The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, in which they entered with big aspirations, in spite of a tumultuous start to the offseason. Significant players were lost via trade and free agency, players who have helped shape the course of the franchise in recent years. We even now sit here without Ben Roethlisberger after just two games.
The team made some bold moves this offseason and in some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago. That would especially be the case at wide receiver and inside linebacker, where they have new starters. And quarterback was suddenly added to that list.
How will the season progress without Roethlisberger, behind Mason Rudolph? How will the young players advance into their expected roles? Will the new coaches be up to the task? Who is looking good in games? Who is sitting out due to injury?
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: Are either T.J. Watt or Minkah Fitzpatrick, if not both, legitimate contenders for the Defensive Player of the Year Award?
The story of the 2019 season, surprisingly, didn’t turn out to be the season-ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger. It has been the ascension of the defense, playing (at times) at an elite level this year and driving the Steelers’ 4-1 run over the course of the past five games.
And so much of that has, really, come down to their playmakers making plays. Third-year T.J. Watt and second-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, incredibly having only been acquired in-season, are making huge differences, not just with their splash plays, but their down-to-down impact as well.
Fitzpatrick is now tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots, but Fitzpatrick has more tackles, more passes defensed, a forced fumble, and two defensive touchdowns, as well as a ‘game-winner’ interception. His impact on the Steelers is transparently clear. He is one of six players with two defensive scores as well (including both of the Baltimore Ravens’ starting cornerbacks).
Then there is Watt. Not only does he have four forced fumbles, tied for the second-most in the league, he has the second-most recoveries, in a three-way tie for the third-most, behind only his teammate, Devin Bush, who also has two interceptions, and Vonn Bell. His nine and a half sacks are fifth-most in the NFL as well.
But there are some great performances this year. Take Chandler Jones, for example. Not only does he lead the league with 11 and a half sacks, he also leads with five forced fumbles. There’s Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Calais Campbell, Myles Garrett.