While the Pittsburgh Steelers defense probably played better in 2015 than most of us thought they would have headed into the season, the unit still needs to improve in several areas during this offseason in order to be considered one of the league’s top-ten overall defenses. With that said, Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt is optimistic when it comes to his side of the football taking the next step in 2016.
“We got nothing but high hopes,” Tuitt said this week, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We see the future looking very bright. You see what we can do. I personally believe we can be the No. 1 defense in the run and the pass and we’re going to do it.”
This past season, the Steelers defense played well against the run as they finished ranked fifth overall in that area, giving up just 91.2 yards per game on average. Their pass defense, however, is where they need a lot of improvement even though they finished with 48 sacks, good for third most in the NFL.
While Tuitt and fellow defensive end Cameron Heyward combined to have 13.5 sacks last season, they still could have done a better job at providing more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks throughout the season. The same certainly goes for the Steelers group of outside linebackers as those five players certainly didn’t get home or threaten quarterbacks nearly enough.
Pass rush inconsistencies aside, the Steelers secondary also needs a lot of improvement during the offseason and it will be interesting to see how exactly that’s addressed in the coming weeks. As we sit here in February, safety Mike Mitchell is probably the only secondary player under contract for 2016 who you can count on being a starter and every-down player next season. Sure, young cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Ross Cockrell are both under contract for 2016, but it’s yet to be seen where exactly they’ll fit in the Steelers secondary moving forward. The same goes for underachieving cornerback Cortez Allen, who is not even a lock to make it to training camp this year.
While the Steelers could address both the cornerback and safety position during the upcoming draft, one would think that some familiar faces will need to be brought back ahead of free agency just the same. Regardless of how the unit is ultimately filled out, Tuitt thinks the defense will be better in 2016.
“We got a chance to put all the pieces together,” Tuitt said. “Everybody got a chance to learn together, to learn how each other played. We got a chance to show what we really are like, where we left off, and I can’t wait to pick up from there.”
Tuitt told Dulac that he wants people to be afraid to play against the Steelers defense and while that’s a respectable goal, several things need to happen very quickly in order for that to come to fruition in 2016.