The Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-2 at the midway point of the NFL regular season, and although some blemishes on the record likely still have fans’ feathers ruffled, the team is moving in the right direction.
So now it’s time to look back on the first four games and assess the progress of the units involved. Today, we focus on the defense by position, and give out an overall grade to the group.
The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary used to be the fan whipping boy of the defense. Not good enough, can’t play man defense and just a lack of overall talent at both the cornerback and safety positions. However, with the addition of Joe Haden and Mike Hilton, combined with the maturation of Sean Davis and Artie Burns, this defensive secondary has a much different feel to it. Mike Mitchell is the veteran of the group, and this secondary is one of the best statistical units in the league.
Overall Grade: A
The inside linebackers for the Steelers had many people wondering what to expect without Lawrence Timmons. Well, they seem to be just fine with Vince Williams alongside Ryan Shazier. Speaking of Shazier, 2017 has proved when he can remain healthy, he is still one of the absolute best in the business. Though often taking poor angles early in the season, he seems to have improved in his run fits and the run defense as a whole has improved.
Overall Grade: B+
There aren’t enough superlatives to talk about how good this unit has been. They have withstood injuries to Stephon Tuitt throughout the first eight games, but haven’t missed a beat. The addition of Tyson Alualu, combined with the maturation of Javon Hargrave and the dominance of Cameron Heyward have this group dominating opposing offensive lines. Wonder why the secondary has improved so much? Try the quarterback is being pressured with just four pass rushers. The credit here goes to the defensive line. Watching them abuse the opposition, think the goal line stands in Detroit, has been a pleasure to watch.
Overall Grade: A
The outside linebackers have been as advertised this season. T.J. Watt has been a pleasant surprise, and Bud Dupree still hasn’t broken out as many had hoped he would, but the group as a whole is improving. The main question mark surrounding this group, and this certainly could be improved in the second half of the season, is the team’s usage, or lack thereof, of James Harrison. The veteran could certainly be used more to help diversify their pass rushing portfolio, but right now he is being kept on the sideline watching. If this defense wants to be great, they need their bookends to be better in both pass rushing and run defense.
Overall Grade: B
OVERALL GRADE: B+
What grade would you give the Steelers defense at the midway point?
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