Who would have thought around this time last year that the Pittsburgh Steelers would have a top 10 defense in 2019—and have a losing record through six games? Probably not many, but then it couldn’t have been foreseen that Antonio Brown would go insane and Ben Roethlisberger would be lost for the season after six quarters of play.
Nevertheless, that is the reality that they are living in. The Steelers defense legitimately is emerging as one of the best in the league, in terms of taking the ball away, in terms of getting after the quarterback, and in just general play, and becoming more consistent with each passing week.
It’s a fact that even Pro Football Focus acknowledged, recently listing the unit as the eighth-best in the league among all defenses. That was the highest of any team in the AFC North, and in fact the only one even close. The Cleveland Browns defense ranked 18th, while the Baltimore Ravens ranked all the way at 26th. When’s the last time their defense was viewed in that poor a light? According to their data, the Ravens’ biggest problem is blitzing more than anybody, but not converting it into pressure. But on to Pittsburgh:
2019 has been disappointing for the Steelers for a number of reasons, but those reasons fall primarily on the offensive side of the ball. The defense has performed well to this point, and in all honestly it should given the first-round talent they have acquired on that side of the ball over the last six or seven seasons. T.J. Watt is quickly becoming one of the better pass rushers in the league, and his 83.9 pass-rush grade this season sits sandwiched between the Bosa brothers. The loss of Stephon Tuitt to a torn pectoral certainly hurts this unit moving forward, as he was on pace for a career year. His 89.4 overall grade ranked sixth among all interior defenders, right behind teammate Cameron Heyward.
By and large, the defense has been holding up its end of the bargain, and has even on a number of occasions served up a short field for an offense that was unable to take advantage of it. They got their first defensive touchdown on Sunday, and also sealed the game with another turnover, so things are still looking up.
Of course, takeaways are not sustainable or predictable. 15 through six games is not a pace that will continue for the entire year. They’re not going to have 40-some odd takeaways by the end of the year, so it’s important that they also be sound situationally, and get off the field at every opportunity.