Imitation is the best form of flattery
Three division championships and a grave amount of playoff heartbreaks later, the 2019 season was so questionable. Still trying to find their identity as a team on both sides of the ball, the defense was considerably up in the air. Outside of the three names upfront (OLB TJ Watt, DT Cameron Heyward, DT Stephon Tuitt), there wasn’t much dialogue for the powerhouse of a unit they could be. Rookie LB Devin Bush is exciting for sure, but many skimmed over the names of CB Joe Haden, CB Steven Nelson, & OLB Bud Dupree from being playmakers for the team.
Projections do not prove much, though. Risks were laughed at, the scheme granted the favor for new faces, and development finally overrode losing patience from fans. Just look at the comments for yourselves.
Backs against the wall, after hearing that Big Ben will suffer what would be season-ending surgery on his throwing arm, they elevated themselves in ranks that hides in the shadows of their season-ending 8-8 record. Although they were fifth in total yards & points, they were then first in takeaways (38), sacks (54), & generated pressures (180), making them the second-team to the Steelers 2010 achievement of being ranked five or better to all three major defensive categories. However, here’s an even crazier stat & this was with three remaining weeks still left:
Expectations were matched, and the ending production skyrocketed past it all. In comparison to the 2010 defense, Watt & Fitzpatrick’s cases for DPOY didn’t land either one with the achievement. However, both of them found themselves as First-Team All-Pro selections along with Heyward, & in the Pro-Bowl with Haden as well. The most for any team in regards to the All-Pro (3) & tied-2nd for the Pro-Bowl (4), the accolades keep stacking up.
Also, the 2019 group allowed seven opponents to score more than 20 points, as to 2010s five who also held five teams under 10 points, which only happened once in 2019. Possibly a bit confusing, but as Polamalu and company locked down, the youth of last year’s team played a helpful role considering they had to be on the field for 1030 plays (14th-most). No, 2010 didn’t have a top-10 supporting offense, but most of the headaches in 2019 for the “Black and Gold” family stemmed from a Fichtner-led offense that averaged 18.1 points per game (27th in the NFL).
Even then, they didn’t break. Opposing teams averaged simply 4.7 yards per play, tying themselves first with the New England Patriots. Specifically, this Steelers defense was the only team to be graded 85.0+ or better by PFF in run-defense & coverage, allowing 5.5 net yards per attempt (4th) & 3.8 rushing yards per attempt (3rd), being the sole team to be ranked top 5 in each category.
Both deserving of praise for what they have brought and will bring to this organization, to this city and its fans. The question is now up to the audience. Who do you believe is worthy of being crowned the best Steelers defense of the past decade?