The Pittsburgh Steelers sent five players to the Pro Bowl this year. That has become something of a norm. what hasn’t been the norm has been to see three of them come from the defensive side of the ball. While they have been good for a couple of defenders each season in recent years—Cameron Heyward for the past three years, T.J. Watt the past two, and Ryan Shazier for two years overlapping Heyward’s first—there was even a time they didn’t have any.
You would have to go all the way back to 2011 to find the last time Pittsburgh sent three defenders to the Pro Bowl. That season, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and Ryan Clark were all able to make it. And if memory serves, Clark was an alternate, so to have three defenders voted in this year outright is also significant.
Heyward and Watt are retreads from last year (Watt was an alternate, though, so this is his first vote-in), but this season they were joined by a new face, Minkah Fitzpatrick. The second-year safety acquired after the first two weeks of the season had a huge impact out of the gate with five interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble.
The thing is, this is just the beginning, or so I’m inclined to believe. Provided that Heyward is able to retain this same level of play as he gets deeper into his 30s, I think he’s at perennial status now. And Watt, I have a hard time seeing him taking a step backward barring injuries.
They could be joined by Devin Bush, soon enough. Maybe even this year as an alternate. He won the fan voting, so he probably is at least an alternate at inside linebacker. And there’s always Stephon Tuitt. He was looking like a Pro Bowler through five games before going down with an injury.
This defense is stacked with talent all over the formation, at least right now, but it also had a good number of blue-chip players that can carry the team. Especially if they find some way to retain Bud Dupree, this is a group that should only continue to be on the rise, and to be well-represented in the Pro Bowl.
Unless, of course, they have a game to play the week after. And if they continue to get better, and the offense does what it should do with Ben Roethlisberger under center, that should certainly be viewed as a distinct possibility for 2020.
For the time being, however, it’s good to simply appreciate the fact that the Steelers have some legitimate Pro Bowl and potentially even All-Pro talent on their defense right now. It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve been able to say that, when at one point it had become the norm.