It’s becoming increasingly rare in the NFL that we talk about a defense in the sense of how good they can be defining how far they can take a team. Depending upon the state of the quarterback position for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020, they may be one of those teams referred to in such defense-slanted terms.
They did, after all, have one of the best defenses in the league in 2020, especially after the first couple of games. They led the NFL in sacks, as well as in takeaways. They finished in the top 10, even the top five, in the majority of the significant defensive statistics, such as points allowed, yards, yards per play, etc.
So much of that is an accumulation of built scheme and time learned within that system, but it also has a lot to do with the accumulation, instead, of sheer talent. With the appearance of four defenders in the Pro Bowl this year, and others who are or may be worthy in the very near future, it’s easy to see why.
Some of those talented players, however, may unfortunately be in other uniforms by the time the 2020 season kicks off—namely Javon Hargrave and Bud Dupree. They have talked about Dupree being a priority, but it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Hargrave finds a much more attractive opportunity—financially and in terms of snap count—on the open market.
T.J. Watt, one of the frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2019, was one of the Steelers’ representatives in the Pro Bowl this past year. Just a third-year player, he has quickly become an integral part of not just the defense, but the team as a whole. That includes his taking ownership of their successes and failures. And he wants to keep this group whole.
“You always want to stay together with the people that you started with”, he said of impending free agency and the prospects of retaining everybody. “but unfortunately that’s not the nature of the business. We hope we can keep the core group that we have. Last year we were one of the top defenses in the nation, so we want to keep it that way, keep doing what we’re doing, keep improving”.
In the same interview, he said he was the biggest advocate for keeping Dupree, whom he was directly asked about. Between them, they combined for 26 sacks on the year, in addition to 12 forced fumbles, making them one of the most impactful tandems in the NFL.