes sense. The Steelers ranked 32nd, or dead last, against the run, and the picture of the Steelers defense last season starts to become more clear.
This past offseason the team made some moves to hopefully shore up the run defense. The team re-signed Montravius Adams in free agency, and also brought in former Jacksonville Jaguars star linebacker Myles Jack. After Stephon Tuitt’s retirement announcement, the team added Larry Ogunjobi to help fill the shoes left in Tuitt’s stead.
But will it all matter? Will the Steelers run defense be improved in 2022? So far in the 2022 NFL Preseason the results have been mixed. In Week 1 the defense surrendered 159 yards on the ground to the Seattle Seahawks, albeit without the likes of Ogunjobi, Cam Heyward and Tyson Alualu. In Week 2, with many of the aforementioned players back in the lineup, the defense surrendered just 97 yards on the ground to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It got me thinking if Fitzpatrick will be asked to do what he did last season, and be the leading tackler for a second year in a row, or if someone else will take the crown. I asked the Steelers fan base in the latest SB Nation Reacts survey, powered by DraftKings Sportsbook, who they think will lead the team in tackles this season.
Here were the options:
- Minkah Fitzpatrick
- Myles Jack
- Cam Heyward
- Devin Bush
When all the votes were tabulated, the fan base believes a newcomer will be the man in charge when it comes to the tackling leader.
The whopping 67% of voters who believe Jack will be the man in the middle have been pleasantly surprised throughout the first two preseason games. Jack has been noticeable when on the field, and for all the right reasons. Flying to the ball, flowing to stop the run and being the communicator the defense needs from their inside linebackers.
If Jack is the leading tackler in 2021, that is a good thing. If it is Fitzpatrick for back-to-back seasons, it likely will spell doom for the 2022 defense. A lot can change in an offseason, as well as with a new defensive coordinator at the helm. How will Teryl Austin, along with input from Brian Flores and Mike Tomlin, impact the defense’s ability to stop the run? Only time will tell, but fans are clearly believing in change this season.
What do you think about the results below? Let us know in the comment section, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the preseason, and the start of the 2022 regular season.