Remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers defense used to be good? Remember when they were stocked with Pro Bowl talent? There were years in which they sent five or six guys to Hawaii. James Harrison. Troy Polamalu. LaMarr Woodley. James Farrior. Lawrence Timmons. Ryan Clark. Aaron Smith. Casey Hampton. Brett Keisel. All had made the Pro Bowl at least once.
On the Steelers’ current roster, there are only two players who have done in it Pittsburgh, those being Cameron Heyward (twice) and T.J. Watt. Three if you include Ryan Shazier on the Physically Unable to Perform List. He made it in each of his final two seasons.
With each passing week, this defense is starting to look more and more talented. They might not be the same as a decade ago—frankly, rule changes wouldn’t allow them to play as they did a decade ago, in addition to the way offenses have evolved—but this is a good unit that has the potential to be very good, or even great.
One minor piece of evidence of that is the trickling in of names on weekly and honors lists. Rookie Devin Bush already has a Defensive Player of the Week distinction under his belt. Several players have made Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week. That includes two new additions for Week Nine.
And those would be outside linebacker Bud Dupree and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this is the first time in his five-year career that Dupree has ever made their weekly list—or perhaps any weekly list.
“Building on what has been a bounce-back year for the former Kentucky edge defender, Dupree recorded five pressures and an impressive 15.2% pass-rush win rate against Indianapolis”, Austin Gayle wrote. “He also recorded one defensive stop in the game”.
That defensive stop was a pretty big one. It was the Indianapolis Colts’ final play from scrimmage, a run on third and one inside of field goal range with under a minute and a half to play in a close game. His stop forced Indianapolis to leave time on the clock before attempting what would have been a game-winning field goal, had they made it.
Dupree also contributed two sacks to the cause, one on second and goal and the other on fourth down, causing a fumble on the play, which he recovered himself. And as for Fitzpatrick, he picked off his fourth pass of the season, a great play in the red zone to jump in front of a pass, returning it 96 yards for a touchdown.
“Fitzpatrick’s pick-six was one of the better plays of his career”, Gayle wrote. And one of the better plays a Steelers defender has made in recent years, quite frankly, especially if you’re talking about plays in coverage.
Performances like these, from them and others, like Heyward and Watt and Bush, are fueling a new-look defense that has been the driving force of the Steelers’ turnaround so far in the second quarter of this season. On Sunday, they’ll look to keep it going against the Los Angeles Rams.