Defensive line is the Steelers most overrated need in 2022

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90). Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90). Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports /

While many fans are hoping for an overhaul on the defensive line, a dive into the position makes that seem unlikely for the Steelers in 2022.

One of the strongest positions for the Steelers last offseason was the defensive line. In 2020, one could argue that Cameron Heyward was the worst starter of the three along the line that featured Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu. That isn’t meant to be a knock-on Heyward, as the other two were playing at elite levels. The team retained all three guys as well as adding to the depth chart. It seemed like a certainty that the line would once again be a strength in 2021.

Instead, the Steelers fielded one of the worst run defenses, and for a stretch of time they were consistently giving up 200 plus yard rushing games. Because of this, many are hoping for significant additions to this line this offseason. A new end and nose tackle are high on the needs list for a lot of fans.

Steelers defensive line is an overblown need

Simply put, this line isn’t as bad as many think it is. For starters, and to get this out of the way, Heyward was his usual dominant self. The rest of the line suffered through major losses. Starting with the daunting duo I mentioned before, the Steelers got a full five quarters of football out of the two. Outside of that, Tuitt and Alualu missed the rest of the season.

The team preaches a next man up philosophy, but it was clear that some of the next men up weren’t ready. Henry Mondeaux and Isaiah Buggs were suddenly starting games, and both were being pushed around with ease. That hid a lot of the solid contributions from the rest of the reserve linemen. Isaiahh Loudermilk showed his inexperience at times, but he developed well as a rotational lineman. Chris Wormley, meanwhile, was an above-average starter and essentially had a breakout season.

What caused the Steelers’ poor run defense?

The argument seems pretty clear. With Wormley and Heyward playing well but the nose tackle being the issue in base defense, it left wide open holes for runners to go through. Joe Schobert and Devin Bush were tasked with filling those holes, and it was a job they did rather poorly with. Sub-package was even worse, as you may have lost the dead weight of an ineffective nose tackle but then you put more pressure on your linebackers, something they couldn’t handle.

We saw the Steelers’ run defense begin to shape up after Montravius Adams was brought in. While the linebacker play was still a liability, the line itself held up far better than before. No, the unit wasn’t perfect by any means, but they want from being incapable of stopping any sort of rushing attack to more respectable for the majority of the season after Adams was brought in.

Where do the Steelers go from here?

Now, the question with the Steelers line doesn’t start with who is going to be added. Instead, it should be who is going to leave. Tuitt seems like a likely retirement or cut this offseason while Alualu is no lock to be back either. Adams is a pending free agent as well, further muddying the waters here.

The best-case scenario is all three are back in 2022. Then, the line is essentially not an issue, as your starters are set and you have three strong backups in Loudermilk, Wormley, and Adams. More than likely Tuitt is going to be gone, but if you pushed Alualu to defensive end again and had Adams be the starting nose tackle, that trio could work. If anything, you may look for a different, more established nose tackle, but that wouldn’t be a sudden top priority.

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The fact of the matter is this line struggled the way it did not because of all the players being bad. Wormley is a fine low-end starter while Adams flashed as a nose tackle. To say the team has to use their top pick in the draft on a defensive lineman seems unlikely unless both Alualu and Tuitt are gone. Until then, some late-round, undrafted, and cheap veteran options will likely be the only additions this group needs, not to flight veterans and early-round rookies.