Since Week 3, the Steelers defense has been phenomenal. Here’s how they compare to the original Steel Curtain from 1974.
It’s been hard to get too excited about things on the offensive side of the ball this season for Pittsburgh. The Steelers lost their franchise quarterback back in Week 2 against Seattle and a pair of unproven signal-callers were forced to step up and fill the void.
Meanwhile, the run game has struggled this season and James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster have each missed extended time with injuries. The offense has taken a giant step back this season and Randy Fichtner’s unit is just 23rd in the league in points per game (19.9).
However, even with all of their offensive woes, this Steelers teams have a chance to make history this season, thanks to their stellar defense.
According to NFL Research, the Steelers defense is on track to lead the league in sacks, quarterback hits, and takeaways in 2019 – something that hasn’t been accomplished since the original Steel Curtain did this back in 1974:
The @Steelers lead the NFL in sacks, QB hits & takeaways in 2019
Since the 1970 merger, only 1 team has led the NFL outright in both sacks & takeaways for a full, non-strike-shortened season
That team? The 1974 Steelers — the original Steel Curtain & Super Bowl IX champions pic.twitter.com/Dr4qkMNQEX
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 11, 2019
With just three games left on the schedule, there is a very real chance that Pittsburgh can pull this off and make history in 2019.
Though it wasn’t a surprise to see the Steelers offense struggled after the adversity they have faced beginning back in the offseason, it is a bit of a surprise to see this defense performing so well. T.J. Watt has stepped up into the alpha male role that we hoped he would. With 12.5 sacks and 29 quarterback hits, he is perhaps the best edge rusher in the league this season.
His counterpart, Bud Dupree, has taken his game to a whole new level. In his fifth season, Dupree already has 9.5 sacks to go with 4 forced fumbles.
But it takes more than a pair of very good edge rushers to accomplish this feat. Rookie linebacker Devin Bush has exceeded early expectations and Steven Nelson has been an incredible addition at cornerback. As always,l Cameron Heyward is playing at a very high level.
However, what likely put them over the top to separate this defense from the rest was their willingness to trade for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has been outstanding in his second season – recording 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 9 pass defenses, and 2 defensive touchdowns.
The former 11th overall pick has been a threat to opposing quarterbacks all season and is rarely targeted in the back end.
Because of all of these factors and a defensive coordinator in Keith Butler who is willing to be aggressive, Pittsburgh’s defense is on track to be the first to lead the league in sacks, quarterback hits, and takeaways since the 1974 Steel Curtain. Pittsburgh went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
With the defense playing at a different level than the rest of the league, there is little doubt that Pittsburgh can contain any team in the NFL. If the Steelers offense can improve over the next few games with Devlin Hodges at the helm, they could stand a shot at winning a few playoff games this season.