Outside of him signing his new contract, 2017 is likely a year that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt would like to forget. Tuitt, who a signed a 5 year, $60 million contract extension with the Steelers on September 9, 2017, missed four games last season with an injured biceps and back. While he didn’t need surgery to repair the biceps injury he suffered early in the first game of the season, Tuitt recently told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it was a lingering issue for him the rest of the year as his left arm wasn’t 100 percent.
With that injury now behind him, Tuitt, who turned 25 in May, is obviously looking to rebound in a big way in 2018. additionally, he’s hoping that his fellow linemate Cameron Heyward can also avoid injury in 2018 so the two can wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines together.
“The goal is to stay healthy and be on the field,” Tuitt said. “Both of us on the field, we can create chaos and damage.”
While Tuitt played 550 regular season snaps on defense in 2017, only 453 came when Heyward was also on the field at the same time. In 2016, Heyward missed nine regular season games with hamstring and pectoral injuries and because of that he and Tuitt were only on the field at the same time for a total of 334 defensive plays. If you’re scoring at home, the two have only been on the field at the same time for roughly 41% of all defensive snaps the last two seasons combined. That’s got to change in 2018.
Injuries and all last season, Tuitt still managed to register 3 sacks in 2017 and probably should have had a few more. Heyward, on the other hand, led the Steelers defense in sacks in 2017 with 12, a career high for him to boot. By the way, seven of Heyward’s sacks came when Tuitt was on the field with him. All three of Tuitt’s sacks came when Heyward was on the field.
According to the stats we kept last year, the Steelers defense allowed 4.67 yards per carry on the 193 plays that included both Tuitt and Heywsrd being on the field together in 2017. That average is of course way too high the two Steelers defensive linemen know it.
“I know we backed off by giving up a lot of rushing yards. Typically we don’t do that,” Tuitt told Dulac. “We want to get back to our old ways of doing that, by coming out and being the physical football team the Pittsburgh Steelers are known to be.”
Personally, I think the Steelers defense will be much better against the run in 2018 if both Tuitt and Heyward can stay healthy and on the field together. As for the Steelers pass rushing prospects in 2018, while the unit might not set a second consecutive franchise sack record, I think they can come close to their numbers from last year with perhaps more of their quarterback takedowns not only coming against teams other than the Cleveland Browns, but being more impactful ones in addition.