3 reasons we are overreacting to the ugly end of the Steelers’ 2020 season

Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /
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I had a recent conversation with a friend of mine, who told me the Steelers are on the verge of being a truly terrible team over the next 3 years. 

I must admit, I was disappointed that the Steelers fell off at the end of the season and heading into the playoffs. I had said they were Super Bowl-bound in the preseason when the Ravens and Brown were both favored over Pittsburgh by most analysts and reporters. I was feeling rather vindicated in the middle of their 11-win streak even knowing that the chance of them going undefeated was slim. However, 2020 was a successful year. In Pittsburgh, we often define success in terms of rings. Such lofty expectations are the standard in the Steel City, yet they aren’t very realistic.

More importantly, people seemed to be forgetting the improvements made in a lot of areas for the Steelers. I’m not saying we all need to stay positive and ignore all the areas that need to be improved, but there are a lot of things we should recognize that show Pittsburgh is heading in the right direction. Like it or not this is a team on the upswing. You cannot convince me that a defensively built team with two all-pro defenders on their rookie contracts is about to implode. Especially, when one of those defenders is the frontrunner for the defensive player of the year award.

Steelers’ defense in 2020 was impeccable

Like it or not, their defense was better in 2020 than in 2019. While sacrificing such a high turnover rate, they were great at minimizing points allowed, even as injuries were wearing the unit down. To think we would be down to a practice squad player on the edge in the postseason, and seeing multiple different backups on the inside linebacking spots throughout the final 3rd of the season even heading into the playoffs along with random injuries to the defensive line and secondary, while still ranking 5th in points allowed when 2020 ended is rather remarkable. The linebackers are the core of the Steelers and to be without a plethora of them while still putting up an elite performance overall is incredible.

Terrell Edmunds silenced all doubt for me having a career year, continuing his efficient tackling while allowing the 3rd lowest passer rating in the secondary. Only Mike Hilton and Minkah Fitzpatrick allowed lower passer ratings than Edmunds. #34 would end 2020 as the 11th ranked coverage safety by PFF and silenced all doubters about being the ‘weak link’ of the defense. If you are still wanting the Steelers to get rid of him I would suggest watching the tape again. He isn’t on the all-pro level his running mate Minkah Fitzpatrick is, but a similar jump in play going into 2021 like he had entering 2020, and he will definitely be in the conversation.

The Steelers’ run defense had improved significantly, at one point ranking 1st in the league at rush yards per carry allowed. Yet, after injuries to Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Mike Hilton, losing Vince Williams to Covid-19 for a moment, and losing Bud Dupree to an ACL tear they had an issue stopping the run. Don’t forget Bud Dupree, Vince Williams, and Mike Hilton were 3 of the 4 best run defenders on the Steelers defense. When we were healthy we held the likes of Saquon Barkley to the lowest rushing average of his career in Week 1. Derrick Henry had rushed for fewer yards than James Conner in their head to head Matchup. We even held Cleveland, who at the time was leading the league in rushing yards per game, to their second-lowest rushing total all season in Week 6.

This defense has a lot more youth than we think, as a lot of the stars are on their rookie contracts or have just ended their rookie contracts. Even if Bud Dupree is lost, Alex Highsmith showed a lot of potential in 2020. Without the need for replacing Dupree with a high-round draft pick this year, the Steelers have more flexibility to improve the defense as a whole and as a result, we can expect a similar performance from them in 2021 and beyond.