One of the key pieces of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense being able to be successful this year was Sean Davis. It was necessary for him to be able to make the conversion from strong safety to free safety in order for the unit to function, because, frankly, you can’t play pass defense in today’s NFL without a competent free safety.
The third-year player, for the most part, has done that, especially over the course of recent weeks, settling into a role that has helped the defense calm down during this three-game winning streak, during which they have posted some of their best numbers, especially if you factor out some garbage time production in two of the past three games.
“When we got Sean, we felt like he was a good free safety because he covers a lot of ground”, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said of him. “He’s got a lot of range is what we thought. But we had to use him the way we used him the last couple years because of who we had on the team”.
Drafted as a versatile defensive back out of Maryland in the second round in 2016, Davis opened his rookie season in the slot before suffering an injury a few games in that sent him to the bench until the middle of the year. Mike Mitchell was entrenched at free safety at the time, but he began rotating with Robert Golden at strong safety until taking over the job outright, which he held until moving to free this year.
Davis had never played free safety before in his life, at least formally, something that he talked about leading into the regular season. He said that he called upon some experience playing in the outfield in baseball to help him prepare for the job.
“I feel like I am getting better each week, but it is a whole new position though so I am still learning”, he admitted. “I’m still trying to get better each and every week. But I feel like I am picking it up”. And the passing defense has, too, holding opponents to under 250 yards through the air for two weeks in a row, which is, ridiculously, actually good in today’s NFL.
“I’m liking the way we are going”, he said of the secondary, adding that they are making plays. “I feel like we are a group on the rise. We are getting better, stacking wins now, shutting offenses down, a lot more three-and-outs. So I feel like we are doing better”.
They do need to make some more plays, however. They have only gotten five interceptions in seven games, though four have come from the secondary. Cameron Sutton, Mike Hilton, Terrell Edmunds, and Joe Haden each have an interception, the latter easily being the highest-quality of the four. Hilton’s came off a deflection, while the other two came on an underthrow and an overthrow, respectively.