Heading into the 2020 NFL season, many fans are wondering whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers can maintain a Super Bowl-caliber defense. Here’s a look at why they have the potential to make a Super Bowl appearance this season.
Steelers Defensive Leaders
Pittsburgh is home to several leaders who have contributed to the defense’s success in recent years.
Defensive tackle Cam Heyward has been with the team since he was drafted in 2011. He just signed a contract extension that will keep him in Pittsburgh for four more years. The extension is worth $75.1 million, making him the highest paid defensive player over the age of 30 in the entire league.
In his nine seasons with the Steelers, Heyward has totaled 257 solo tackles, 54 sacks and 117 quarterback hits.
Pittsburgh is where I belong! pic.twitter.com/mMj3DbKm4T
— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) September 7, 2020
In Sept. 2019, the Steelers acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. After joining the Steelers’ defense, Fitzpatrick recorded five interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
In his rookie season, linebacker Devin Bush led the team with 72 solo tackles. He also recorded two interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
2019 Steelers’ Defense Statistics
Statistically, the Steelers had one of the best defenses in the league last year.
As of Dec. 2, 2019, the Steelers were ranked first in the NFL in takeaways (28), quarterback hits (78), forced fumbles (13), fumble recoveries (13) and passes defended (65).
Cornerbacks Joe Haden, Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton make up a secondary trio that had a combined total of seven interceptions and 163 tackles last season. All three of them made Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top-25 cornerback list at the end of 2019.
“This is one of the best secondaries I have ever been a part of because we have communication, we have guys that are very football smart and are very capable of making plays,” Haden said in a 2019 post-game interview. “I feel like I am holding my side down, but everybody else is doing their thing in the backend.”
Last season, the Steelers managed to total 2.4 takeaways per game and 3.4 sacks per game.
— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) September 8, 2020
They also ranked second in interceptions (20) and third in pass yards per game allowed (194.6).
Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl-Caliber Defense
In 2019, the Steelers’ defense essentially carried the team. With no solid quarterback, the offense continuously struggled with productivity. As a result, the defense had to take matters into their own hands.
After working their way up to becoming a top-five defense, the Steelers’ defense is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
Three members of the Steelers’ defense made the NFL Top 100 list for this season. Heyward, Fitzpatrick and Watt will be expected to carry over their success from last year into the upcoming season. They were all Pro-Bowl picks in 2019.
PFF recently named Pittsburgh’s defense the third best in the league. Last year, they listed the Steelers as the highest graded fourth quarter defense in the NFL (91.6).
Last year’s statistics alone prove that there is a strong possibility that the Steelers will have a Super Bowl-caliber defense this season. With starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back on the offense, the entire team should be an unstoppable force in 2020.
Featured Image Courtesy of Still Curtain.
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