How Steelers will cope the loss of All-Pro talent DE Stephon Tuitt

Stephon Tuitt #91 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Stephon Tuitt #91 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

When news broke that the Pittsburgh Steelers would lose DE Stephon Tuitt, because of a torn pectoral muscle, for the remainder of the season, it was a massive blow for a team trying to fight their way back to respectability.

This devasting loss brings up issues facing the Steelers’ future defensive production. The Steelers are going to be looking for answers to continue their recent surge toward success. Here are my thoughts on how the Steelers can manage to be successful despite the loss of this great veteran talent.

A player who I believed was playing at an All-Pro level, Tuitt was arguably the team’s best defensive player, even outshining his All-Pro teammate DE Cameron Heyward through the first five games of the season.

By my count, Tuitt racked up 2.5 tackles for loss, four tackles for no-gain, 5.5 tackles of three yards or less, seven quarterback pressures, 3.5 sacks, and 1 pass break-up. When you compare those numbers to Heyward, who has two tackles for loss, 2.5 tackles of three yards or less, only one quarterback pressure, and 3.5 sacks, you can clearly see where Tuitt’s true value lies.

Tuitt, 26, who is signed through the 2020 season, will need to be replaced by the “next man up.” The question remains, will it be by committee, or will the Steelers hand-select his heir apparent. That question remains to be seen.

However, as head coach Mike Tomlin always says, “The standard is the standard.” No one is going to feel sorry for Pittsburgh. Every year teams deal with injuries to key players; it’s how a team responds to adversity that separates the average teams from the good ones.

One player who may be given the opportunity to win the lion share of the reps, 2010 first-round pick (No. 10) DE Tyson Alualu.

By my count, Alualu has registered one tackle for loss, four tackles of three yards or less, two quarterback pressures, one sack, and one pass break-up. Playing primarily as a backup since coming over from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Alualu may now get his shot to be the clear-cut starter for the remainder of the season.

But it won’t be without competition, as six-year veteran DE Daniel McCullers has also proven to be a nice stop-gap when called upon this season. Coincidentally, McCullers is part of the same draft class as Tuitt. But the Tennessee product is a two-down run stuffer, nothing more. Which begs the question, how does this affect the team’s pass-rush?

Tuitt was lined up on the weak side and typically used in twists and stunts, eating up double-teams, allowing Pro Bowl OLB T.J. Watt to work behind him. These plays worked well simply because teams needed to account for Tuitt’s ability to penetrate the interior despite occupying multiple blockers.

No question, the pass-rush will take a hit. Which possibly means more blitz packages from defensive coordinator Keith Butler.

The Steelers love to blitz nickel CB Mike Hilton off the edge. He’s fast, aggressive, and chops down ball-carriers by attacking their thighs. A huge plus for Butler’s defense, don’t be surprised if Hilton is utilized more like an extra rusher than a cover corner to make up for the loss of Tuitt.

And then we have fifth-year OLB Bud Dupree. Playing in a contract year, Dupree is playing at a near Pro Bowl level, in my opinion. If he can stay consistent for the rest of the year, he will get paid handsomely, just like San Francisco 49ers DE Arik Armstead.

By my count, through the first six games, Dupree has racked up two tackles for loss, 3.5 tackles for no gain, 7.5 tackles of three yards or less, three quarterback hits, four quarterback pressures, three sacks, and one forced fumble.

Look for Dupree to elevate his game to another level as he continues to audition for all 32 NFL teams, especially in the pass-rush department, to help ease the loss of Tuitt.

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While the Steelers lost arguably their best defensive player, it will be interesting to see how the team responds. A squad that is looking to string their first winning streak of the 2019 season, it will surely need to be a collective effort, as they push forward, playing with the cards their dealt.