Week One is just a few days away. And most teams – and players – have goals in mind. Numbers to hit in order to have a successful season. That’s what I wanted to do over the next couple days for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense, defense, and special teams. The big, concrete goals each unit and the players who make it up should hit in order to help this team win the AFC north and a Super Bowl.
Yesterday, we wrote about the offense. Today, we’re breaking down the defense.
Team Goals (Defense)
– 25 Total Takeaways
The number I’ve preached since early June. 17 of the last 18 Super Bowl winners have recorded at least 25 turnovers during the regular season, including both times the Steelers hoisted the Lombardi. This defense had a lowly 15 last year but the number of dropped INTs alone could’ve put them over that threshold. This year’s version is better so it’s realistic, and necessary, for them to get over the hump.
– Safeties Double (At Least) Their Turnovers
This is a low bar. But Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds forced only two turnovers a year ago, one interception each, and I’ll tell you what you already know – that ain’t good enough. More takeaways from them is obviously intertwined with the overall goal of 25 but there’s gotta be more splash from this unit. Kam Kelly has the ability to make big plays too so don’t forget about him. Four – minimum – must be the expectation.
– 50+ Sacks (Again)
An obvious goal and one they’ve done each of the last two years, registering 56 and 52. Their 108 is by far #1 in the NFL. But the pass rush can’t disappear just as this secondary begins to improve or else the defense will be in a similar, average-at-best, place. But there’s every reason to think they’ll hit this number. Especially need to get pressure on a team like Cleveland, whose biggest weakness is their front five.
– Play <15% Dime On First Down
A little obscure, I know. The Steelers were forced to play more dime defense than what they were probably comfortable with last year due to a lack of ILBs who could function in space. It forced them to use it in situations that invited the run. They used it on the goal line against New Orleans (it ended in a TD) and ran it on 1st down 23% of the time.
As a result, they got gashed against the run, allowing 7.7 YPC and one touchdown on 33 carries when in their dime defense on 1st down.
Ideally, with a lot better depth at ILB, the team should play dime less frequently, reserving it for pass only situations. Some dime on 1st down will still happen, you’re going to get it end-of-half, end-of-game, but the lower that number is, the better this defense will likely be.
Individual Goals (Defense)
– Bud Dupree & Stephon Tuitt: Set Career Highs In Sacks
Dupree’s high mark is six. Tuitt’s is 6.5. Neither are good enough, especially when you consider the money they’re making. Good news is both players looked impressive in the preseason and the issue here isn’t talent, particularly when we’re talking about Tuitt. If they have career seasons, we’re talking about a defense that may be the first to touch 60 sacks since the 2013 Carolina Panthers.
– Devin Bush: Win Defensive Rookie Of The Year
Here’s a lofty one. But there’s every reason to believe Bush to be the favorite for the award. Bush should play – a lot – and generally, the guys with the highest number of snaps are in the best position to put up numbers and win that particular piece of hardware. He has the talent and work ethic to do it.
– Someone Picks Off 4+ Passes
Know what I’d do? Put a jar in the center of the meeting room. Every time a Steelers’ defender picks off a pass, $500 gets put in the jar. First dude to four interceptions gets the whole thing.
Because no Steeler has picked off at least four passes in a season since Troy Polamalu in 2010, the longest drought in NFL history and I’m tired of it. I don’t care who it is. Steven Nelson, who had four last year. Joe Haden, Devin Bush, heck, let Daniel McCullers pick off four. Do. Not. Care. Someone get it done. And earn themselves some extra money.