The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will the Steelers double their interception total from last season?
Before you jump ahead in answering this question, consider two things: one, how low the number of interceptions the Steelers actually had last year (only eight); and two, the fact that the Steelers had 16 or more interceptions in two of the three seasons leading up to the 2018 season.
They also had at least 20 interceptions in the last two seasons in which they went to the Super Bowl, but of course that is a long way off and one Troy Polamalu ago at this point. The biggest difference between now and the three previous seasons was the presence of Ryan Shazier.
Let’s also remember just how unusual last season was. I don’t recall the exact number, perhaps it was 17, but Pro Football Focus had the Steelers defense leading the NFL in dropped interceptions a year ago. It was never about the Steelers failing to get themselves into position to make plays. It was about finishing the plays when they were in those positions.
Through his first two seasons with the Steelers, Joe Haden has intercepted three passes. He recorded at least three interceptions in five of his first seven seasons, and one of the years he didn’t reach that number was one in which he played in only five games due to injuries, including concussions. He always has the potential to add to the team’s interception total.
They also added Steven Nelson in free agency, who blossomed as a full-time outside starter last season with four interceptions, showing an increased aggressiveness and instinct for jumping on a route. The Steelers haven’t had a player intercept four passes in a season since Polamalu did it in 2010.
Devin Bush only had one interception in his college career—but so did Shazier. At the very least, the added athleticism up the middle should increase the frequency of awkward throws, and thus opportunities for others to make plays. I think there’s a very reasonable chance they significantly up their interception total this year.