It may have taken awhile, but the Pittsburgh Steelers might finally be through the rebuilding stage on defense.
There was once a time when the Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowls through their defense. When NFL offenses feared to face this team. A better time, when James Harrison was winning Defensive Player of the Year awards, and Troy Polumalu was jumping over centers.
Today, things have changed. Pittsburgh is now led by their offense. Through Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, this team has continued to find success. Although fans miss the golden days of the Steel Curtain, this new found approach is just as entertaining.
Things may be ready to change, though. Pittsburgh will still win through their offense, but for the first time since the departure of Polamalu, the defense looks to be a dominant force.
Harrison is still around, and by the looks of it, he hasn’t missed a beat. At 39-years-old, he’s still one of the deadliest players on this team. Joining him this season is rookie, T.J. Watt, who’s potential is so high it’s scary. For other teams of course.
The linebacker core looks complete. Harrison, Watt and Bud Dupree all man the outside, while Pro Bowler, Ryan Shazier, and Vince Williams work the inside. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt work the defensive ends, and Javon Hargrave plays the noise. Easily a front seven worth talking about this season.
Pittsburgh’s biggest problem was the secondary. Starting two rookies last season, alongside a third-year corner and veteran safety, Mike Mitchell didn’t equal much success. Although rookies, Sean Davis and Artie Burns showed a lot of promise in their first year, it would’ve been better to have them learn for a season.
Burns and Davis are considered two of the best sophomore players in the league. Burns is becoming a solid coverage corner from the outside, someone who can lead this secondary for the years to come.
Davis is believed to be the next dominating Steelers’ safety. As a hard-hitting player with as much coverage skill and tackling ability, the Maryland product is set to be one of the most exciting players on the roster in his second year.
Without having to worry about what the younger defensive backs are doing this season, Mike Mitchell should flourish. As one of the most bruising safeties in the NFL, Mitchell seemed like the perfect fit in Pittsburgh. But he’s yet to be the player everyone has hoped for.
That’ll change this season when he isn’t the only secondary player contributing. When he’s free to play his game, something he hasn’t been able to do since joining the team, Mitchell is an incredible playmaker. It’ll show this season when his only job is to play football the way he knows how to play and not have to worry about others on the field.
Ross Cockrell is still a question, but this offseason, he’ll have some competition at corner. With the hopeful return of Senquez Golson, and the addition of draft picks, Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen, Cockrell will have to show improvement to stay in the starting lineup.
Without knowing how ready Golson is after missing his first two NFL season with injuries, no one has any idea what kind of shape he’s in. Assuming he’s not game ready, he’s nothing more than a reserve nickel for the beginning of the season.
Sutton and Allen should contribute immediately. Sutton, who’s a strong candidate for the starting nickelback position, has all the skills to be a force against the slot. With his quick feet and strong instincts, Sutton can make plays in coverage and as a dependable tackler.
Allen may be more of an outside corner until he develops his tackling. Despite being 6’3, 215-pounds, Allen seems to avoid open field tackles. For right now, he’ll be more of a coverage option for the Steelers to backup Cockrell and Burns.
All the parts are there. For the first time in years, this defense is ready to make some noise. It may not have come at a better time seeing that the AFC is looking better than they have in a long time.
The rebuild is finally over. Now, it’s just fine tuning and dominance on the defensive side of the ball.
When Pittsburgh plays teams like the New England Patriots, their defense is going to finally give them the upper hand. On their way to Super Bowl LII, having a complete team will be the difference between a playoff exit and Super Bowl ring.