The Pittsburgh Steelers made a number of significant moves this offseason in an effort to bolster their defense, which ultimately resulted in them bringing in four new starters in a process that continued through the regular season.
Jon Bostic was replaced with essentially a two-fer in first-round pick Devin Bush and free agent Mark Barron at inside linebacker, and the two are frequently on the field together, even though Vince Williams of course still has a key role that is expanding now to mitigate the loss of Stephon Tuitt.
Not only were two splashes made at the second level, though, but in the secondary as well. During the season, they traded a first-round draft pick in order to pick up Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins, the 11th-overall pick from the year before at safety.
Way back in March came the most expensive signing of the group, in terms of dollars, that being Steven Nelson, who came in to end a revolving door at cornerback. While he hasn’t picked off any passes yet, he has really helped to stabilize the secondary, and outside sources are noticing.
Pro Football Focus, for example, who recently published a list of their cornerback rankings for the 2019 season through the first eight weeks of the year. Nelson was included on the 20-man list, checking in at number 11 to represent the black and gold.
“Nelson’s addition this offseason didn’t draw many headlines, but it’s paid big dividends for the Steelers”, Michael Renner writes for the outlet. “He leads the league averaging only .64 yards per coverage snap allowed, and opposing quarterbacks are completing under 50% of their passes when targeting Nelson”.
While those numbers rely upon the accuracy and validity of the site’s own data, they are impressive all the same. He does seem to be targeted rather infrequently, and that is also going to make it harder for him to come down with interceptions.
Nelson lamented the fact that he is still looking for his first after intercepting four passes in his final season for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018, which was perhaps one of the primary features that attracted the Steelers to him.
But perhaps in part because the defense has been getting those interceptions—and turnovers in general—without him, that element of his game hasn’t been scrutinized. It’s enough that he is largely holding down one side of the field whenever he is on the great, and that’s something the Steelers haven’t had for a while. He’s not a shutdown corner, but he’s getting the job done.