clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Devin Bush played his best game since 2020 in Week 3, what did he show?

What should Steeler fans expect from Devin Bush going forward this season?

Detroit Lions v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Devin Bush was looking like he was ascending to being a very good inside linebacker early in the 2020 season. He was a major player in the Steelers pass coverage, his speed and agility allowing the Steelers to be more aggressive with other players, especially Vince Williams and Mike Hilton.

Those two combined for 5 sacks, 8 QB hits and 15 tackles for a loss in the first 5 games of the Steelers 2020 season. The rest of the season? One sack, one QB hit and seven tackles for a loss. The Steelers defense was able to leverage his coverage ability to attack relentlessly with Vince Williams and Mike Hilton, and they reaped the benefit in big plays.

It spread through the rest of the defense as well. The Steelers recorded 24 sacks in those first five games, and seven players had at least 1.5 sacks. In the next 11 games the Steelers recorded 32 sacks. That’s 5.8 sacks per game when they had Devin Bush, 2.9 per game without.

The Devin Bush that returned in 2021 was a very different Devin Bush, and the Steelers were a defense in need of run support, and not a top coverage linebacker. Devin Bush wasn’t a top coverage linebacker in 2021 either, he didn’t have the same quickness or speed he had his first two seasons.

In the 2022 preseason Devin Bush looked awful. He played tentatively and seemed to be actively avoiding contact. He looked worse than he did in 2021 by a good margin. Bush looked a little better in the first two weeks of the season but didn’t look very good while splitting snaps with Robert Spillane.

Then the Steelers went to Cleveland on Thursday night, and Devin Bush delivered his best game since 2020.

Steelers at Browns, 1st quarter, 15:00

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker farther to the bottom of the screen.

That’s the polar opposite of the Devin Bush we saw in the preseason. Bush reads the play, aggressively engages the offensive tackle, then twists him into the path of the runner to shrink the run lane. This is as good as we’ve ever seen from Devin Bush taking on offensive linemen.

Steelers at Browns, 1st quarter, 11:04

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker to the left side of the screen.

Devin Bush sees something in this play, and signals to Myles Jack to alter their alignment. It’s Alex Highsmith that makes this play, but Bush recognizes what is coming, and engages the guard right away to help stretch the run.

Devin Bush isn’t Vince Williams, he doesn’t move the lineman backwards or get off the block and penetrate, but he willingly engages and holds the line well here.

Steelers at Browns, 2nd quarter, 13:34

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker farther to the bottom of the screen.

Bush sees the blocking and attacks the run lane before the handoff even occurs. He meets the pulling guard at the line of scrimmage and is able to elude the block and gets to Kareem Hunt. Here’s another angle.

This is a great run defense job by Bush. This is the player Steelers fans saw in 2019, the one who was too quick for blockers and frequently made plays against the run.

Steelers at Browns, 3rd quarter, 4:17

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker farther to the bottom of the screen.

Another aggressive attack, and you can see Devin Bush grab ahold of Nick Chubb (looks like he gets hit by a car) to help bring him down.

Check out a different angle.

Bush does a great job getting into the run lane and being part of the pile that is required to stop Nick Chubb. Nick Chubb is one of the hardest backs to bring down, so every player and every arm that can get involved matters.

Steelers at Browns, 4th quarter, 10:55

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker farther to the right side of the screen.

Bush does a great job moving laterally to get to Kareem Hunt, working through an attempted block to reach Hunt. Even more impressive is Bush being able to cancel Hunt’s attempted truck move to stand him up and then slam him at the one-yard line. On a day with a lot of above the line run defense plays from Devin Bush, this one stands out due to his individual effort and the fact that it brought up 4th down.

Steelers at Browns, 4th quarter, 9:33

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker that starts the clip on the O in the Browns end zone.

Bush is the linebacker in the hole for the Steelers, but he gets moved out of it by a double team of offensive lineman, something most linebackers, but especially Devin Bush isn’t going to beat. He does hold up the blocking enough to give his teammates a chance to stuff Chubb, but a great twist from Chubb as he falls puts the ball in the end zone.

That’s six plays where Devin Bush stood out in a positive way, from his willingness to engage blockers, his read and react time and that aggressiveness paying off multiple times with good run stops.

A few of those plays show his main weakness as a linebacker, and that is his size. Bush is a smaller linebacker who relies on quickness more than size and strength, and there are times he can’t.

Steelers at Browns, 2nd quarter, 9:44

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker on the hashmarks to the top of the screen.

This is one of the worst plays from Devin Bush from Week 3. Donovan Peoples-Jones is a physical receiver, and he gets into Bush’s chest and is able to keep him blocked long enough for Kareem Hunt to pick up the first down.

That’s not the only time Bush’s size caused him trouble either.

Steelers at Browns, 2nd quarter, 3:21

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker farther to the bottom of the screen.

Devin Bush gets stiff-armed here by a much bigger player in David Njoku and a dump off ends up a big gain. Bush is usually at his best in coverage, but here Njoku is able to square up to him and break a tackle. I’ll also point out that Bush has a lot of plays where he gets to the ball carrier quickly but doesn’t secure a solo tackle. The other plays his teammates were able to help finish the play, this time it was just Bush and Njoku was able to break the tackle attempt. Often the difference between an assisted tackle and a broken tackle is how fast your team mates are swarming the football. You can see on this play that several Steelers are watching Devin Bush try to tackle Njoku and do the same when Tyson Alualu tries to bring him down immediately after.

When you point out Devin Bush being blocked by a wide receiver as Kareem Hunt picks up a first down, you also have to mention Alex Highsmith being blocked on this play by the same receiver as Njoku breaks two tackles.

While Bush missed this tackle, he was solid in coverage for most of the game.

Steelers at Browns, 2nd quarter, 14:49

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker farther to the bottom of the screen.

Bush does a good job in zone of covering the slot receiver, then passing him off to the deep help.

Steelers at Browns, 2nd quarter, 14:27

Devin Bush (#55) is the inside linebacker to the right side of the screen.

This play resulted in the throw to Amari Cooper after he had run out of bounds. But before Jacoby Brissett scrambles, he looks to his tight end David Njoku and checks off of that read because Bush is there. The most common result you get with Bush in coverage is the quarterback looking somewhere else. Bush hasn’t gotten back to where he was early in the 2020 season as a cover linebacker, but he’s still a good one.

Devin Bush hasn’t lived up to the expectations that come from being the highest drafted linebacker in Steelers history, and being tied with Rod Woodson as the second highest drafted Steeler defender since 1969, behind only Joe Greene. No one is going to dispute that Bush isn’t on the same level as Steelers greats.

But what Devin Bush is right now is a very good #2 inside linebacker. With the addition of Myles Jack, Devin Bush doesn’t have to be that star linebacker. Devin Bush in week 3 did a good job in coverage, he filled run lanes and took on blockers. Bush and Myles Jack accounted for 13 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles combined, and while a lot of those tackles were farther downfield than we’d like, we are seeing promise that the Steelers won’t go back to relying on Minkah Fitzpatrick to lead the team in tackles like he did in 2021 and in Week 1 of 2022. Seeing his tackles drop to 6 in Week 2 and 4 in Week 3 is a good thing.

There are a good number of things that need to improve on the Steelers defense, but if Devin Bush can continue to play as well as he did in Week 3, we can check his name off of that list. And if his play continues to improve, then the Steelers will be even better for it.