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Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Midseason Grades: The Defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-4 at the midway point of the 2015 season. Time to give out mid-season grade reports, with today's focus being the defense.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
In the second installment of a three-part series that grades the Pittsburgh Steelers through the first two quarters of the 2015 season, the focus shifts to the defensive side of the ball. We take a look at the unit that ranks 20th in the National Football League in allowing 366.5 yards-per-game and fifth in points-per-game allowed with 18.4.

Defensive Line: A
Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward have rejuvenated the defensive line and are the most-dominant pair of ends to wear the black and gold in years.

Tuitt's worth has been magnified since his injury against Arizona. It's no doubt that the absence of the 6'6" and 303-pounder from Notre Dame has left a void on the line. Tuitt has amassed 27 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2015. His presence on the right side gives the Steelers a potential dominant force for years to come.

Heyward has become a positive leader for the Steelers. Cam also has 27 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumbles that have him on track for career numbers. #97 is starting to turn heads around the league and in the opinion of Steeler faithful, is an All Pro in waiting.

Cam Thomas and L.T. Walton have provided depth on the line, but the decision to slide Steve McLendon over from his nose tackle spot to defensive end (when Tuitt went down), was the best move.

McLendon, whose body is suited better for end rather than NT, has quietly played well in both capacities. McLendon has tallied seven tackles and a sack on the year.

Daniel McCullers plays behind Steve on the depth chart and is seeing more action at NT. Big Dan is finally healthy and starting to get some action.

Linebackers: B
The mix of young and old linebackers are starting to gel in Pittsburgh and showing signs of brilliance in "the Burgh". The Steelers are filled to the brim with talent at the position. With eight men capable of starting for any team, Pittsburgh has the deepest stable of LBs in the NFL.

The rotation on the outside includes the ageless James Harrison (23 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble), splitting time with third-year, first-rounder Jarvis Jones (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble). Jones is starting to shed the bust label and is frequently finding his way to the man with the ball.

On the left side, Arthur Moats (17 tackles and 1.5 sacks) is holding his own, but 2015's top selection of Bud Dupree is paying dividends a lot sooner than anyone expected. The rookie, Dupree (16 tackles), leads the team with four sacks collected and seems to have a nose for the ball carrier.

On the inside, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier are displaying traits of dominance. "The Law Dog", in his ninth season, is everywhere on the field, With 58 takedowns and 1.5 sacks, Timmons is the team leader in tackles.

Shazier (34 tackles and two sacks) is a stalwart on the field, but unfortunately a mainstay on the injury report. If he can find health, Shazier's speed and tenacity can cement him as the premiere inside backer in the league. So far though, Shazier has only played in five games and Steeler Nation holds their breath every time he attempts of tackle.

Luckily, Pittsburgh has two of the best reserves at the position in the game. Although Sean Spence ( 26 tackles and a sack) and Vince Williams (17 tackles) are not Shazier, the pair make the most out of every opportunity that they receive and have performed well. They would start on any other team.

The depth at this position and their stellar play help justify this grade.

Defensive Backs: C-
I've been fairly critical of the Steeler defensive backfield in the past. And I respect that the current members of the secondary are playing above their heads. The fact is that every effort made by the front office to upgrade this unit fails to completely hit the mark. The three DBs selected in the draft have not appeared in a game this season. Only Doran Grant, who was just added to the roster this week from the practice squad, has a chance to play the season. The trade of a fourth-rounder to Philadelphia for Brandon Boykin seemed like a steal, but Boykin has been mostly MIA and is starting to appear to be a bust. Boykin has rarely seen the field and has made virtually no impact at all.

Cortez Allen's career in Pittsburgh appears to be over. His inclusion on the season-ending IR, for the second year in a row and his poor performance bodes poorly for Allen. They will probably cut ties with Cortez at the end of the season and cut their losses.

William Gay (two pass defenses), Antwon Blake (two picks and 7 pass defenses) and Ross Cockrell (one INT and four pass defenses) have shown better coverage skills and have enjoyed the luxury of a front seven that can get to the passer better than in the past. They do play hard and buckle down tighter in the Red Zone. However, they are still getting beaten often and surrender a lot of yards.

The safeties have a similar look to them also. Mike Mitchell (two INTs, five pass defenses and 39 tackles) is an enigma. He is a tough and valuable player, who is also a major liability. He is a hothead, but he delivers big hits and has had timely interceptions as of late. Mitchell can make a big play and then turn around and get nailed with a costly, unsportsmanlike penalty the next moment.

Will Allen plays with heart. His veteran presence has helped solidify the defense, but he has been hurt and missed most of the second quarter of the season. Allen (one INT, five pass defenses and 28 tackles) may return this week vs Oakland. During his absence, Robert Golden
(two pass defenses and 28 tackles) held down the fort. Shamarko Thomas, however, has been a ghost and probably won't be long for the team after the season.

The lack of pass defense has merited a rank of 26th, while surrendering 269.5 yards-per-game and 2,165 yards. But despite the lack of pedigree, the Steeler secondary is playing together as a cohesive unit and is improving.

Overall Defensive Grade: B-