While he might not be headed to the Pro Bowl, Bud Dupree is still continuing to have the best season of his career, and while the statistics clearly bear that out, the eye test is where he has really popped in his fifth year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2015 first-round pick is finally playing up to the left of his draft stock. He already has a career-high in 44 tackles this season, including 10 for lost yardage, and his seven sacks are also a career high. He had two forced fumbles in his first four seasons. He has three this year, and he’s recovered two.
He’s making plays at the critical moments, most especially on Sunday when he recorded a very timely strip sack, which he recovered himself, against Ryan Finley and the Cincinnati Bengals to close out that comeback victory.
He’s doing a much better job of varying his pass rush moves, setting up one against another, and had continued to take his run defense to another level, more consistently shedding blocks or dipping under them, which has allowed him to get into the backfield a lot.
“He’s done a good job of getting to the quarterback” this year, defensive coordinator Keith Butler told reporters about Dupree earlier this week. “We’ve got to keep going that for us to win. We’ve got to play well defensively”.
The fate of the team has certainly been laid at the feet of the defense this year. That became almost an inevitability once quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury that put him on the Reserve/Injured List for the rest of the season.
T.J. Watt and Dupree have been a critical part of their defensive success. They do have approaching 20 sacks on the year between them, with eight forced fumbles, five recoveries, and an interception to boot, with 20 tackles for loss. They have been a formidable, and indispensable, tandem.
But they haven’t been alone. The talent has been apparent on this unit more so than in any other recent year, and that’s even with Stephon Tuitt having been missing for half the season already. Others like Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave and the new faces have been stepping it up.
“He’s got people around him that are productive, too”, Butler said. “They can’t always double Bud. They can’t always double T.J. They can’t always double Heyward. They can’t double all those guys, so they have to set someone single. And when they do, often enough, they win.