Grading Steelers rollercoaster-like defense after their bye week

Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a defensive stop during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a defensive stop during the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has not been able to stay consistent enough without T.J. Watt in their lineup. 

It has been a rollercoaster for the Steelers defense this season as they continue to try to deal with different variables. The good news is that T.J. Watt will be back from injury soon, and that should boost this group’s morale back to new heights.

Different issues will continue to plague this team with certain positions lacking quality. This group has put up some great performances, while they have also laid some massive goose eggs too.

The defensive line struggles against the run still without attacking the passer

Last season’s biggest issue was this defense not being able to stop the run. The defensive line has been able to show signs of improvement during the first half of the schedule, but not at the level you would hope. Things still seem like they are being affected without Stephon Tuitt being there, but the excuse is tiring to hear anymore.

Grade: C+

Nothing special from this group yet as Cam Heyward is trying to accomplish a lot on his own. There is not enough of a pass rush from the trenches, and it gets embarrassing at times. Larry Ogunjobi has made some good plays, but he is not the long-term answer that the Steelers were hoping to find when they signed him.

Edge rushers are almost non-existent besides Alex Highsmith

When Watt went out of the lineup in week one, you knew this position was going to take a hit. Malik Reed has not done a ton of great things, but he seems like he could be getting more comfortable now. The Steelers have been relying heavily on Alex Highsmith to become Batman when he is always going to be his best as Robin.

Grade: D+

Watt cannot come back soon enough as he brings his game-breaking abilities with him. Highsmith has done a decent job at filling in, but no one can replace the production that Watt brings. This grade will likely get better after he returns from injury as the depth guys have not been able to do much since his departure to alleviate the pain.

Devin Bush and Myles Jack are showing improvement overall

Inside linebacker might have been one of the most talked about positions for the Steelers during the pre-season. Things have gotten a little better since the days of the pre-season when Devin Bush and Robert Spillane were battling for starting reps. Not all is great for the black and gold at middle linebacker, but it has gotten better.

Grade: C

When you expect failure, sometimes being average will shock you. Myles Jack has been a solid contributor for the most part, and Bush has shown signs of improvement. Neither of them should be your number one linebacker in the middle of your defense, but they have gotten better and are not the weakest point on this defense.

Cornerback has become a rotation overall after some bad play

Adding to the cornerback room this past offseason was at the top of the Steelers to-do list. They brought back Ahkello Witherspoon and brought in Levi Wallace to be significant contributors on defense. Witherspoon has been the worse of the two as he has not been able to handle his new starting role.

Grade: D

Cam Sutton has been a solid contributor, and it cannot be said enough about how desperately Pittsburgh needs to re-sign him. James Pierre has also done some nice things since his role has been increased. We will see where this position goes for the remainder of the season, but it will probably need to be shuffled again.

Both Safeties have become the most consistent starters

We have finally reached the positions that have been the most consistent for the black and gold this year. Both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds have been steady all year and it looks like that should continue. Edmunds is another player that Pittsburgh should try to re-sign to a long-term contract this offseason.

Grade: B+

There have been bad plays by both safeties, but they have been able to keep their heads above water. In a defense that is littered with injuries and insecurities, these two remain one of the best duos in the NFL. Fitzpatrick has still been able to make some great plays despite those around him not being the best at what they do.

Steelers defense overall grade: C-

Usually the black and gold do not have to worry about their defense, but that has changed quickly. Watt coming back will hopefully return this group to form, but they still have a lot of warts that will be nearly impossible to cover up. They are a highly paid unit and they need to show why they are in the remaining portion of their campaign.

It is truly hard to gauge how much Watt’s return will affect them, but it should be a significant outcome. If he is healthy, then fans should expect a bounce back to how they did against the Bengals in week one. They need to make life easier for their young and uncoached offense.

Mike Tomlin has been great following a bye week, despite the narrative. light. Trending

The Steelers defense needs to find more consistency as a group heading into the late stages of their season. They have shown signs of brilliance, but they have also shown signs of confusion and failure.