The Pittsburgh Steelers lost two premium talents this offseason in Antonio Brown at wide receiver and Le’Veon Bell at running back. Yes, Bell was already out of the picture last year, but that’s not the point. He was still technically linked with the team, in spite of the fact that he chose not to sign his franchise tender.
The point is, the Steelers suffered a major drain of talent. But they still have a lot of good players throughout the team. Pro Football Focus recently ranked their roster as the eighth-strongest in the league heading into 2019, and one of the areas they identified as a strength was the guard pairing of Ramon Foster and David DeCastro.
But they also singled out the other side of the trenches. In addition to naming Foster and DeCastro the number four guard tandem in the NFL, the site also awarded the pair of Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt the distinction of being the third-best interior defender tandems in the game today.
That’s made all the more impressive when you consider the fact that the only two pairs of interior defenders who were rated above them involved Aaron Donald (Donald and Michael Brockers for the Los Angeles Rams at the number one spot) and Fletcher Cox (Cox and Malik Jackson for the Philadelphia Eagles at number two).
Regarding Tuitt, author Mike Johnson noted that he generated 40-plus quarterback pressures and 20-plus defensive stops in each of the last four seasons—in other words, since he entered the starting lineup on a full-time basis. And that’s despite missing time every year. Tuitt was also acknowledged for cleaning up his tackling, as they credited him with no missed tackles on the season.
Johnson described Heyward as “a force as a pass rusher”, having recorded 20 sacks over the past two years, in 2019 “generating 59 total pressures on the year, the fifth-most among players at the position”. He has 122 pressures and 60 defensive stops over the past two seasons in their database, not to mention a pair of Pro Bowls in the real world.
Of course, anybody who follows the team by now is well aware of how much of a strength the starting defensive ends are for the Steelers, and it’s not as though they aren’t compensated appropriately for the services that they provide.
It’s now a matter of building the defense beyond the trenches to best take advantage of what they can do. To that end, they added athleticism and skill at the linebacker and cornerback positions this offseason in Mark Barron, Devin Bush, and Steven Nelson, as well as rookie defensive back Justin Layne. Will that make the difference and help Heyward and Tuitt be even more dominant?